Christmas has come and gone, which can only mean two things: fights in the Next sale, and European football’s major leagues opening for business once more in just a few weeks.
January is often considered a risky time to dip into the market – you don’t need to look far to find examples of rushed or reckless deals that haven’t panned out.
However, there are bargains out there to be had. The following Italy-based players, from rising stars to disgruntled veterans, could make an impact in the Premier League if given the chance…
Christian Kouame (Genoa)
Krzysztof Piatek has hogged the headlines for Genoa this season, coming out of nowhere to lead the Serie A scoring charts ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo and Ciro Immobile.
But his strike partner Kouame is now starting to get the credit he deserves for an impressive start to the season in which he has frequently outshone his Polish counterpart, and his tally of three goals and three assists only explains part of his overall contribution.
The tall, rangy 21-year-old striker only arrived in the summer from Serie B side Cittadella and club president Enrico Preziosi has described him as “a star with enormous room for improvement”.
Genoa would be reluctant to let the Ivorian striker go just six months into his burgeoning partnership with Piatek – a pairing that has already yielded 16 goals this season – and while his agent has talked down transfer speculation, English clubs could do worse than test the Grifone’s resolve for a player on an upward trajectory.
Would suit: Huddersfield, Southampton, Leicester, Brighton.
Moise Kean (Juventus)
Kean is one of Italy’s rising stars, but his development at club level has stalled this season with the likes of Mario Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo ahead of him at Juve.
Roberto Mancini highlighted just how well-regarded the 18-year-old is by handing Kean his first senior Italy cap in November’s friendly win over the USA.
The Mino Raiola client scored four goals for doomed Hellas Verona last season, becoming the first 2000-born player to score in the league (and before that, to play in the Champions League), but has been afforded just a single minute of league football this term.
The Italian champions want to tie him down on a new long-term deal and are unlikely to let him go permanently, but Premier League clubs may well have pricked up their ears at the comments of Kean’s brother Giovanni Dosse in November. “I don’t think Moise will stay in Italy; in January he’d like to go and try a different league,” he said. A loan swoop could be a smart move.
Would suit: Southampton, Brighton, Newcastle, Crystal Palace.
Andrea Ranocchia (Inter)
‘The Frog’ has made his fair share of blunders in the past, and as a result is often unfairly written off as a liability. However, the 30-year-old has much more to offer than simply warming Inter’s bench until his contract runs out in the summer.
Ranocchia is still just 30 but offers great experience with 21 Italy caps and almost 200 Serie A appearances to his name. Not only that, he can offer potential suitors Premier League experience too, having played every league game for Hull in his half-season loan there in the second half of 2016/17.
Not that he particularly enjoyed it, mind. Six weeks into his spell on Humberside, the Italian sobbed: “On the first day alone I went the wrong way down two crossings. I’ve already scraped the rims of my car wheels on the pavements. I’ll admit, I’ve been here for a month-and-a-half but I’m yet to see the sun. It rains practically every day. I really miss pasta, too.” But apart from all those things?
His time at Inter appears to be up: Luciano Spalletti is yet to hand the centre-back a single minute in any competition this season, with Stefan de Vrij, Milan Skriniar and Joao Miranda ahead of him in the pecking order.
Would suit: Fulham, Cardiff.
Manuel Lazzari (SPAL)
Lazzari’s performances for SPAL this season have catapulted him from being an impressive performer at one of the league’s lesser lights to a sought-after Italy international.
Quick, dynamic and dangerous in attack, the 25-year-old has been a key threat on the right side of SPAL’s midfield this season and has developed into one of the league’s best in his role. His rise was rewarded with his first Azzurri cap in the Nations League against Portugal in October and, subsequently, rumours about his future have been incessant.
SPAL have set a price tag of £18m while insisting that Lazzari will be going nowhere in January. But that assertion could be put to the test if a particularly keen English club tests their resolve, not least after coach Leonardo Semplici declared just before Christmas that “I’m certain he’s ready to join a top club next season”. No pressure.
Would suit: West Ham, Leicester Watford.
Stefano Sensi (Sassuolo)
Sassuolo’s ‘mini-Jorginho’ has long been touted as the next big thing, but this season he has begun to realise his potential with some standout performances for club and country. The 23-year-old playmaker may be just 5ft 6in but his slight stature doesn’t stop him from putting in authoritative performances, dictating the tempo and breaking up opposition raids.
Sensi made his Italy debut in the Jorginho role against USA last month and was immediately linked with a move to Milan; speculation that prompted Sassuolo president Giorgio Squinzi to insist “we don’t need to sell”. But those San Siro links haven’t gone away.
