Man United, Arsenal castoffs find new homes in Serie A
By ANDREW DAMPF
ROME (AP) Romelu Lukaku, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Aaron Ramsey, Alexis Sanchez, Chris Smalling.
The names read like a team sheet from a recent Manchester United-Arsenal matchup.
Only now, those same players will be meeting in Italy's Serie A.
Lukaku and Sanchez left United for Inter Milan, Ramsey went from Arsenal to Juventus, while Mkhitaryan and Smalling were each loaned to Roma from Arsenal and United, respectively.
And they weren't alone in the southern migration: Of the 79 foreigners who joined Serie A in the recently concluded transfer window, 10 came from the Premier League - more than any other league.
"I was not fitting so well in English football, so I think a change was good," said Mkhitaryan, the deadline-day signing who accepted a reduced salary with Roma.
"I've heard from many, many players that the Italian league is great, the football is great," Mkhitaryan added. "The last month at Arsenal I was not getting pleasure, so that's why I said it was better to come to Roma and to get happy and to get the pleasure from playing football again."
While the likes of Lukaku, Mkhitaryan and Sanchez each fell out of favor with their clubs in England, they are each still in their primes.
So this influx is nothing like when David Beckham was loaned twice to AC Milan toward the end of his career, or when Ashley Cole showed up at Roma at the age of 33 with his abilities waning.
Very few English players make the move to Serie A but the ones that do - such as former England goalkeeper Joe Hart, who spent 2016-17 on loan with Torino - tend to have harbored an affinity for the more tactical and defense-oriented Italian league.
"In England we don't have many players that do go abroad. I think I've always had a desire deep down to experience this and to have an opportunity," said Smalling, the center back who was dropped from England's squad ahead of last year's World Cup. "It's something that I really look forward to and I don't want to live my life with (any) regrets.
"Serie A has always been a goal of mine to play in one day, because as a defender if you get the chance to experience Serie A you want to do it," Smalling added.
Sanchez, a Chile international, began his European career in Italy with Udinese before moving on to Barcelona, Arsenal and United.
For years, the Premier League has been a destination for top Serie A players and coaches but now coaches are coming back, too.
Maurizio Sarri (at Juventus) and Antonio Conte (Inter) both returned to the Italian league this season after coaching Chelsea, while Carlo Ancelotti, another former Chelsea coach, is in his second season at Napoli.
The other players who recently moved from the England to Serie A were Danilo (Manchester City to Juventus), Bobby Duncan and Rachid Ghezzal (Liverpool and Leicester, respectively, to Fiorentina), Bobby Adekaye (Liverpool to Lazio), and Ken Sema (Watford to Udinese).
While Lukaku has already scored two goals in two matches for Inter, Mkhitaryan and Smalling are expected to make their debuts with Roma against Sassuolo on Sunday.
Even before playing a single match for his new club, Smalling alluded to an extended stay.
"If it prolongs and the club's happy," Smalling said, "then I can definitely see a longer term future in Italy."
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Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf
Updated September 12, 2019