Italians laugh at English extravagance

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The Independent Online
They all laughed at Christopher Columbus when he said the world was round, but not as loudly as when Middlesbrough's manager, Bryan Robson, shelled out pounds 7m for the Juventus striker, Fabrizio Ravanelli.

The Italians have learned to accept that their Genovese ancestor should not be ridiculed and now they are aiming their mirth at the amounts of money that English clubs are laying out for their fading Serie A stars. Amid the laughter, there is a fear that they may again be proved wrong, but, in the meantime, they are content in the knowledge that their league remains the strongest in the world.

Ravanelli tops the list of Italian players who have come to England this summer, a trend that was previously unthinkable before Premiership clubs were endowed with Sky Television's lovely lira. Elsewhere, Gianluca Vialli and Roberto di Matteo have joined Ruud Gullit's continental revolution at Chelsea, a year after Nottingham Forest gave Andreas Silenzi the opportunity to become the first top Italian player to play in the English Premiership.

Alessio Da Ronch, Gazzetta dello Sport's senior expert on transfer stories, claims that money is the sole reason for this summer's Italian exodus. "Nearly every club in Italy has problems with money because they overspent in the Eighties and they cannot believe the sums English clubs are prepared to pay for their players," says Da Ronch.

"They need to raise funds quickly and England has become the best market place for them. Ravanelli is still a good player, but he is thought to be past his peak over here and no Italian club would have paid pounds 7m for him. They may have gone as high as pounds 3.5m, but they would not have matched Middlesbrough's salary offer. The same applies to Vialli."

Ravanelli's pounds 3.5m replacement at Juventus is Christian Vieri, a summer signing from Atalanta, who scored in this week's 2-1 defeat of Middlesbrough and Da Ronch adds: "We are not worried about losing these players because we are replacing them with better ones from over here and all over the world. Apart from di Matteo, the Italian players who are going to England are generally thought to be past their best."

When I asked a couple of the younger Juventus players whether they would consider joining their countrymen in England, they uniformly answered: "How much?"

Sampdoria's highly-respected Swedish coach Sven Goran Eriksson is not so cynical. He saw his side beaten 2-1 by Vialli's Chelsea on Thursday night and believes English football can only benefit from their Italian imports. He does not, however, believe England has overtaken Italy in terms of overall strength.

"Of course money is a factor," Eriksson says, "because now English clubs can compete in the transfer market with Italian, German and Spanish sides. But football matters are just as important and I think the English game will continue to improve every year. Vialli, if he stays clear of injuries, will have an excellent season in the Premiership - he is a world-class player and I would gladly have him back here.

"The trend is very good for English supporters too because the players going over are the really top ones. It's a compliment to the Italian game that English clubs are paying so much for the players here. But I still believe the Italian league is the strongest in the world.

"That may alter in the future as English clubs change their style. Glenn Hoddle and Gullit have changed the way of thinking in England. Chelsea do not play a British style; they like to keep the ball, play it on the ground and build their moves slowly in a European fashion."

It is thought in Italy that these moves to England are only the beginning of a trend. Da Ronch is confident that Sampdoria's Roberto Mancini will be the next one to go. "English clubs have been trying to sign Roberto for years but have met with no success. But now that he is getting older, I think it could be the time for him to join the others in England," he said.

Judging by the standing ovations Ravanelli and Vialli received from their former Juventus and Sampdoria supporters this week, the Italian fans still hold their players in high regard.

But, as far as the majority of Italians are concerned, English football, whilst still representing a threat, presents no more than a justly deserved final pay-day for the players they cheered on in their prime. Now the wait is on to see who really will have the last laugh.

Eleven for Alan Shearer XI

(Players whose transfers add up to pounds 15m)

Peter Schmeichel

(pounds 500,000, Man Utd)

Henning Berg

(pounds 400,000, Blackburn)

Gary Pallister

(pounds 2.3m, Man Utd)

Gareth Southgate

(pounds 2.5m, Aston Villa)

Graeme Le Saux

(pounds 650,00, Blackburn)

Stuart Ripley

(pounds 1.3m, Blackburn)

Jamie Redknapp

(pounds 300,000, Liverpool)

Georgi Kinkladze

(pounds 2m, Man City)

David Ginola

(pounds 2.5m, Newcastle)

Eric Cantona

(1.2m, Man Utd)

Peter Beardsley

(pounds 1.35m, Newcastle)

International Managers XI

Ray Clemence

(Barnet, England)

Terry Fenwick

(Portsmouth, England)

Kevin Ratcliffe

(Chester, Wales)

Jan Molby

(Swansea, Denmark)

Phil Neal

(Cardiff, England)

Bryan Robson

(Middlesbrough, England)

Ruud Gullit

(Chelsea, Holland)

Alan Ball

(Man City, England)

Martin O'Neill

(Leicester, Northern Ireland)

Kevin Keegan

(Newcastle, England)

Joe Royle

(Everton, England)