We’ve trawled through four decades of tabloid archives and ghost-written autobiographies to find the mouth-watering (and occasionally outrageous) British-Italian transfers that could have re-shaped the face of football.
In the final part of the series we turn to a period (2010-2019) which saw a renaissance of British-Italian transfer deals. In a scenario that would have been unimaginable just 20 years earlier, Italy became the destination of choice for the misfits and ageing stars of British football. It is with no little irony that this motley crew of players began to look to Italy for salvation just as the UK population voted to turn its back on Europe.
This newfound trend began in 2014 with Ashley Cole and Micah Richards moving to Roma and Fiorentina respectively, followed by Joe Hart (Torino) and Ravel Morrison (Lazio) in the years that followed. Sadly, none of these players found what they were looking for, and their tenures in Italy marked just another milestone in the winding down of their careers. Only Chris Smalling, in regression at Manchester United, but rejuvenated at Roma bucked that trend.
At the other end of the age spectrum, the decade witnessed a number of younger British players trying their hand on the peninsula. Nathaniel Chalobah was something of a trailblazer at Napoli and was subsequently followed by Liam Henderson (Bari, then Verona), Ronaldo Vieira (Sampdoria), Rolando Aarons (Verona), Ben Wilmot (Udinese) and DJ Buffonge (Spezia). These youngsters enjoyed varying degrees of success, but only Henderson and Vieira stayed for more than a single season.
That’s enough about the transfers that did happen; let’s turn to the raft of transfers from the decade that didn’t quite make it over the line…
Joe Cole – Chelsea to AC Milan 2010
After two injury-disrupted seasons, and with his contract due to expire, it became clear that Joe Cole’s time at Stamford Bridge was coming to an end. Arguably, Cole’s career had not quite hit the heights predicted for him when he first emerged at West Ham. Nonetheless, he had been a key protagonist of Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea revolution and AC Milan were amongst a host of clubs in the frame to secure his services.
AC Milan were a club in transition in 2010; they were without a scudetto in six years and reliant on an ageing core of Alessandro Nesta, Gianluca Zambrotta, Clarence Seedorf, Massimo Ambrosini and Filippo Inzaghi. A 30-year-old Cole would certainly have fitted the profile, creating opportunities for the talismanic Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Of course, Cole eventually opted to sign for Liverpool, whilst there would be one final hurrah for Milan under new coach Max Allegri, who led them to an unlikely scudetto in 2011.
Jay Bothroyd – Cardiff to Juventus 2010
Jay Bothroyd had a steady, if not spectacular, spell in Italy with Perugia at the beginning of his career. He was part of a diverse squad assembled by president Luciano Guacci which included Al-Saadi Gaddaffi, Fabio Grossi and Fabrizio Ravanelli. As part of that struggling team, Bothroyd managed 4 goals in 26 appearances, before returning to the UK with Blackburn Rovers. He was a player capable of the spectacular, seemingly operating on a different plain to his team-mates at times. However, his languid style frequently attracted the ire of British supporters.
During two successful seasons at Championship level with Cardiff, he was scoring regularly and thriving on the confidence that followed. In the summer of 2010, both AC Milan and Juventus were both rumoured to be interested in signing the player. Juve were at a low ebb, still recovering from enforced relegation in 2006 and a long way from competing at the top of Serie A. Bothroyd was being lined up as back-up to Alessandro Del Piero and Fabio Quagliarella. However, Bothroyd stayed on at Cardiff to see through the job (earning his solitary England cap in winter 2010), whilst Juventus turned to Luca Toni in the winter transfer window to bolster a mis-firing attack.
Kenny Miller – Rangers to Fiorentina 2011
Kenny Miller has scored goals wherever he has been in his career; on both sides of the Glasgow divide, in the English Premier League and at international level. It was his performance against Italy in 2006, where he gave Fabio Cannavaro a torrid time, that first put him on the radar of Italian clubs. AS Roma were said to be interested at that time, but nothing came of it. Fast forward to 2011 and a 31-year-old Miller was preparing to depart Rangers for a second time.
A deal for Miller to join Fiorentina in the winter transfer window of 2011 had been all but agreed. La Viola coach Sinisa Mihajlovic had been brought in to build on the legacy of the out-going Cesare Prandelli, and was seeking attacking reinforcements. Unlikely as Miller’s transfer may seem, his industrious forward play could arguably have provided an effective complement to La Viola’s forward line of Alberto Gilardino, Stevan Jovetic and Adrian Mutu. However, Fiorentina pulled out of the deal at the eleventh hour and Miller instead went to Bursapor in Turkey.
Frank Lampard – Chelsea to Lazio 2013
Towards the end of the 2012/13 season, with his contract coming to an end, it appeared that the curtain would be coming down on Lampard’s illustrious Chelsea career. A 35-year-old Lampard was considering his options for a move abroad and Lazio were one of the names in the frame. Lampard sought the counsel of his former team-mate and manager Roberto Di Matteo, who strongly endorsed a move to the Eternal City.
After successive top-five finishes, Lazio were on their way to lifting the Coppa Italia in 2013. They had a prudently assembled squad, propelled by the attacking dynamism of Antonio Candreva and Felipe Anderson, and spearheaded by an evergreen Miroslav Klose. Lampard’s salary would have been a significant burden on Lazio’s finances, and that may well hold the key to why the move never materialised. In the event Lampard signed on for an extra year at Chelsea before a controversial move to New York City (via Manchester).
Jack Wilshere – Arsenal to Sampdoria 2017
A bright future beckoned for Wilshere when, at the age of 16, he became Arsenal’s youngest ever league debutant. Within a couple of years he had established himself as a regular fixture in Arsene Wenger’s first team and had won his first England cap. But from that point onwards, a succession of injuries hampered Wilshere’s progress, meaning that he never fully realised that early potential.
In the summer of 2017, Sampdoria were rumoured to have made a £7.5 million offer to bring the player to Liguria. Marco Giampaolo was hoping to build a squad to push on for Europa League qualification. With an established deeper midfield trio of Lucas Torreira, Karol Linetty and Denis Praet, it is likely that Giampaolo had earmarked Wilshere for a return to the Number 10 role he played early in his career. However, the move never materialised, and Samp instead splashed out an equivalent sum of money to lure Gaston Ramirez from Middlesbrough.