There have been more memorable January transfer windows in Serie A, that’s for sure. This one lacked the coup du theatre of bygone calciomercati. Mario Balotelli didn’t come home. There was no business between the big clubs like 20 years ago, when Edgar Davids swapped Milan for Juventus. No equivalent of Dejan Stankovic moving from Lazio to Inter in 2004.
If anything, Interisti are hoping Rafinha will hit the ground running in the same way Radja Nainggolan did for Roma four years ago and Mo Salah did for Fiorentina in the second half of 2015. The pair of them stand out as the best January deals in recent memory.
Ultimately, this window was instead defined by two things: the transfers that didn’t happen — Edin Dzeko to Chelsea, Simone Verdi to Napoli, and Javier Pastore to Inter. And the feverish activity at the bottom of Serie A and the top of Serie B with Parma in particular scatenato, as they say, literally “unchained.” The Gialloblu went wild in an effort to make it back to the top flight in the quickest time possible with a third consecutive promotion.
Here are the winners and losers in no particular order.
Juventus: The Old Lady is a year ahead of everyone else, and while it was galling to see Monaco gazump her for Pietro Pellegri last weekend, the consolation came in the form of Serie A’s other wunderkind, Moise Kean, who scored a brace for Verona. The 17-year-old is already on Juve’s books, and as such, their rivals let out a collective sigh of relief that the Bianconeri missed out on Pellegri. Having both of Italy’s best teenage strikers waiting in the wings would have just been greedy.
Crotone: With a nickname like the Pythagoreans, solving problems should be in Crotone’s DNA. The Calabrians have strengthened in every area, and the return of Federico Ricci promises to be the difference between them staying up and going down. Ricci set up a goal and scored on his second “debut” for the Rossoblu in a relegation six-pointer away to Hellas. Then last weekend he thought he’d clinched another precious win when Federico Ceccherini headed home his free-kick against Cagliari. How disappointing, then, that the linesman flagged for offside and the referee didn’t change the decision on review. Ceccherini was a mile onside.
Verona: With the next TV deal set to be divided even more equitably than the current one, it’s no surprise that teams threatened by the drop did the most business this January. Verona didn’t spend a dime, but the loans they have already have been priceless. Hellas looked like a new team at the weekend, upsetting Fiorentina 4-1 at the Franchi. New signing Jagos Vukovic, a giant centre-half, opened the scoring. Soon afterward, fellow debutante Ryder Matos set up another for Kean. For now, these two have helped keep Fabio Pecchia in a job, but keeping Hellas up, however, remains a tall order.
Milan: It’s six months too late, but Leonardo Bonucci, Lucas Biglia, Franck Kessie and Hakan Calhanoglu are beginning to look like “new signings.” Andrea Conti should be back soon too.
Bologna: Verdi’s loyalty to Bologna is the feel-good story of the window. The Felsinei‘s talisman rejected the chance of a pay raise and maybe even a league winners’ medal at Napoli to stay true to a club that feels like home to him. Roberto Donadoni handed the 25-year-old the captain’s armband as a token of his gratitude shortly after Verdi went public with his decision to stay. The Italy international seemed inspired by it, setting up all of Bologna’s goals in a 3-0 win against Benevento. The prospect of Verdi teaming up with new signing Riccardo Orsolini on his return from injury is tantalising.
Inter: Luciano Spalletti said even his mum could see Inter needed a centre-back, so it would have been remiss of sporting directors Walter Sabatini and Piero Ausilio not to sign one. Lisandro Lopez arrived from Benfica, as did Thiago Alcantara’s brother, the multipurpose Rafinha of Barcelona. The Brazil international has hardly played since April after a serious knee injury, but Inter hope he can make this team less predictable and supply much-needed goals from midfield. Of course, signing Pastore would have definitively changed the mood around Inter and transformed this team. It’s disappointing they couldn’t agree to terms with PSG especially given the player’s willingness to return to Italy. The melancholy is mitigated somewhat by the prospect of Inter getting all their money back for Joao Mario after his loan to West Ham. Now there’s a miracle.
Sassuolo: Completed the biggest deal of the window in Serie A, beating Premier League competition to the signature of Fiorentina striker Khouma Babacar for €10m and withstood Napoli’s assault for Matteo Politano. However, it will be interesting to see how the 24-year-old Roman takes it given he expressed his wish to leave.
Roma: The consensus is that Roma were destabilised by all the speculation surrounding Dzeko, but I’m not so sure. Roma’s issues started with a goalkeeping masterclass from Chievo’s Stefano Sorrentino, Daniele De Rossi’s red card against Genoa and Radja Nainggolan’s New Year’s party that meant he sat out the defeat to Atalanta on the naughty step. The rest is a story of Roma failing to take the chances they create, missed penalties and the like. Keeping Dzeko gives Roma a better chance of qualifying for the quarterfinals of the Champions League and next year’s competition, which in turn makes meeting Financial Fair Play commitments less challenging than it otherwise might be. Selling Emerson Palmieri to Chelsea for an €18.3m profit and sourcing Jonathan Silva as an alternative isn’t bad either, but this opinion is unlikely to be a popular one.
Napoli: It has been a roller-coaster window for Napoli. Verdi turned them down, which is a shame as he would have been perfect for them. Ambidextrous and capable of playing anywhere across the front line, he knows Maurizio Sarri from his Empoli days and would also have given them the chance to change the system. Then Amin Younes flew in with a view to joining from Ajax, only for the move to be postponed until the summer for personal reasons. Prolonged efforts to find an agreement with Sassuolo for Politano went right down to the wire. At 10 p.m. on deadline day, it looked like they had found a breakthrough by sending Adam Ounas the other way on loan with €25m, but it was too late. As such, Napoli’s only “new signings” will be Faouzi Ghoulam and Arkadiusz Milik once they return from injury. Doubts about the squad’s depth remain.
Genoa: Owner Enrico Preziosi once boasted that Pellegri is “our Lionel Messi.” If that’s the case, and even if the 16-year-old wunderkind turns out to be only half the player Messi is, surely you hang onto him longer and sell him for more than €21m. Of course, Genoa are not in the same financial position as Monaco and can’t resist an offer of such proportions for a player who has made only four starts for the club. But it’s a shame to see him leave, particularly as he’s Genoa through-and-through. For Italian football more generally, the disappointment is every bit as great as the time Marco Verratti left for PSG without ever gracing Serie A.
Benevento: The latest club to think Sandro can recapture the form he showed for Spurs against Milan at San Siro all those years ago, the Witches probably need to be witch doctors in order for that to happen. God only knows what persuaded them to sign a player whose best bits for Antalyaspor this season include back-to-back red cards. Bacary Sagna was close to a move to the Vigorito, but the move fell through, and for all that, Guilherme looks like a smart acquisition, there is little to suggest Benevento can pull off the great escape. Especially now that Amato Ciciretti, the scorer of their first ever top-flight goal, left for Parma on loan amid the disgruntlement surrounding his decision to join Napoli on a free transfer in the summer.
James covers the Italian Serie A and European football for ESPN FC Follow him on Twitter @JamesHorncastle.