It is often aired from presidents, owners’ organization, or whoever else is in charge of a club, that there is a project in place in order to achieve the immediate goals set up for the organization which they represent. In the Italian league, this delivered with a slight bias from my side of course, these projects very much represents the past of the club discussed, as well as their current status of ownership. Juventus, as an example, has a project in place to climb back to winning titles and being the protagonist. Since Calciopoli Juventus has not been what it used to be and the Turin based side has invested millions to get back to the top and without evaluating their chances to grab some silverware this season, they have strengthened their quality on many positions in the team. Milan aim at repeating the win from last year, but to also add the Champion’s League trophy this coming season. Allegri, having learnt from the participation last year and having one season in charge of one of the greatest teams under his belt, has not asked for much during the summer. Yet he has received additions that will help his team develop further, and managed to keep all key players from last season. Inter will be the top team that will have to convince most followers that their new project is to be believed in. With Gasperini replacing Leonardo, who replaced a Benitez that had taken over after Mourinho’s 2009/2010 success, a lot of the pressure is on Moratti to convince people that he knows in what direction he wants Inter to head. A couple of days before the end of the transfer period many had started writing the team off, but after a late swoop on the market they again seem to have the fire power needed. Last year’s third place finisher, Napoli, have a visionary leader who seems to get things the way he wants. Great signings added to a team that managed to hold on to all quality from last year, including coach Mazzarri, means De Laurentis has made his presence an enjoyable one for the southerners and the next step is not only to play well in Europe, but to cement their position amongst the top of the league.
Roma has undergone the most drastic change this summer. A new project is in place. With an American owner having replaced the influential Sensi family, the aim is to buy success and climb towards the trophies - something that the amount spent on new arrivals witness. It seems as if the other side of the coin, the players who have represented the club over a longer period, the fans who have supported the club since birth and the people surrounding the club, are yet to fully realise what this project is all about, as the first stop towards an era of success ended as just that. A Stop. Against Slovan Bratislava the second team of the capital managed not only to lose one game, they were relegated from the European League before it had even started and many of the actors mentioned above had had a chance to take a swipe at each other. But at least, there seems to be a project in the head of Di Benedetto and enough money available to make the club have a go at the top.
With Lazio things are as they usually are these days; confusing. Is there a project in place? The president surely thinks so, but many fail to see what that could possibly be. Early on this summer, it looked as if Claudio Lotito had decided to use the off-season to strengthen the team. After Coach Edoardo Reja had made sure he was staying for some more time with the biancocelesti, the president and Igli Tare started their attempts to deliver the wishes of the tactician. During the previous season Lazio had had a great record defensively, being amongst the teams letting in fewest goals, while the other side of the pitch had failed to deliver that little extra. Hence, the recipe of being able to take the next step was simple. Add someone who can tap the balls in for the team in attack, as the missing of a first class finisher had been specifically commented by Reja. At the back, make sure to at least keep the same quality – preferably by strengthening the points were the weakness had made itself present at occasions – and we would be facing a great season ahead. In the middle of the pitch a few replacements were needed, everybody knew that, but that was more a matter of making sure to not stand unprepared when the injuries started hitting the team.
During the summer the following players came in:
Miroslav Klose on a free transfer from Bayern Munich. Senad Lulic from Young Boys. Luciano Zauri returned after a loan at Sampdoria. Stephen Makinwa returned from Larissa. Djibril Cisse arrived from Panathinaikos. Juan Pablo Carrizo returned from River Plate. Marius Stankevicius, owned by Sampdoria but having played for Valencia, arrived as well. So did Abdoullay Konko, former club Genoa. Federico Marchetti left the bench at Cagliari. From Galatasaray Lazio brought on Loric Cana. Also worth mentioning, Giusseppe Sculli’s fee was paid and joined Lazio fully from Genoa. Some youngsters were added from the youth ranks as well, and together they will wear the Lazio shirt this coming season.
The following left:
Stephan Lichtsteiner was sold to Juventus. Fernando Muslera involved in the Galatasaray deal mentioned above. Mourad Meghni’s contract was terminated and he today plays for Umm Sallal Sports Club in Qatar. Tommaso Berni left to Braga. Mark Bresciano is in UAE to represent Al Nasr. Pasquale Foggia was loaned out to Sampdoria. Sergio Floccari the same, but to Parma. Mauro Zarate was also loaned out, to Inter. To gain playing time Riccardo Perpetuini continues at Foggia for another year, Antonio Cinelli will play for Sassuolo and Lorenzo Cinque for Mantova.
