Italians Abroad: La Liga

Date: 26th April 2020 at 5:35pm
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Born in Tricesimo just outside of Udine, La Liga’s first Italian professional, Aridex Calligaris, never appeared in Serie A, staring at Saint-Etienne in the Southern France before heading to Spain to end his career with Real Sociedad after just one season – the 1949/50 campaign.

The following season Genovese attacker Angelo Bollano joined Murcia, but for just one season, before Roman midfielder Sergio Del Pinto signed for Gimnastic in 1950 and spent three years at the club before one more with Lleida.

The next Italian imports 46 years later would have considerably contrasting experiences of La Liga, Damiano Longhi joining Hercules from Padova and Christian Panucci following his Champions League winning coach Fabio Capello to Real Madrid.

While the defender won the title in 1996/97 and became a continental and world champion with Los Blancos in 1998, Longhi would make just 13 league appearances and be back in Italy within six months.

Valencia were not discouraged by the hit-and-miss nature of those signings, though, offering 32-year-old Amedeo Carboni a final few years in the Spanish sunshine. Few expected the full-back to make over 300 appearances, win two La Liga titles, a Copa del Rey and a UEFA Cup during a nine-year stay.

At the same time, Atletico Madrid appeared to want to shop exclusively for Italian talent. First bringing in Christian Vieri from Juventus for €15 million, before Michele Serena, Stefano Torrisi and Giorgio Venturin all arrived in 1998. While Vieri netted 29 times in his solitary season, the others contributed more to the clubs eventual relegation in 2000.

Between 1998 and 2004, few Italian imports can claim to have been anything close to successful. Striker Cristiano Lucarelli scored just three times for Valencia, injury disrupted Nicola Berti’s period at Alaves and few will remember Demetrio Albertini’s spell at either Atletico Madrid or Barcelona. 

The one notable success was defensive-midfielder Thiago Motta during nearly a decade at Barcelona and then Atletico Madrid, however, he arrived in Spain a Brazilian youth international before switching sides to the Azzurri in 2010.

Ahead of the 2004/05 season Valencia hedged their bets signing four Italians in Bernardo Corradi, Marco Di Vaio, Stefano Fiore and Emiliano Moretti, with the latter the surprising success, playing 172 times and winning the UEFA Cup and Copa del Rey.

An improvement in fortunes was taking place as Alessio Tacchinardi helped Villarreal reach the 2006 Champions League semi-final in his first season and Enzo Maresca became a significant part of Sevilla’s golden period, winning five trophies in four seasons.

At that point Real Madrid joined the Italian party, first taking advantage of striker Antonio Cassano’s unrest at Roma and Juventus’ post-Calciopoli relegation allowing Los Blancos to sign Italian captain Fabio Cannavaro – both for hugely reduced fees. 

The European and World Footballer of the Year would win consecutive La Liga titles in Madrid, but fellow 2006 World Cup winner Gianluca Zambrotta also left Juventus for  two seasons with Barcelona wherein he failed to win a trophy.

Most curiously was the apparent sale on Italian goalkeepers at the beginning of the 2007/08 campaign when Morgan De Sanctis (Sevilla), Christian Abbiati (Atletico Madrid), Stefano Sorrentino (Recreativo) and Marco Storari (Levante) all moved to Spain.

The latter joined countrymen Damiano Tommasi and Christian Rigano at the Estadi Ciutat de Valencia, but failed to save them from relegation.

This strange occurrence seemed to spark a prolonged period of Italian internationals failing to replicate their Serie A form, as one-time Torino star duo Alessio Cerci and Ciro Immobile struggled at Atletico Madrid and Sevilla respectively.

The notable exception was Giuseppe Rossi, as his career sadly peaked at Villarreal between 2007 and 2012.

In contrast, La Liga became a destination for Italians to redeem their reputations. A goalscoring burst by Daniel Osvaldo for Espanyol secured a move to Roma, while both Nicola Sansone and Roberto Soriano impressed at Villarreal and stayed together when they returned to Serie A with Bologna in 2019.

The jury is still out on the futures of Italian duo Cristiano Piccini and Alessandro Florenzi at Valencia, or Federico Barba at Valladolid, but it is unlikely their performances before the coronavirus unforced lockdown will spark the next wave of Italians to Spain.


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