This is a guest post by our newly crowned Serie A expert Eric Giardini.
And thus concludes another transfer window with the tally of Americans newly introduced to Serie A clubs again…zero….
Over the past few decades, the number of Americans playing overseas in Europe has grown substantially.
The development of MLS and the opportunity for homegrown players to expand their game, coupled with recent individual performances in international tournaments, have brought more attention to American players than ever before.
Americans can now be seen in four of the biggest European leagues: Tim Howard, Stuart Holden, Clint Dempsey, and now Michael Bradley in England; Steve Cherundolo and Ricardo Clarkin Germany; Jozy Altidore in Spain; and Carlos Bocanegra in France – and these are just a few.
Additionally, Americans have made impacts in “smaller” European leagues – namely Maurice Edu becoming something of a cult hero in Glasgow with Rangers and DeMarcus Beasley having enjoyed great success in the Netherlands with PSV.
This doesn’t include the numerous Americans playing in Scandinavia or the lower leagues across Europe. With the growing success of Americans abroad, the question remains why has there not been the same success in Serie A? Although there have been Americans linked to Italian clubs, most recently Landon Donovan and Ricardo to a newly-promoted Livorno side in 2009, these rumors do not come to fruition. With Americans enjoying success around much of the European continent, what is it about Italy that makes it so difficult for Americans to break through?
In short, I think it comes down to a combination of culture and the tactical nature of Serie A.
The Italian culture differs a great deal from the rest of Europe, to which Americans are more easily able to relate. You may say, “Well, France and Spain are just as different from America as Italy is and Americans play there.” You have a point, BUT we are exposed to the cultures and languages of Spain and France from a young age. Growing up, many of us were told we had to choose between learning French or Spanish (or maybe German) in school, but how many of you had the option to take Italian? It just isn’t something in the mainstream American consciousness – despite what MTV and New Jersey stereotypes lead us to believe. This leads to a difficulty adapting to life in Italy off the pitch.
Second, the tactics used in Serie A differ a great deal from other leagues in Europe and from the style of play that the USMNT has adopted under Bob Bradley. This leads to a steep learning curve for Americans relative to the other leagues.
Alexi Lalas was the first American to play in Serie A in the modern era when he joined Padova in 1994 on the back of a strong World Cup performance here in the United States. What should have been the beginning of an American influx to the league never materialized. Since Alexi first brought that perfect head of hair to the league, only four other Americans have made stops in Italy. Four. Giuseppe Rossi (yes, I’m counting him, let’s all collectively move past it), Vincenzo Bernardo, Gabriel Ferrari, and, most recently, Oguchi Onyweu.
Notice anything similar about three of these four names? Rossi, Bernardo, and Ferrari all have at least one Italian parent, Italian citizenship, and were firmly entrenched in the Italian culture before embarking on their pro career abroad. The learning curve and having to adapt to Italy was not there. These players were already familiar with the language, food, and customs that would take others time to become accustomed.
Not to pick on anyone, but Clint Dempsey from Nacogdoches, Texas, for instance, I feel would have a more difficult time adapting to Italy based on these factors. England, on the other hand, was a perfect fit for him. Clarence Seedorf, when asked last summer about the lack of Americans in Italy, responded that other European nations provide a certain level of comfort to Americans, specifically in terms of language.
It should be noted that this is not solely limited to Americans in Italy. If you look at the other leagues around Europe, there are very few Italians abroad so the culture shock appears to go both ways.
Of the four Americans mentioned above, none are currently in Italy. Rossi is excelling at Villarreal after beginning in Parma. Bernardo, a member of the U-20 USMNT, was with Napoli but is now at a “third division Austrian club” after his contract with Serie D’s Nola Calcio was terminated due to financial difficulties at the club. Ferrari, another U-20 USMNT (but unclear if still a member of the program), played with Sampdoria but his last known whereabouts is with FC Wohlen (where he was recently dismissed) in Switzerland (another country with Italian being a dominant language). Onyewu, as we all know, is on loan to FC Twente from AC Milan.