Kevin Pogorzelski Date: 14th June 2020 at 4:07pm
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With the two countries sharing a border, Italian being one of four languages spoken and many inhabitants of Switzerland holding dual citizenship, a number of players have headed to the Swiss Super League, but with limited success in the modern era.

That was not always the case, though, with the first Italian import in the late fifties, midfielder Rosario Martinelli of Bergamo, winning both the Swiss title and Swiss Cup on six occasions during 15 years with FC Zurich.

As Martinelli left the club, striker Franco Cucinotta arrived and finished the 1976/77 campaign as joint-top scorer in the European Cup alongside Gerd Muller of Bayern Munich. The Sicilian also spent his entire career in Switzerland, also tasting cup success with Sion and Servette.

It would be nearly 10 years before another Italian arrived, but few remember 1982 World Cup winner Marco Tardelli’s 12 months with St Gallen, with the midfielder effectively winding down ahead of retirement.

Five years later, more was expected from striker Maurizio Melina on signing for top-flight Luzern, but he struggled with the step up in quality and is better remembered at SC Kriens lower down the Swiss pyramid – hitting 127 goals in 271 appearances during a 10-year spell.

While Melina misfired, future Lazio midfielders Roberto Di Matteo and Guerino Gottardi were taking their first tentative steps in professional football, with Aarau and Neuchatel Xamax respectively. Born in Switzerland, though, journeying in the opposite direction to success in Serie A was rare.

Towards the end of the last millennium, Switzerland largely acted as a second chance for those failing to break through in Italy. Giorgio Del Signore won the 1999 Swiss Cup with Zurich, before returning home, but rarely performing above Serie C.

In 1996 AC Milan sent Stefano Nava and Ludovico Moresi on-loan to Servette and St Gallen, seemingly to get them off the wage bill rather than gain experience to develop into first-team options for the Rossoneri.

Journeyman shot-stopper Marco Ambrosio was the first significant arrival from Italy for some time in 2004, but spent less than a year at Grasshopper via a similarly short-lived spell at Premier League side Chelsea.

It was a time – between 2006 and 2008 – when Swiss clubs were collecting Italian goalkeepers like playing cards, Matteo Gritti (Young Boys), Luca Ferro (Neuchatel Xamax) and Andrea Guatelli (Zurich), Lorenzo Bucchi, Carlo Zotti (both Bellinzona), all arrived.

Given that Bellinzona lies less than 25 kilometres from the Italian border, it is unsurprising that nine Italians made top-flight appearances with the club over the next three years. Andrea Conti, son of 1982 World Cup winner Bruno, impressing over six years at the club and joining countryman Davide Belotti, who had won the 1997 Coppa Italia with Vincenza.

Despite the country’s locality, a surprising number of Italians have failed to settle. Former Atalanta, Sampdoria and Livorno striker Faustino Rossini returned to Italy after one uninspiring season, whereas ex-Sampdoria midfielder Aimo Diana lasted slightly longer before deciding to retire.

In 2012, Gennaro Gattuso looked destined to join Tardelli as another world champion heading for Swiss retirement, but a move to Sion instead gave birth to his coaching career – taking the reins from Victor Munoz in February 2013.

On promotion to the Swiss Super League in 2015, Lugano followed Bellinzona by focusing on Italian recruitment, with midfielder Mario Piccinocchi, striker Lorenzo Rosseti and marquee signing Italian international Christian Ledesma arriving.

However, two players, Francesco Russo and Orlando Urbano, would have a bigger impact at the club, making over 300 combined appearances and playing a crucial part in their rise to the top-flight.

In 2017 Sion were back in the market for a player with a slightly bigger profile, however, one-time Torino and Italy hot prospect, Robert Acquafresca, continued to struggle for goals outside of Serie A.

If anything the striker was upstaged by young Inter loanee Federico Dimarco, but the full-back was quickly moved onto further temporary postings by the Nerazzurri and was with Hellas Verona at lockdown.

Another Italian youth to impress and still playing in Switzerland is Francesco Margiotta, however, after 15 goals in 36 games for Luzern on loan from Juventus, a permanent move saw the striker net just seven over 54 and was shipped on to Lausanne-Sport.

For the foreseeable future it appears the Swiss Super League will remain a destination for unknown Italian footballers to continue a professional career that would not exist in their homeland.