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Julian De Martinis On July - 19 - 2011

Will Lazio’s Mercato Gambling Pay Off?

Lazio, perhaps more than any other Italian side, have made some tremendously interesting moves in the summer mercato. “Interesting,” that is, because acquiring two strikers and swapping fullbacks and potentially goalies is quite the gamble, a roll of the dice that could see the club challenge for the top or fall apart into a mess of distraught egos and poor decisions.

On paper, at least, it seems as if the capital side have acquired two top-name strikers to lead them in the upcoming season. Miroslav Klose’s international record is undoubtedly more impressive than that of his clubs’, but by either statistic the German has established himself as one of the game’s most lethal poachers. 61 goals in 109 games for his national team have begot a number of honors, including the unique status of being the only player to have scored five or more goals in consecutive World Cups as well as World Cup Silver and Golden shoes for his strikes in 2002 and 2006. Germany’s second all-time top scorer is also second all-time in terms of World Cup goalscorers, and 77 goals in his last 7 club seasons illustrates his slightly less stellar penchant for scoring on smaller stages as well.

Djibril Cisse has an even more impressive club record, if a less illustrious international one than his fellow acquisition. He scored 47 goals in 60 games for Panathinaikos over the last two seasons and even managed to score against Lazio’s hated rivals, AS Roma, in the Europa League for the Greek side. 13 goals in 40 appearances for France have brought about far less international acclaim than Klose, but his goalscoring record in recent seasons nevertheless speaks for itself.

In the striker department, then, Lazio seem to have picked up two proven, deadly strikers. Thus far in the preseason, the pairing looks to be paying dividends as Lazio romped to an 8-0 victory in a friendly within the past week, with Klose in particular looking quite lively. Looks, however, can be deceiving (Not to mention that pre-season friendlies are often against terribly weak opposition and very difficult to read into). The above statistics merely tell part of the story, which also involves many other factors that raise question marks over the ability of the two players.

First and foremost would be the age of the former. At 29, Cisse surely has time left to give to the game but Klose is already 33 years old and in the twilight of his career. Furthermore, Klose’s record on a club level has gotten successively worse over the last four seasons. From 21 goals in 47 games in 07-08, the German then managed 20 in 38, 6 in 38, and finished last season with a mere 5 goals in 26 appearances for Bayern. His dwindling goalscoring record may be an indication that age is finally affecting the legend.

Furthermore, neither striker is guaranteed to be a success in Italy. Klose has never played outside the Bundesliga in his entire career, which is another worrying facet to pile on top of age and his aforementioned worrisome tally. Cisse’s ceaseless wanderlust has seen him play in France and England as well as Greece, but never in the peninsula before. Adjustment is thus a gamble as well, as even the most world-class of players is never guaranteed to be able to fit into the Italian game (Thierry Henry and Adriy Shevchenko being two high-profile victims of poor adjustment).

Finally, there is the issue of the side being arguably weakened thus far in the mercato, strikers aside. Fullback Stefan Lichtsteiner’s departure to Juventus will be a massive loss for the side, who now gamble on ex-Genoa player Abdoulay Konko’s ability to plug the gap. However, Lazio have pulled off a successful fullback swap recently, with Stefan Radu admirably filling in for the departure of Aleksandar Kolarov last year. The capital side will thus need to strike gold twice in two years in order to keep their fullbacks up to par.

Fernando Muslera’s rumored impending departure could be a massive blow as well, as the Uruguayan international has shown a penchant for stopping penalties and solidly parrying difficult shots. Muslera was strongly rumored to move to Galatasaray, and though the transfer rumors have died somewhat in recent weeks, a move is still entirely possible (Although the confusion continues as some sites already have him listed as being part of the Turkish side).  Federico Marchetti’s acquisition would seem to suggest that there may be some truth to the rumors, and based on his World Cup 2010 showing, will do little to reassure the Laziale faithful.

Of course, the moves could work out beautifully. Cisse and Klose could form a devastating attacking quartet along with Hernanes and Mauro Zarate; Konko could make tifosi forget all about old what’s-his-face over at Juventus; and Marchetti could regain the form that saw him enter Azzurri contention to begin with. Or it could be awful, with Klose continuing his recent trend of not scoring, Konko failing to get into form, and Marchetti letting in every shot that comes at him. One thing however is for certain: Lazio have been incredibly active this mercato, and will be one of the sides to watch come the start of the season.

Julian De Martinis

Calcio, Azzurri, and Roma tifosi. Blogger, correspondent, podcast host (@LaMagicast). Lover of books, movies, wordplay, family, and a good cappuccino.

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