15 of the silliest transfers of Serie A’s golden age: Ventola, Amoroso, Coco
Italian clubs were happy to splash the cash at the turn of the millennium, sometimes for confusing reasons.
If Serie A has a golden age, it was surely that crazy period between Ronaldo’s arrival from Barcelona in 1997 and the match-fixing scandal of 2006 that saw Juventus stripped of their title and relegated to the second tier.
Was it Italy’s biggest period of dominance in the Champions League? Not really. Did it coincide with success for national team? Again, no.
What it did have was money. Lots and lots of money, spent in increasingly incomprehensible ways.
These 15 transfers aren’t the most expensive of the era — players like Hernan Crespo and Gianluigi Buffon don’t feature — but simply the most absurd: impulse purchases, rip-offs and accounting sleight of hand.
Some of these deals were made in lira, others in euros, but we’ve listed them all in euros and, for context, used the Transfer Index to show what each transfer would be worth in GBP today.
1. Ibrahim Ba
Bordeaux to Milan, 1997
During the summer of 1997, Ronaldo made his record-breaking move from Barcelona to Inter, prompting Italy’s other big clubs to do their own business.
Juventus signed Filippo Inzaghi from Atalanta, while Milan looked to 23-year-old France international Ibrahim Ba.
The club couldn’t have foreseen the winger’s rapid demise. His international career was over by 1998, and Milan loaned him out a few times before a permanent move to Bolton.
That didn’t stop Milan inexplicably re-signing him in 2007 though.
2. Nicola Ventola
Bari to Inter, 1998
Ronaldo’s arrival brought Inter a second-place finish in 1997–98, and the club continued their big spending in the summer of 1998.
Roberto Baggio was the biggest name coming in, but 20-year-old Nicola Ventola was the most expensive.
He scored 11 goals in his first season but was shipped out to Bologna after a year to make room for the even more expensive Christian Vieri.
3. Fabio Junior
Cruzeiro to Roma, 1998
Roma have had some fine Brazilian players over the years, like Cafu, Aldair and Alisson.
Fabio Junior was not a fine player. In 1998, the 20-year-old had just enjoyed a couple of good seasons at Cruzeiro, earning him a big-money move to the Italian capital.
He scored just four goals in two years in Italy, then spent a nomadic career in footballing hotspots like Japan, the UAE and Israel.
Strikers who moved for smaller fees in 1998 include Thierry Henry, Oliver Bierhoff and Kanu.
4. Marcio Amoroso
Udinese to Parma, 1999
If you can’t get Ronaldo, just get another Brazilian striker with a buzzcut.
Twenty-four-year-old Marcio Amoroso cost Parma a shitload of money, repaying the investment with just four goals in his debut campaign and failure to qualify for the Champions League.
Amazingly, the club recouped almost all of their outlay two years later courtesy of Borussia Dortmund, who promptly won the Bundesliga with Amoroso finishing top scorer.
5. Gabriel Batistuta
Fiorentina to Roma, 2000
Okay, it’s hard to really criticise Roma for splashing out on Batigol: the veteran striker scored 20 goals in his debut campaign as Roma won the league.
As a long-term investment though, it wasn’t particularly wise. The 31-year-old stayed just two and a half seasons, and the club haven’t won Serie A since.
6. Savo Milosevic
Zaragoza to Parma, 2000
The former Aston Villa striker dubbed ‘Miss-a-lot-evic’ was no Dwight Yorke, but that didn’t stop Parma stumping up mega-money for the 26-year-old Serb.
He scored nine league goals in 18 months for Parma, before spending the last two and a half years of his contract out on loan.
7. Robbie Keane
Coventry to Inter, 2000
Robbie Keane’s somersaults enticed Marcello Lippi into signing him for nearly €20million.
The 20-year-old failed to score in the league, Lippi was sacked, and Leeds United brought the striker back to England after just five months.
8. Javier Farinos
Valencia to Inter, 2000
Francisco Javier Farinos, then 22, was a decent midfielder with two caps for Spain, but he surely wasn’t worth this much money. He ended up spending a big chunk of his five-year contract either injured or out on loan.
Farinos left Inter in 2005, and a year later had an unsuccessful trial at Charlton. And if you can’t compete with Amdy Faye and Matt Holland, you’re probably not worth eight figures.
9. Gaizka Mendieta
Valencia to Lazio, 2001
Big, big money for the occasional indie DJ.
Some of the most head-spinning transfers of the era involved Lazio, who in 2001 moved for Mendieta and Stefano Fiore (€25million) to replace the outbound Pavel Nedved (€45million) and Juan Sebastian Veron (€43million).
Mendieta, 27 at the time, spent a single disappointing season in Rome before loans to Barcelona and Middlesbrough. He ultimately moved to Boro permanently for nothing.
10. Manuel Rui Costa
Fiorentina to Milan, 2001
Rui Costa was a wonderful midfielder, but Berlusconi and co had no business spending more than €40million on a 29-year-old. Who did they think he was? Zidane?
Luckily for Milan, they managed to squeeze a full five seasons out of the Portuguese, who left, aged 34, as something of a club legend.
11. Hidetoshi Nakata
Roma to Parma, 2001
In the space of a year, Japanese midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata made two massive transfers: from Perugia to Roma for €22million, then to Parma for €28.4million, making him the most expensive Asian footballer ever.
Nakata won the Coppa Italia in his debut campaign but was loaned to Bologna in his third season as Parma struggled to pay the bills: their owner, UHT milk specialist Parmalat, was going through Europe’s biggest-ever bankruptcy.
Not a terrible transfer, but in 2001 you could have bought Andrea Pirlo or Frank Lampard for €10million less.
12. Jonathan Bachini
Juventus to Parma, 2001
Italian football is known for two things: defensive solidity and creative accounting, and this deal had both.
In 2001, Juventus spent €52million to make Gianluigi Buffon the world’s most expensive goalkeeper, proving that great teams should be built from the back.
Around 30% of that sum was paid in the form of Jonathan Bachini, a 26-year-old midfielder with two caps for Italy.
Bachini played one league game for Parma over two seasons, and in 2006, aged 30, he was given a lifetime ban after failing a drugs test for the second time.
Dortmund to Parma, 2001
Then: €17million (sort of)
You have to feel sorry for Evanilson, who was used as a weird accounting makeweight by two clubs with yellow kits.
As Dortmund broke the German transfer record to buy Marcio Amoroso from Parma, they agreed to send Evanilson in the opposite direction for €17million — with many, many strings attached.
Parma immediately loaned Evanilson back to Dortmund, and the clubs agreed that Dortmund would buy Evanilson back permanently, for exactly the same amount they had sold him for, in the summer of 2003.
Evanilson ultimately never set foot in Parma, and remains the only tax write-off to earn 13 caps for Brazil.
14. Francesco Coco
Milan to Inter, 2002
Then: €22.5million (swap with Seedorf)
A year after 9/11, the global economy was in worse shape than late-2000s Adriano.
That prompted the two Milan clubs to do some unorthodox business together, effectively swapping Clarence Seedorf and handsome full-back Francesco Coco while registering each move as a separate €22.5million transfer.
Seedorf became a hero at Milan, while Coco, only 25 at the time, quickly faded into obscurity.
Roma to Juventus, 2004
By 2004, Serie A clubs were being massively outspent by clubs in the Premier League and La Liga.
As if in defiance of that trend, Juve crossed Roma’s palms with silver to sign 28-year-old defensive midfielder Emerson.
The Brazilian was good, but he cost almost twice as much as Zlatan Ibrahimovic (€16million).
By Benedict O’Neill