Thu, Jul 20, 2006 - Page 19 News List

European vultures circle Italian teams

MATCH-FIXING After being relegated in Italy's corruption scandal, the teams' only hope of keeping their top players is to loan them out until the club returns to Serie A


Juventus, Fiorentina and Lazio have quickly discovered the consequences of relegation from Serie A as Europe's top clubs set about plundering some of the world's best players on the cheap.

The list of top stars affected by last Friday's match-fixing punishments reads like a Who's Who of European soccer and includes eight members of Italy's and France's World Cup final teams.

It is Juventus who represent the richest pickings for the vultures circling over Italy.

The "old lady" has been stripped of her dignity following the corruption verdicts and now faces losing its prize assets as well.

Only Alessandro Del Piero has declared his willingness to stay. The rest of his teammates are already forming a queue to escape, with Juventus unlikely to get their real value because the club is in such a compromised position.

Reports claim European champions Barcelona are ready to make bids for defenders Lilian Thuram and Gianluca Zambrotta.

French star Thuram's agent has indicated his client is ready to move to the Nou Camp, but Zambrotta, who is also wanted by Chelsea, would apparently prefer to join AC Milan.

Barca's Spanish rivals Real Madrid are in the hunt as well and the club's former Juventus manager Fabio Capello, who quit the Stadio Delle Alpi before the verdicts were announced, has spoken to Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro about a transfer.

Cannavaro made it clear he is happy to switch to the Bernabeu and Capello is also keen on Zambrotta and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

The only hope Juventus have of retaining a stake in their stars is to loan them out and then bring them back when the club returns to Serie A.

But with the burden of a 30-point deduction also imposed on them for next season, it will be two years at least before the club is back in the big time.

Liverpool as well as French champions Lyon are keen to take striker David Trezeguet on loan, while Inter Milan and Manchester United would happily sign France midfielder Patrick Vieira for a season or two.

United boss Sir Alex Ferguson admitted he was monitoring the Italian situation closely.

"Everybody will be looking at all the Juventus players, no question about that. Buffon, Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Thuram, Emerson and Vieira are the ones that people will be focusing on. We are working on several things," he said.

Juve's Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Czech Republic midfielder Pavel Nedved won't have much trouble finding new homes either.

Indeed, Nedved's agent claims he has already had offers from four clubs, including English Premiership side Tottenham.

Fiorentina striker Luca Toni, who scored over 30 goals for the Viola last season, has been strongly linked with a move to Inter Milan and goalkeeper Sebastien Frey and defender Martin Ujfalusi also seem certain to be snapped up.

Lazio's demotion could cost the Rome club the services of Italian international defender Massimo Oddo, Swiss midfielder Valon Behrami and Tommaso Rocchi.

But at least one leading European soccer figure believes the clubs are showing a lack of compassion in their rush to land a bargain.

German champions Bayern Munich are refusing to get involved, and the club's director-general Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said: "What is happening in the transfer market resembles a carving up of corpses. It leaves a bad taste and it isn't something that appeals to the people at Bayern."

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