The Serie A clubs splashed more than a combined €850m on players in 2020-21, but it wasn’t all money well spent – and it wasn’t just the big clubs who got it wrong. Lorenzo Bettoni looks at the 10 most disappointing signings of the season.
10. Aleksandr Kokorin
€4.5m from Zenit St. Petersburg to Fiorentina (January)
When Fiorentina signed Kokorin in the winter transfer window, Dusan Vlahovic had only scored seven goals in Serie A. La Viola had sent Patrick Cutrone back to Wolves and needed a new striker whose goals would provide the points required for a quiet Serie A survival. Praised by Roberto Mancini and Fabio Capello upon his arrival in Italy, the Russian spent considerable time on the sidelines and played just four games, 91 minutes in total.
9. Aleksandar Kolarov
€2m from Roma to Inter
On paper, Kolarov was supposed to be that addition of experience Antonio Conte needed to build a winning mentality at Inter. The coach had planned to play him in a three-man defence, but Kolarov ended up playing just seven games in Serie A, managing one assist. Zlatan Ibrahimovic dominated the former Roma man in the Milan derby in October, and after that game, Kolarov played just 117 minutes in Serie A until the end of the season. He missed two games due to COVID and injuries affected him in the last part of the season, but by that time Conte had already dropped him in favour of Milan Skriniar. Kolarov played just 17 minutes in league games between December and March.
8. Mario Mandzukic
Milan, free agent (January)
Milan had little to lose financially when former Juventus striker Mandzukic returned to Italy to wear the Rossoneri shirt in January. He joined Milan as a free agent and was supposed to be a back-up to injury-prone Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but the Croat spent more time on the sidelines than the former Manchester United striker. Mandzukic didn’t score a goal in 11 appearances in all competitions (10 in Serie A, one in the Europa League) and although he gave up on his March wages, the Milan board would have probably preferred paying his full-salary and have a few more goals in return.
7. Kevin Lasagna
€10m from Udinese to Hellas Verona
The Italian striker moved to the Stadio Bentegodi in the January transfer window on a two-year loan with an obligation to buy in the region of €10m. His fellow Verona striker Nikola Kalinic was probably as disappointing as Lasagna, having scored just two Serie A goals this season. However, the Croat joined the Giallablu as a free agent while Lasagna is one of the most expensive signings in the history of the club. Perhaps Ivan Juric’s system didn’t help Lasagna, who thrives in open spaces thanks to his pace, but either way, his first six-month spell in Verona didn’t quite work out with only two goals since January.
6. Karol Linetty
€10m from Sampdoria to Torino
Marco Giampaolo strongly pushed to sign the 26-year-old, who he had already coached at Sampdoria. Poland international Linetty was Torino’s most expensive signing in 2020-21, only second to Simone Verdi, who had joined the Granata on loan with an obligation to buy in 2019. Linetty got regular game time under Giampaolo, but Torino only managed 14 points in the Girone d’Andata. When Davide Nicola replaced Giampaolo in January, Linetty fell down the pecking order and played just nine games, and only three of them as a starter.
5. Sofian Amrabat
€20m from Hellas Verona to Fiorentina
The Morocco international had signed with Fiorentina in January 2020, but remained out on loan at Verona until the summer. Although the 24-year-old was a regular starter under both Cesare Prandelli and Beppe Iachini, he was one of those players who didn’t live up to expectations during the season. Amrabat’s performances improved in the final games of the campaign, but he had too many highs and lows during the campaign. The feeling is that he needed time to settle in, and that he could be an important part of the future of Fiorentina because the quality is there. But what Amrabat produced in 2020-21 was simply not enough, especially considering his price tag.
4. Chris Smalling
€15m from Manchester United to Roma
The Englishman returned to the capital one year after his loan spell in 2019-20. However, his second season in Rome, the first one as a permanent member of the squad, was highly disappointing, mainly due to injuries. The former Manchester United man missed more games than he played; Smalling skipped 31 games due to physical problems, playing 21 matches in all competitions with the Giallorossi. His absence was felt severely in the capital as Paulo Fonseca’s side conceded 58 goals in Serie A. Things didn’t go any better when he was on the pitch. The most notable example is Roma’s humiliating Europa League defeat against Manchester United in the Europa League semi-finals, a return to the Old Trafford that Smalling would want to forget quickly.
3. Sandro Tonali
€35m from Brescia to Milan
The 21-year-old was regarded as one of the most exciting prospects of Italian football when he joined Milan in the summer. The Rossoneri signed Tonali on loan for €10m, but the deal came with an option to buy in the region of €10m and bonuses up to €15m. Tonali collected 37 appearances in all competitions, but didn’t register any goals or assists. He started 14 Serie A games with the Diavoli, but it was hard for him to leapfrog Ismael Bennacer and Franck Kessié in Stefano Pioli’s pecking order. The former Empoli and Atalanta midfielders formed one of the best midfield partnerships in the league, but Bennacer was often out of action with injuries, and Tonali failed to cope with expectations when it came to replacing him. However, time is on his side.
2. Vedat Muriqi
€20m from Fenerbache to Lazio
The Kosovo international should have allowed Simone Inzaghi to rest the regular starter Ciro Immobile. Lazio were involved in the Champions League and needed more depth in every department, and Muriqi was the biggest investment of the summer for the Biancocelesti. Lazio sporting director Igli Tare gets very few transfers wrong, but Muriqi appears to be one of them. The 27-year-old failed to justify his price-tag, scoring just two goals in 34 appearances in all competitions. He netted just once in Serie A and clearly struggled to adapt to Italian football. It’s true that he started many games from bench – he was included in the starting XI for Serie A games only eight times. However, he failed to have any sort of impact and the club needs to do some serious thinking about his future in the capital.
€80m from Barcelona to Juventus
When Arthur signed with the Old Lady in June, Maurizio Sarri was still in charge of Juventus and many wondered how the Brazilian midfielder would perform under the tactician and the change of coach cannot have helped Arthur settle in. But this is not to say Andrea Pirlo is responsible for Arthur’s flop in his first season in Turin. His technical abilities are undisputable; Arthur is arguably the most skilled member of the Juventus midfield. The trouble is, he was not able to prove it consistently. His off-the-pitch behaviour wasn’t always acceptable, as he was one of Weston McKennie’s party attendees, along with Paulo Dybala, at the beginning of April. Juventus fined the trio and suspended them for one game. On the pitch, a naïve pass in the home game against Benevento allowed Filippo Inzaghi’s side to seal their only victory of the Girone di Ritorno. Arthur joined Juventus in a swap deal involving Miralem Pjanic, but the price-tag Juventus wrote in their books is around €80m, which will make it difficult for the Serie A giants to sell the Brazilian in the summer.