The midfield dynamo’s ceiling is high and, despite Squinzi’s remarks, the Neroverdi could be tempted to cash in if a Premier League club comes calling with a large bag of cash – which they may well do if his long-range screamer against Fiorentina earlier this month is anything to go by.
Would suit: Bournemouth, Everton, West Ham.
Robin Gosens (Atalanta)
Another whose excellent performances have gone largely under the radar, Gosens is in a long line of young talents who are thriving under Gian Piero Gasperini’s guidance at Atalanta.
The German left-back arrived from Dutch outfit Heracles last summer but has hit form immediately this season with several standout performances. Football statistics database WhoScored.com rate him as the fourth-best defender in Serie A this season, thanks to his contribution to both attacking and defensive phases in Gasperini’s 3-4-3.
The 24-year-old has a deal in Bergamo until 2020 and La Dea won’t let him go without a fight, but the club run an effective policy of developing players before selling them on for higher prices. Given they paid under €1m for his services less than 18 months ago, an eight-figure sum could well peak their interest.
Would suit: Watford, West Ham.
Ignazio Abate (Milan)
Another who fits the ‘cheap and experienced’ model, Abate has shown recently that he still has a lot to offer. An injury crisis at Milan led to the 32-year-old being thrust back into the team as an unfamiliar centre-back, but the Italy international rose to the challenge and helped Gennaro Gattuso’s achieve some impressive results while donning the captain’s armband.
Abate, known primarily as a right-back packing lightning pace, has made almost 300 appearances in red and black but looks to be on his way out of Milan. His contract is expiring in the summer, no renewal is in sight, and Davide Calabria has established himself as the club’s first choice right-back.
Rumour has it that Abate could yet be offered an extension after his recent renaissance – one which ‘surprised’ boss Gattuso – but his combination of versatility, experience and leadership could make him an intelligent, inexpensive purchase in January if he’s willing to take his first steps outside of Italy.
Would suit: Wolves, Bournemouth.
Ravel Morrison (Lazio)
Would he be a bargain? The truth is, you never know what you’re going to get with Ravel. The midfielder’s talent is undisputed, but he has failed to make any impact whatsoever at Lazio since arriving in 2015 and his desire to go home is no secret.
Morrison, still just 25, isn’t even registered in the Roman club’s squad and hasn’t made a competitive appearance since coming off the bench against Sampdoria in April 2016 – one of just eight outings he has made in three years in Italy.
Loan spells at QPR and Mexican side Atlas followed, and Lazio are unlikely to stand in the way of his departure or demand a large sum in January, what with his contract expiring in the summer of 2019. The relationship by now is broken, sealed by Morrison’s latest social media outburst when he tweeted: “Lazio – history club & players amazing. Fans unbelievable support. Organisation…”
Would suit: Your guess is as good as ours…
Martin Caceres (Lazio)
After an impressive World Cup with Uruguay, Caceres was expected to nail down a more regular spot in Lazio’s starting line-up this season having drifted in and out of the side since his January arrival.
However, opportunities have been limited for the experienced defender and the latest reports suggest he is looking for a way out in January. Lazio are yet to take up their option to extend his contract which runs out next summer, and would surely be willing to let the 31-year-old – who has made just four Serie A appearances this season – leave. Parma and SPAL are both said to be keen.
The former Juventus man’s versatility is his main strength, as he has demonstrated by lining up as both a wing-back and centre-back in Lazio’s 3-5-2, as well as on the right-hand side of Uruguay’s four-man defence. With 86 international caps, five Serie A titles and even a Champions League title to his name, the former Barcelona – and one-time Southampton – stopper could offer value in the winter window.
Would suit: Fulham, Cardiff.
Medhi Benatia (Juventus)
Benatia has made his feelings clear about his role at Juventus recently. “I’m struggling playing a game every now and then,” he told Italian newspaper La Stampa, and more recently admitted on social media that he was enduring a “difficult period”.
When asked about what might happen in January, the former Bayern Munich centre-back said: “Let’s see what happens, how I’m used, if Juve still need me, if Allegri wants me…”
The defender, recently nominated for the BBC’s African Footballer of the Year award, has made just five league appearances this season behind Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. The Morocco international may well agitate for a move if his comments so far are anything to go by – and with his contract running out in June 2020, Juve may be happy to cash in with promising youngster Daniele Rugani waiting in the wings for more opportunities.
Would suit: Manchester United.