Vol. 5 Num 926 Sat. January 06, 2007  

Serie A
Money makes the ball move

Emerson is fed up of Real Madrid and wants some Milan. Milan want some of Massimo Oddo, and possibly a family-size striker like Vincenzo Iaquinta, to score some goals. Inter are standing optimistically next to a 60m-pound pot with Lionel Messi's name on it, while according to Wednesday's papers, Juventus have lined up Javier Mascherano and Werder's Miroslav Klose. Or, said Thursday's, Peter Crouch.

Yes, it's the Italian transfer market -- home to more tall stories than the island of Manhattan. In recent years the mid-season mercato has seen grim financial realities invariably winning over the natural creative exuberance of the papers, but this year may just prove different.

For example, second-place Roma have waved goodbye to Vincenzo Montella, but agreed terms with Valencia for the wilfully wasted Italian starlet Francesco Tavano. Montella's a slice of Serie A history with his 137 career goals, but only four of those have come in the last two seasons and given that forward-thinking Roma manager Luciano Spalletti reckons centre-forwards are passť these days, he fancies the cover Tavano supposedly offers him for his Brazilian widemen Rodrigo Taddei and Alessandro Mancini. Time will tell if he is right.

Meanwhile, spurred by recent events, Italy's big three are all preparing to splash out like a pre-diet Michelle McManus at the plunge pool. Inter, dizzy with their new-found success, want to celebrate next season's centenary in style, hence the planned spree at Barca. Juventus, now just one point from the top of Serie B with a game in hand, know they must make investments to keep hold of current stars like Gigi Buffon, another Inter target. For the first time in over a decade, they've been promised a proper war chest from the club's controlling Agnelli family. Stumbling Milan have also been promised similar intervention from Uncle Silvio and, unlike their fellow giants, they're planning to act immediately -- little known Argentinian left-back Leandro Grimi has been flown in, while fellow full-back Oddo's move from Lazio looks more likely by the day.

The month may yet hold other surprises, with Luis Figo's rumoured flight to Saudi Arabia resparking life into the Beckham rumours, for example. Otherwise, the transfer story to watch this January could well prove to be at Parma.

Readers will recall this club from it's 90s heyday when it was plucked from third division obscurity by Calisto Tanzi, the man who gave the world UHT milk. They went on to enjoy a fairytale ... no, a dairytale rise to the heights of the European game. The cream of the world's players graced the club's tiny stade Ennio Tardini -- men like Faustino Asprilla and Gianfranco Zola, Hernan Crespo and Hristo Stoichkov. Sadly, after it later emerged that, whoops, Tanzi's billions didn't actually exist, Parma were forced to downsize dramatically, and for the past few years they have been living life one step ahead of football's knacker's yard.

Despite a cleaned up set of books and a very productive youth programme, prospective new owners haven't exactly been queuing up to buy Parma, which made it all the more surprising when the official receivers announced this week that the small town club is now up for auction, or under, one might say, the Parma hammer.

Are the receivers -- as the townsfolk fear -- just plain bored of counting the pennies and fielding crank calls from former Madrid man Lorenzo Sanz? Do they plain want shot of the former Milkmen? Or are they, as they claim, capitalising on a moment of sudden interest in the club? The papers reckon it's the third option and this Thursday they offered a sizzling sextet of potential new buyers that included, alongside hardy perennial Sanz, such unexpected delights as formula one team boss Flavio Briatore, Juve shareholder Al Saadi Gaddafi and the recently disgraced former administrative director of Juventus, Antonio Giraudo, a bully of a man immortalised in Lucianio Moggi's many phone taps, but now apparently planning to walk back into football through the front door.

All very exotic. A potentially safer bet may prove to be Giambattista Pastorello, already director general of the club back in the glory days of Nevio Scala and the Wembley Cup Winners' Cup final win over Royal Antwerp. But whoever it is had better hurry -- Parma are floundering down in penultimate place in Serie A, behind even the massively-penalised Reggina, and are leaking almost two goals a game. With even the town's famously quiet supporters growing restless, few clubs in Italy need help, and with the transfer window open, what better time to start?

The receivers promise to have an owner sorted within the next three weeks. In the meantime Serie A continues this years extended winter break (very extended, for some of us). The next round of action doesn't take place until the weekend of the 14th. Until then, Buon' Anno to all.

(James Richardson is a columnist for Guardian Unlimited)