Recession, unemployment, doomsday warnings regarding the spread against German bonds... times are tough in the real world version of Italy and Spain, so it's not surprising that soccer is no different. Especially when you throw in UEFA's Financial Fair Play looming ominously on the horizon. While uncertainty still swirls around how it will be implemented, (and, crucially, what the penalties for non-compliance will be) many owners are using it as a convenient excuse to spend less. So while there was plenty of activity in Serie A, much of it -- with a few notable exceptions -- consisted of loans and cheapies. But, that was a virtual El Dorado compared to Spain, where tumbleweed reigned supreme and a paltry $12 million changed hands. So here's a round-up of five hits and five misses, most of them on a shoestring.
Did Napoli get a little carried away with La U's success? Maybe. And, yes, it will probably take him a while to settle in Serie A. But Vargas adds quality and depth to Napoli's overworked front three. And, given his work rate, you get the sense there is no real downside. He either lives up to the hype and turns into the second coming of Alexis Sanchez, or he merely runs his butt off, supplies decent crosses and allows coach Walter Mazzarri to give Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik a breather.
Another masterstroke by the boys at Udinese (who have a partnership with Granada, where they like to "park" players). Henrique was the top goal scorer at the U-20 World Cup, where he was also named Player of the Tournament. He didn't get much playing time at Sao Paulo (with high priced veterans like Rivaldo and Luis Fabiano ahead of him, that's understandable) but don't let that fool you: the kid has all the tools to emerge. He may or may not deliver the goals that keep Granada in the top flight, but the opportunity to evaluate (and cash in on) a player of his quality is worth the relative pittance they paid for him.
A quality jack-of-all-trades is just what Antonio Conte needed. Padoin is a no-frills worker bee who can be slotted into any midfield position or out wide or even at fullback. He's not a superstar, but he's consistent and versatile. Over the course of a season, players like Padoin can be invaluable.
In the summer, if you had wanted to buy Guarin, you would not have had much change back from $20M. That made sense. He was a key part of Andre Villas-Boas' treble-winning side. And, at 25, he was just hitting maturity. A bad injury, coupled with a creaky relationship with the club slowed him earlier this season, but if he gets back to fitness, he's a keeper. He'll add some much-needed dynamism to Inter's sometimes ponderous midfield.
Sure, it's a gamble and if Sevilla gets the Reyes seen in the first part of the season, he'll be judged to be a bust. But, if they get last season's version -- at $5M -- he's a steal. And, crucially, he returns home to the city that launched his career in the big-time. His talent has never been in question. His ability to flourish in the big city (whether London or Madrid) on the other hand, led many to write him off. The Sanchez Pizjuan is the right place for him to relaunch his career.
It's an open secret that Milan were hoping to land a different, rather more pedigreed 27-year old Argentine striker, one Carlos Tevez. Instead, they end up with the cult hero, Maxi Lopez. If it's just about a six month rental, fine, you just hope to see as little of him on the pitch as possible. But, frankly, there's already plenty of competition for the reserve striker slot at the San Siro: from Stephan El Shaarawy (whose development could be stunted if Maxi takes minutes away from him), to a fit again Pippo Inzaghi, to the injured (but not forever) Antonio Cassano and Alexandre Pato.
Goalkeeper is not a problem at Malaga. In fact, starter Wilfried Caballero recently inked a long-term deal. So why bring in Kameni, a fine veteran, yes, but also a guy who lost his starting spot at Espanyol this season and was often third-choice? The problem with goalkeepers is that many think of themselves as starters and, when they don't get the nod, they're permanently unhappy on the bench. This is what Kameni looks to be at Malaga.
The Gila Monster lost his way in the first half of the season, scoring just twice in 12 games at Fiorentina. This doesn't mean he has lost his mo-jo -- after all, he's been a prolific goal scorer in the past -- but it does leave a seed of doubt, especially for such a sizeable fee (coupled with a big four and a half year contract). He turns 30 in the summer, which means there won't be much resale value either.
Conte wanted a big man and he got him. Borriello gives you work rate and the odd spectacular goal. But, his arrival is bound to unsettle Alessandro Matri and Mirko Vucinic, who were getting the job done just fine. Another short-term rental, sure, but you wonder if maybe Juve could not have been a bit more creative in their signing policy.
New Parma boss Roberto Donadoni sees Mariga as crucial to his new system (which will vary from 4-3-3 to 3-4-3). Coaches love him, because he's tall, strong and does what he's told. The problem is that he's coming off consecutive seasons in which he failed to make the grade at both Real Sociedad and Inter. And, there's no real reason to think that what Parma really needed was yet another holding midfielder.