Gigi Buffon and Andrea Barzagli’s contract extensions must, in part, be seen in that context: this is a final tilt at the windmill. As should the arrival of serial Champions League winner Dani Alves from Barcelona, the latest in a long line of excellent free transfers. Juventus have weakened a rivalby taking Miralem Pjanic away from Roma. He is Andrea Pirlo’s replacement. Next up is Mehdi Benatia. Arguably the best centre-back in the league when he left for Bayern, his signing acknowledges that Barzagli is a year older, Giorgio Chiellini was worryingly injury prone down the stretch and Martin Caceres is now gone. Juan Cuadrado, a player of rare ability when it comes to interpreting roles differently and changing the emphasis of a 4-3-3 and 3-5-2, is also pushing to stay rather than return to Chelsea.
Juventus’ No.1 priority in the meantime is keeping Paul Pogba. Claudio Marchisio is out until November. Sami Khedira is fragile and missed 18 league games last season. If Pogba does decide to take a new challenge, contingencies like Andre Gomes - if the Portugal international is still available - will have to be activated. Domenico Berardi’s reluctance to move to Juventus this summer isn’t so much of an issue if Cuadrado returns.
The loss of Alvaro Morata, however, is a big blow. He had a unique skill-set. Marko Pjaca is the hot name at the moment. Juventus see him more as a striker than as a winger, but that versatility - as we saw with Morata who frequently had to play out-wide in a 4-3-3 - would come in handy. Disappointingly his agent was in Dortmund last night. Should Pogba go, money for Edinson Cavani would be available although Unai Emery seems pretty excited about working with the Uruguay international, who can finally step out of Zlatan’s shadow in Paris.
Napoli meanwhile have got to convince last season’s Capocannoniere and MVP Gonzalo Higuain that it is worth his while to stick around a little longer. The best way to do that is to look at how Juventus have persuaded Pogba [and his agent Mino Raiola] over the last couple of years, by adding players of a standard that have made him believe the team is getting better and better and is capable of matching his ambition.
For the first time in a couple of seasons Napoli have guaranteed Champions League money to spend. They have already reunited Maurizio Sarri with centre-back Lorenzo Tonelli and hope, amid Liverpool’s dithering, to add his inventive Empoli teammate Piotr Zielinski to the midfield. Moves to strengthen that area in the pitch, which looked a little jaded in the spring, is a primary objective. Talks with Axel Witsel broke down after Napoli apparently offered him what he wanted in wages before rather than after tax. Porto’s Mexico international Hector Herrera is on standby.
Up front, Napoli have got a conundrum. It’s hard to see Manolo Gabbiadini staying unless Higuain departs. Likewise, would Arkadiusz Milik, a player Juventus also like, really join only to be his back up. Bringing in Gianluca Lapadula from Pescara made sense from this point of view. However, while Napoli tried to get a better deal, Milan came out of nowhere, met the asking price and Lapadula is now at San Siro. You get the impression Napoli need to make a splash for Higuain’s sake. Not that anyone is rushing to meet his prohibitively high €94m buy-out clause, though.
As for Roma, their focus is on getting their accounts in order before the submission of them before UEFA’s Financial Fair-Play compliance team at the end of this month. Unlike Napoli they don’t have guaranteed Champions League money and the €32m they have collected from Juventus for Pjanic seems to have gone, in part, on making Stephan El Shaarawy and Antonio Rudiger’s moves permanent, and completing the signings of Gerson and Alisson, the boys from Brazil. However, remember they did get €18m from Hebei China Fortune for Gervinho in January, which was something of a masterstroke.
To balance the books, more money will have to be raised from sales. The intention is to cash in on the players they sent out on loan. A year ago, €45m was brought in from the trades of Alessio Romagnoli and Andrea Bertolacci to Milan. They had spent the previous season at Samp and Genoa. Roma hope to recoup similar figures either now or in IOUs for Adem Ljajic, Iago Falque, Juan Iturbe, Leandro Paredes, Antonio Sanabria et al rather than receive it all in one fell swoop by selling another of their stars, Radja Nainggolan to Chelsea. Several offers have been turned down for il Ninja, who is very reluctant to follow Pjanic out the door and to leave Italy, his second home.
Where Roma are looking to strengthen is at full-back and Mario Rui is expected to join from Empoli this week. A fit again Kevin Strootman and, perhaps, Gerson will help fill Pjanic’s boots although interest in a player like Borja Valero is likely to be rekindled. In attack, Luciano Spalletti does not seem sold on Edin Dzeko. After starting and finishing the new managers first two games, he did so again in only four of the next 17. Maybe Roma can swap him for Carlos Bacca and send some cash Milan’s way as well? Maybe not. It appears a difficult deal to strike given the current circumstances.
Excitement is building in Milan. For a second summer in a row, both are expected to go big and hopefully do better than last time around. Suning’s takeover of Inter is very promising indeed. They have pumped €184m into the club, in part to restructure the debt, but also to give Pier Ausilio more room for manoeuvre in the transfer market. Inter still have to keep an eye on FFP. However it’s hoped Suning, who have promised to spend like Moratti, will help take the club’s commercial revenue to the next level through their 1600 stores across Asia and make good on their promise to get their many partners to invest in Inter as sponsors.
So far, Inter have already drawn a hallelujah from their fans by signing Ever Banega on a free transfer. Banega is what this team was crying out for: the architect in a midfield of carpenters. Cristian Ansaldi improves Inter at right-back. In the middle, another Argentine, Ezequiel Garay, is an idea. You can tell Javier Zanetti has had an input in recruitment. All will depend if Inter can find a buyer for Jeison Murillo. Juan Jesus also seems outward bound and then there is Andrea Ranocchia. Erkin, the Turkey international left-back, another freebie from Fenerbahçe, does not get the juices flowing.
Further forward, Inter seem inclined to spread their wings further. Talks have been held with Antonio Candreva and Lazio. But Inter are really hoping Berardi, a childhood fan of the Nerazzurri, will force Sassuolo into taking their interest in him seriously. That is, if he really wants to leave. For now the understanding is that Berardi believes his development would be better served by another season at the Mapei Stadium. The move that is making all the headlines, however, is Inter’s efforts to beat competition from fellow European giants for Gabriel Jesus, the next Brazilian super star. Advised by the original Ronaldo, it is exactly the kind of signing the new owners want to deliver as a statement of their intent even if, Jesus might not arrive until January.
Cousins Milan, meanwhile, have, after almost two years of trying, found new owners apparently willing to satisfy Silvio Berlusconi’s demands and plough €400m into the team in two years. Right now it sounds too good to be true and even if it does materialise the thought of Adriano Galliani being in charge of how it is spent does little to inspire confidence. Vincenzo Montella’s appointment is a welcome one. It’s overdue as well. The team needs building in his image.
In addition to finding a centre-back partner for Romagnoli - Mexes and Alex are gone - the midfield is the part of the team most in need of transformation, particularly if Milan are to play the possession football Montella wants them to play. Borja Valero and Milan Badelj, his proteges from Fiorentina are targets. Lapadula’s arrival hints at Bacca’s departure. Adem Ljajic, a player who was very close to Milan before joining Roma two years ago, is also someone with whom Montella would like to be reunited although he seems bound for Celta Vigo.
Until the takeover is completed, Milan’s hands are tied. There is no official confirmation of who is exactly behind it either and whether a spree will be immediate. Again, there is FFP to respect. Nevertheless, it is all very encouraging. Although Juventus won the Scudetto for a fifth straight year last season, what made their comeback all the more remarkable was that, statistically, all the top sides improved. They will improve again this summer.