Since taking over as Arsenal manager in 1996, Arsene Wenger has signed well over 100 players for the club from all over the world.
It struck me recently though that among the absolute catalogue of nationalities represented by Wenger’s signings, Italians are few and far between. I did a little digging, and went through his signings categorizing players in the following groups:
- British – 14
- French – 27
- German – 8
- Spanish – 9
- Italian – 4
- European other -29
- South/Central/North American – 14
- African – 11
- Asian – 3
Now, my source is not 100% accurate and I’ve had to fill in a few gaps with my own knowledge, but it’s close enough to make the point. While there are plenty of other countries less-well represented than Italy, the lack of Italians is surprising due to the strength and depth of Italian talent available in the span of Wenger’s reign at Arsenal. Admittedly, there were more elite options around in the late 90s and early to mid-2000s, but none of it passed through Highbury or the Emirates.
The Italians who did? Nico Galli, a young defender who tragically died in a car accident. Arturo Lupoli, a young forward whose career went nowhere. Vito Mannone, a young keeper who is now at Sunderland, and Emiliano Viviano, a goalkeeper who spent a year on loan at Arsenal and failed to make a single competitive appearance. When Arsene has signed Italians he’s gone largely for youth, always for unproven and none have worked out.
The question is, why? When it comes to Arsene Wenger, there is a reason for everything. There is some logic that dictates this policy. For a start, we can rule out the language barrier. Arsene speaks Italian.
Is it the narrative that Italian footballers don’t travel well? That the differences in style between Seria A and other leagues are too great? Did Alberto Aquilani ruin it for everyone? There have been enough brilliant Italians in the Premier League to dispute it. Zola, Vialli, Ravanelli, Panucci, Materazzi, Lombardo, Di Matteo, Di Canio and Cudicini spring immediately to mind, and since 1992, 65 Italians have played in England’s top division, of course with varying degrees of success.
There have also been too many players that Wenger has helped adapt to England for that argument to hold up. Pires, Adebayor, Song, Kolo Toure, even Henry to an extent. So many of Arsene’s signings have started off looking nowhere near ready to play in the Premier League, but ultimately thrived. Is it really possible that the Arsenal manager would not back himself to do the same for Italian imports?
Or, is it that Italians simply prefer to stay home? There is certainly an argument for that. Seria A has retained much of Italy’s top talent in the last twenty years with legends such as Del Piero, Totti, Inzaghi, Maldini, Pirlo, Nesta, Roberto Baggio, De Rossi, Buffon and Cannavaro amongst others choosing to spend all or the vast majority of their careers solely in Italy when there may have been greater pay-packets available to them abroad. Culturally this may be significant.
Nonetheless, however you look at it, it remains odd that a manager and club that has recruited widely from every continent and countless countries has looked so infrequently to Italy, a nation that has provided the world of football with some of its greatest talents.
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