Many failed, or underachieving Premier League stars have flocked over to Serie A and experienced an upturn. The reasons can vary greatly, and we kick off this ‘list of notables’ with a Manchester United reject who might yet enjoy an ‘Indian Summer’ at Old Trafford.
Chris Smalling – Man Utd to Roma
Italian football is famed – almost stereotyped – for its pride in a solid defence. Traditionally, defenders in the Italian top-flight perform only their primary objective, with the onus being firmly on excellent game reading.
The key to Smalling’s surge in form is the more tactical approach to using high defensive lines, as utilised by Roma manager Paulo Fonseca. With two teammates in the centre of defence, Smalling’s job of marking strikers out of the game has been made infinitely easier.
All of this has led people to question whether or not he may yet re-establish his place in the United starting XI, despite being the wrong side of 30. Interestingly, Roma have reportedly withdrawn any interest of signing Smalling, on account of his price tag.
Ultimately, nothing can be ruled out at this stage, even with the arrival of Bruno Fernandes improving the Red Devils’ fixed football odds, and making United’s leaky defence less of an issue. Nonetheless, Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire have cut an unconvincing pair of centre-backs thus far, giving Smalling some hope.
Juan Cuadrado – Chelsea to Juventus
After joining Chelsea from Fiorentina in February 2015, Cuadrado found it difficult to break into a squad functioning to near-perfection. He made just 12 thoroughly unconvincing appearances for the Blues.
Upon joining Juventus permanently in 2017, after a decent loan spell in Turin, Cuadrado immediately became a Serie A champion. That season, he memorably assisted and/or scored in over half of his 2017/18 league appearances.
By all rights, Cuadrado’s ability to score from the wide areas should have been an asset in the Premier League. Sadly, the timing in Cuadrado’s take-on of full backs was found wanting in England, where a four-man defence is bread and butter.
In any case, decision making and game reading have never been Cuadrado’s strong suits, and that is always going to be punished with greater aplomb on English shores compared to Serie A.
Suso – Liverpool to AC Milan
Suso made his senior debut for Liverpool in 2012, at a time when the Reds were no longer the top team on Merseyside, and still suffering from the after-effects of a traumatic start to the 2010s. He made just 14 appearances before being loaned out to Almeria in 2013/14 – the same season that saw Liverpool finish as runners-up, marking a five-place improvement on 2012/13.
There was no place for Suso after that, making it a real surprise when AC Milan took him on in 2015. Ever since, Suso has become an important fixture for the Rossoneri, with the winger scoring once every six matches for the club as of May 2020. Suso has also shown his strength in the number ten role, making him one of Serie A’s most versatile midfielders.
As was the case with Cuadrado, Suso was most likely with the wrong club at the wrong time. He has always been an inverted winger of some calibre, but in an English game where brute strength goes a long way, such a player often proves to be one extreme or the other in terms of overall effectiveness.
Suso was ultimately too much of a risk for Rodgers to include for the sake of variety. That said, he is still only 26, there is still time for him to give the Premier League another shot.
Just ask Mohammed Salah…
Felipe Caicedo – Man City to Lazio
The transformation of Caicedo, from an early AGUG-era Manchester City also-ran to a potential Serie A champion, is one of the most eyebrow-raising in recent memory. The Ecuadorian striker joined City in January 2008, but spent a great deal of time on loan, before bowing out of the club in 2011 after recording just four goals in 26 appearances.
Spells with Lokomotiv, Al Jazira and Espanyol yielded a total of 44 goals from 184 appearances, and that was enough to see Lazio take him in for the 2017/18 season. Since then, Caicedo has improved upon his pre-Lazio rate, netting nearly one goal every four matches.
The obvious highlight of Caicedo’s time in Rome is the development of his strike partnership with Ciro Immobile. Impressively, the duo went into Lazio’s home fixture vs Inter accounting for 13 of the Eagles’ last 15 preceding goals scored during league wins.
Caicedo’s upturn is a phenomenon of modern times, and a clear illustration of what even an average Premier League striker can achieve, especially when backed up by international strikers of superlative quality like Immobile.