Just about every league in Europe has their own privileged clubs, the biggest and most popular teams loaded with money to spend and trophies shining in their cabinets. Italy is no exception. Most Serie A seasons begin with pundits trying to decide which of the big clubs will win the championship and which clubs will achieve the cash-rich prize of European qualification, while the smaller clubs become almost an afterthought.
For fans of those smaller clubs, you support your team and pray for the season when everything comes together, when the right blend of talent and results push your squad to the top. No one expects to win the league, but to make it to the Champions League would mean an influx of cash that could lead to your beloved club finally competing near the top.
This is not an unusual story. It happens quite a bit, and this past season it happened for two clubs in Serie A, Napoli and Udinese, who both qualified for Champions League. While a couple of Serie A’s traditional powerhouses struggled for form, Udinese and Napoli filled the gap with great attacking play from squads filled with terrific young talent. Both clubs appear on the verge of great things, but these two teams seem to be moving in completely opposite directions during this transfer window, perhaps the most critical summer in their recent histories.
Napoli and Udinese both spent the last few years building for exactly this result. They invested in young talent and that investment paid off. What they do with that payoff makes all the difference for the future. Napoli seems to be intent on building on their success, while Udinese appears intent on only profiting by it.
In the last few days this dichotomy has been made abundantly clear. This week, Napoli has completed the signing Uruguayan defender Miguel Angel Britos from Bologna after yesterday announcing the transfer of midfielder Gokhan Inler from, you guessed it, Udinese. Napoli not only seem intent on holding onto their top talent, they appear ready to invest in a squad that can compete at the highest level. Now they may ultimately be unsuccessful in holding on to players like Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi who may attract huge sums of money, but it is clear Napoli will not use their talent just to profit. Optimism reigns in Naples, as this week the club announced they have even offered Manchester United one million euros just to come and play a friendly at the San Paolo stadium as a way of announcing their arrival on the biggest stage. Napoli has ambition and they are ready to fulfill it.
Udinese, however, is a different story altogether. Perhaps it is naive for me to think that every club would make the investment in time and money for the purpose of competing at the highest level and returning to their fans the thrill of a European campaign, and not only for the purpose of selling their young talent at top prices. But that seems to be the case here. They have sold the aforementioned Inler, and this week announced the sale of defender Christian Zapata to Villareal. Additionally, it seems only a matter of time before star winger Alexis Sanchez exits, as well as others. What will be left the exciting Udinese squad that made it into Serie A’s top four is unknown, but we can be certain it will not look the same?
Last season’s Tottenham Hotspur team comes to mind. Yes, Spurs in the end failed to finish in the top four and have no silverware to show for the 2010-11 season. But not a single Spurs supporter would ever consider it a failure. Their team reached the Champions League quarterfinals and they witnessed some of the biggest and most glorious European nights in club history. A few weeks ago, Udinese and Napoli seemed poised to accomplish those same heights. Now, it seems only Napoli has the desire and ambition to move forward. Let us hope Udinese prove me wrong.