What I find confusing with this is that everyone involved in the transfers speak about a strategy on how to develop positively for the future. Keeping what is good, getting rid of what is not, is the way to go and with the addition of competence in the areas were the team lacked last year Lazio would have a good chance challenging the giants this season. One has to wonder if that will become reality though. Looking at the back, Muslera has been replaced by Marchetti. Some say for the better, some say for the worse. What we can say for sure is that Marchetti has the potential to become a great goalkeeper, but so did Muslera. If we are to be happy about this deal will probably show quite drastically, as a change of goalie could mean anything and everything. The back line will look the same to 75%. Radu is there to the left, Biava and Dias in the middle, but no Lichsteiner to the right. One of the most loyal full backs in the game, a follower of Lazio should know by now what the Swiss represents, has been replaced in the starting eleven by Konko. Good money was made as Juventus is reported to have bought him for around €10 million, but around half of that was invested in an injury prone player, the same age as the Swiss, but with less games as well as minutes under his belt.
In the midfield many were cheering for Lazio to sign Lorik Cana, as the Albanian would overtake Brocchi’s role on the midfield and accompany Ledesma centrally. So far, the ex-Galatasaray man has failed to impress, while Brocchi has looked better than ever during the summer training. Add to that the fact that Matuzalem is fit and a quality choice for Reja, and the money and effort spent on Cana need to be questioned, not judged, so far. Up front is where most has changed. Djibril Cisse is hoped to bring between 15-20 goals this season and Reja has continuously praised the player for being an outstanding addition to the team. He showed early, in friendly games and in the EL qualifiers, that he knows how to find the back of the net. However, he is injury prone and have had good times replaced by bad on a regular basis. Miroslav Klose is pure class up front and probably the best addition of all since he came on a free transfer, but the German international is getting old and even though we will see him score for the team on numerous occasions, at 33 he has the best years behind him. Who they replaced? Well, Lazio had no real finisher last year, especially not after Reja having decided to move Zarate and Floccari into positions on the wings or further back in the pitch rather than keeping them centrally positioned, something that had seen Zarate blossom under his first season, and something that made Floccari save Lazio from relegation one year earlier. The Argentinean was the second best in assisting goals the past season, and scored more goals than most. Floccari did not succeed as well as in his first six months, but was very much appreciated by his work load as well as collective mindedness when on the pitch.
Other than those, Lulic adds a dimension to the game for Lazio with his abilities to play on the wings, and Sculli has been having a good preparation for this season after having ended the last on a low. The other additions, in all honesty, give very little to Lazio. Actually, they need to be questioned. Zauri is back, after years of being loaned out and after having publicly and openly stated he would never want to stay in Lazio. Stankevicius has not been around for long, but is already omitted from the Europa League squad and has been injured most of the summer. Carrizo and Makinwa, occupying two non-EU spots for the club, were not kicked out before September 1 and will now be free to sign a new contract in six months, but receive salary until next summer. Amongst the ones who left and have not been mentioned, Mark Bresciano got most playing time last season. The Australian had some solid displays, but with a growing squad size it became obvious he would be better elsewhere. Pasquale Foggia will hopefully find his talent again, after having struggled for some seasons in Lazio. Luckily for Foggia he tends to succeed better when away from Lazio, and if Sampdoria make a quick return to the top flight the player will remain there. Berni will probably get more playing time in Portugal, and for a guy that never complained and always showed respect, one can only wish him the best of luck.
After a summer filled with activity, from the first days and the signing of Klose, to the last day and departure of Zarate, Floccari and Foggia, it is hard to say that Lazio has developed in a positive manner. Not only did the treatment, and eventually departure, of the fan favourite Mauro Zarate again shed light on the tense situation between fans and management, but with a still overcrowded squad present it becomes more and more clear Lazio are having problems in identifying the project. The average age of the expected main squad increased, while the number of own products in the same squad did not. If Lazio manages to have a season better than the last remains to be seen, and maybe the management have planned everything perfectly. Looking at the exchange of players gives one interesting aspect of the message that the club tries to communicate, and there are many others that need to be taken into consideration. Based on having plans for the future and having worked to manifest the importance of always trying to develop positively, this summer is in many ways another worrying sign.