Albert Riera moves to Udinese . When I first read the news, I said to myself I remember a Riera from Benitez’s time at Liverpool but is he still playing football? It turned out that I was half-right: the Spaniard has been without a club since January but he was still on the market.
Udinese Calcio, the second oldest club in Italy, that has been continuously in Serie A since 1995, and that has been playing in Europe frequently in the past 10 years, is signing a 32-year-old player who has no club and has played in Greece and Turkey since 2010. Udinese must have really believed that Riera was a great addition to the squad to sign him.
Udinese’s transfer policy is not a secret. They sign plenty of cheap players from around the world hoping that one of them will turn out to be a very good footballer. Alexis Sanchez was one of them. Benatia, Inler and Handanovic are some other examples. Udinese do not focus on Italy, but couldn’t they find a young player who can do the same job as Riera? Couldn’t they promote anyone from the youth team?
Riera’s signing is not an isolated case. Lazio signed Saha (34) last year after he was released by Sunderland. Anyone who watched Kaka (31) during his first spell at Milan and last year at Real Madrid knows very well that this is not the 2007 Ballon d’Or anymore. So why did Milan bring him back? Why did Inter Milan keep Milito (34), Samuel (36), or even Zanetti (40)? Why did Atalanta sign Yepes (38)? Why did Napoli sign Reveilliere (34)? Why do Juventus, Inter or Parma have reserve goalkeepers who are at least 37 years old?
While the Italian clubs are signing older players or clinging to their ageing or underperforming stars, Italian youngsters are leaving. Caldirola and Donati, two players who did very well last summer for Italy at the Under-21 Euros, left the Serie A for a better chance in the Bundesliga.
The financial crisis has obviously hit Italian football clubs hard. But instead of turning to youth they kept looking abroad for cheaper and cheaper recruits. The quality of these recruits has been going down dramatically. Italian clubs prefer old and foreign players over local cheaper youngsters. Even though Robinho is getting worse by the day, he has managed to play 1553 minutes this season, whereas Saponara, a 23-year-old Italian player who did brilliantly for Empoli in Serie B last year, could only get 209 minutes.
So while Riera is joining the club that once signed Zico, Benfica and Porto are still proudly flying the flag for Portugal in the Europa League, and if Italy loses its 4th spot in the UEFA ranking, it should not come as a surprise to anyone.