So much for a uneventful transfer window.
A flurry of activity first reported by The Guardian’s Fabrizio Romano has breathed some much-needed excitement into a drab winter window that was short on adventure.
Gonzalo Higuain’s underwhelming AC Milan stay is over, with the Argentinian striker set to reunite with former Napoli tutor Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea, a move that makes Alvaro Morata surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge. Morata now returns to his hometown to enlist with Atletico Madrid while Milan are targeting Polish star-to-be Krzysztof Piatek, who kicked-off the Serie A campaign in fine form for mid-table Genoa, as Higuain’s replacement.
It’s a lot to take in, but with so many moving parts behind the machinations of Wednesday evening’s breaking news brouhaha, it’s never too soon to judge the winners and losers involved.
Winner: Maurizio Sarri
The current Chelsea boss is a clear winner, with Higuain’s addition marking the likable Italian manager’s second requested signing after another former Napoli standout, Jorginho, was recruited in the summer. Known for knee-jerk managerial dismissals during Roman Abramovich’s celebrated spell with Chelsea, Higuain’s transfer also represents a show of faith in the manager. The move for Higuain allows Eden Hazard to resume playing in a more flexible role than the central attacking one he helmed during Morata’s drops in form and Olivier Giroud’s repeated niggles. That should help cement the Blues’ claim to a coveted top-four spot and return to Champions League football.
Loser: Marina Granovskaia
With scouting savant Michael Emenalo off to Monaco and Abramovich exiled from the UK, the Russian oil oligarch’s second-in-command, Granovskaia, had been handed the reigns of a club looking to overcome last season’s disappointing fifth-place finish. In this instance, Granovskaia’s demands have taken a clear backseat to Sarri’s desires. That much is apparent through a series of reports suggesting that the Chelsea administrator had hoped to maintain the club’s in-house statutes against signing players older than 30. The Higuain signing, a swiftly concocted and obscenely opulent move for Kepa, and Hazard’s contract uncertainty mark a period of uncertainty for Granovskaia.
Winner: Gonzalo Higuain
Following an erratic half-season at the San Siro on loan from Juventus where Higuain cut a frustrated figure, the 31-year-old goal-poacher got his desired move to the English capital whilst ditching Gennaro Gattuso’s volatile mentorship. Under Sarri’s watch at Napoli, Higuain set the single-season Serie A scoring record with 36 goals in 2015-16, and at Chelsea, the former Real Madrid standout will get superior help in a system that he’s familiar with. Gone are the days of dropping deep or wandering out wide to collect the ball. Instead, Higuain can now patrol the penalty area and receive service from Hazard and pinpoint passer Marcos Alonso.
Loser: AC Milan
Despite adopting Higuain on temporary terms for financial reasons in August, Milan still invested a lot in the robust forward. Months later, and it’s time to change plans for sporting director Leonardo. Milan’s goalposts have shifted, and with a primary goal of qualifying for the Champions League for the first time since 2013-14 established at the start of the season, the Rossoneri may have to adopt long-term ambitions. The reported €40 million fee for Piatek is a steep price for a previous unknown with half a season of Serie A football to his name. Without Higuain’s veteran guile, Piatek, 23, and local boy Patrick Cutrone, 21, would form a green strike pairing now tasked with a massive duty.
Winner: Alvaro Morata
Whether it was the trademark sepulchral skies or dusty cuisine, Morata never seemed to settle in England. Still young at 26-years-old, Morata now has the chance to reclaim his goal-scoring form at the club that first offered him a chance as a youth footballer. Diego Simeone can draw blood from a stone, and if anyone is going to get the best out of Morata, it’s the fiery tactician. With oft-injured Diego Costa eyeing the denouement of a decorated career amid Antoine Griezmann’s perpetual transfer rumors, it’s foreseeable that Morata could be a principal part of Simeone’s attacking plans going forward. Also, he gets to play in the Champions League again.
Loser: Costa-Correa-Kalinic trio
Morata’s inclusion means Simeone is now blessed with an abundance of attacking talent, and like a game of musical chairs, somebody’s going to be the odd man out. Should the manager stick with his preferred 4-4-2 formation for the remainder of the 2018-19 campaign, Nikola Kalinic is an obvious loser in this equation following his admission to the starting XI alongside Griezmann since Costa’s foot injury and subsequent surgery. Angel Correa, who has started three league matches in a central attacking position, is more comfortable on the right side. That may be enough to save the Argentinian international from a spot on the bench.
Seven points clear of 18th-place Bologna and perilous flirtation with a return to the second tier for the first time since the 2006-07 campaign, mid-table merchants Genoa can consider themselves the financial victors of this chain reaction of moves. Turning a €35-million profit on a player scooped from Polish top-flight outfit Cracovia months earlier for a now-laughable €4.5 million is a massive boost for a club whose previous record sale was €15.5 million for Stephan El Shaarawy. If there’s any cause for concern for I Rossoblu, it’s that Piatek’s 13 goals in 19 league matches account for 52 percent of the club’s haul, the highest mark in Serie A.