Serie A has a long relationship with footballers from Balkan. Over the last 25 years some of the best players to ever grace the Italian game has made the short journey from the east to ply their trade in one of the best football league’s in the world. Here we take a look at some of these past greats and the current stars that bring talent for the whole of Italy to marvel at.
Serie A in the nineties was the place to be. The best players in the world playing for the best teams in the world in the best league in the world. Alessandro Del Piero, Christian Vieri, Paulo Maldini, Francesco Totti, Roberto Baggio and many more Italian superstars showcased their talents alongside foreign imports such as Zinedine Zidane, Gabriel Batistuta and Juan Sebastian Verón. It really was an exciting time for Italian football.
Following Red Star’s European Cup win in 1991 many of the excellent footballers in the team made the move to Italy too. Dejan Savicevic, Sinisa Mihajlovic, Vladimir Jugovic and Darko Pancev for example joined Italian clubs as well as other Balkan born players such as Zvonimir Boban and Alen Boksic, and the success of these players in Italy meant Italian clubs opened up their eyes when it came to finding players. This trend has continued over the last two decades too. The likes of Dejan Stankovic, Aleksandar Kolarov, Mirko Vucinic and Goran Pandev were highly successful in the 00’s and now we are witnessing the strongest contingent of Balkan players in Serie A ever.
Dejan Savicevic linked up with Roberto Baggio.
Clubs like Lazio, Inter and Fiorentina have been very successful in their purchases of Balkan players. The aforementioned Mihajlovic and Stankovic shone first at Lazio and then at Inter, where Stankovic won the treble in 2010. Fiorentina enjoyed the Serbian-Montenegrin relationship of Adem Ljajic and Stevan Jovetic during a few seasons which propelled them back to the top. The pair are now linking up once again, this time at Inter. Fiorentina also harnessed the potential of the young defender Matija Nastasic before selling him for big money to Manchester City, just as they would later do with Jovetic. Inter and Fiorentina still maintain a strong Balkan core to their squads to this day.
Mihajlovic and Stankovic.
Roberto Mancini seems to trust Balkan players more than most, and that is evident in his Inter squad. After the success he enjoyed with Mihajlovic and Stankovic in the team, he now has Stankovic on his staff and the likes of Samir Handanovic, Marcelo Brozovic, Ivan Perisic, Ljajic and Jovetic in his squad. Last summer Inter sold Mateo Kovacic for big money to Real Madrid, and until recently also had Nemanja Vidic in their squad. Seemingly, Mancini sees the value of Balkan players, as he was also the one who sanctioned the signing of Nastasic while managing Manchester City.
After Inter, Fiorentina is the club with most “Balkan Boys” in their squad. The attacking duo of Josip Ilicic and Nikola Kalinic have been prolific all season with 10 goals each in the league, and also in the squad are Nenad Tomovic, Ante Rebic and Milan Badelj. As mentioned earlier, Fiorentina has a successful history in finding and developing Balkan talent, and this is sure to continue in the future.
Kalinic and Ilicic.
The Balkan presence is also visible at other Italian clubs. Lazio have disappointed this season, but one of the bright sparks have been Serbian midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic who joined in the summer. Also in the squad are Dusan Basta, Senad Lulic and Filip Djordjevic, continuing Lazio’s proud history of Balkan Boys. Across town, at Roma, Miralem Pjanic consistently shine for the red half of Rome, and Edin Dzeko is there too.
The top two, Napoli and Juventus, have Elseid Hysaj and Mario Mandzukic, respectively, regularly in their starting elevens too. High flying Sassuolo enjoys the consistent performances of Sime Vrsaljko, and Darko Lazovic is starting to hit his stride for Genoa.
Jovetic and Ljajic.
Balkan players seem to fit easier into the Italian football than for example the English, which probably mostly is because of the climate. The biggest reasons for Italian clubs going shopping in the Balkans though is probably the market prices of the players. As most Serbian and Croatian clubs are struggling for money, they need to generate money through selling their prized assets, and we can safely expect this to continue over the coming seasons. Players like Andrija Zivkovic, Andrija Balic, Ante Coric, Luka Jovic, Nikola Vlasic and Mihailo Ristic is sure to move clubs soon, and it wouldn’t surprise many to see these players move to the Serie A. And if they do, expect them to thrive.