It is often said that Argentinians thrive in the warm, Mediterranean climate Italy offers, making Serie A a desirable ending point when embarking on a European journey away from their homeland.
Culturally, the two nations are tied to long periods of immigration, notably heightened in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It is estimated that 60% of Argentina’s population has some degree of Italian descent, too.
Therefore, it’s a rather familiar phenomenon when looking at the surnames of the country’s national team that they all share Italian roots: Angel Di Maria, Javier Mascherano, Lucas Biglia; yes, even Lionel Messi, whose great-grandfather immigrated from Ancona, Italy in 1883.
Such close cultural and familial ties, as well as the higher wages offered by the newly professionalised game in Italy, saw some of the biggest names in Argentinian football trade the white and sky blue of their homeland for the deep blue of the Azzurri in the 1930s. Raimundo Orsi, Luis Monti and Enrique Guaita all crossed the Atlantic to swap their national colours and fire Italy to their maiden World Cup win in 1934.
The success of cult figures such as Diego Maradona, Gabriel Batistuta and Javier Zanetti encouraged even more Argentines to flock to Italy’s top division in the latter half of the 20th century, and today it’s quite normal to see so many of their countrymen bulking up the squad lists in Serie A compared to the Premier League for example.
Inter have traditionally been one of the league’s most welcoming hosts to those who make the trip over from South America, which is hardly a surprise given their full-name – Internazionale – history and background.
While Italian football may not harbour the spotlight it once had, some may have overlooked the interesting rarity that is occurring: the top four goal-scorers in Serie A are Argentinian. Indeed, Carlos Tevez, Mauro Icardi, Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala have lit up the peninsula this campaign, netting 53 goals between them. This phenomenon is nowhere near being replicated in other leagues and adds to the awe of Argentinian quality in Serie A.
With 15 goals to his name in 23 league appearances, Carlos Tevez is currently the joint top-scorer in the Italian top-flight. There was much debate regarding whether he would be a suitable heir of Alessandro Del Piero’s mythical No. 10 kit upon his arrival in Turin, but the 31-year-old has worn the hallowed shirt number admirably since joining from Manchester City in 2013.
Tevez immediately earned himself a starting role within the Bianconeri first team last season. Recording 19 league goals, he helped to guide the Old Lady to an incredible 102 point, title-winning season and a Europa League semi-final while also being voted Juventus’ player of the season; he has not slowed down this term either.
While he may be short, his pace and strength on and off the ball rarely go unnoticed as he regularly bullies defenders and leaves them trailing in his wake. His 5’6” stature gifts him a low-centre of gravity, perfect for splitting defenders and finding space to shoot. He possesses a cannon of a shot on his right too with all but two of his goals coming from that side of his body.
Although it’s likely that he’ll head back to his native country next summer, Tevez looks well set to continue firing home the goals and hoarding more silverware in Turin until then.
Up alongside El Apache at the front of the race to be Serie’s A top scorer this season is Mauro Icardi.
The 22-year-old was forced to endure the extreme rigidity of Walter Mazzarri’s system during the first four months of the campaign but is now under Roberto Mancini’s guidance; scoring seven in 11 and eight in 15 under the two respective tacticians. His regular partner in attack for the Nerazzurri has been a very inconsistent post-World Cup version of his countryman, Rodrigo Palacio.
Dani Osvaldo, a naturalised Italy international born in Buenos Aires, was initially loaned-in from Southampton to play as an alternative attacking foil to the young forward but he was moved on to his home-town club of Boca Juniors in February after having struggled with injury concerns for the majority of his time at Giuseppe Meazza.
Yet while Icardi hasn’t had much help this season, his finishing skills and goal-scoring record have allowed him to speak for himself as the primary goal threat of Inter’s frontline: he is a true marksman. He is great at operating in tight spaces in the box.
Simply put: give him an inch and Icardi will not just create a chance out of it, but quite often take it too.
Not only is he dangerous in the area, but his adaptability makes him an outstanding, all-round goal-scorer. His instincts as a versatile poacher in the area have enabled him to score goals with his head and left-foot as well as his more favoured, natural right-foot.
His ball-control is also impressive and he is great at faking shots and making defenders turn their backs as he directs his efforts on goal. He’s also a mean penalty taker, and showed both his skill and cold-blooded composure with a wonderfully taken panenka penalty in Inter’s 2-2 comeback draw against Napoli at the weekend.
Understandably, his feats in front of goal have lead to the Argentinian attracting interest from the elite clubs of Europe such as Man United (via Manchester Evening News). A No. 9 with an impressive range of finishing, and a natural sharpness in the six-yard box, will always be an in-demand commodity at all levels of the game, and although it looks almost certain that Icardi will extend his current deal which runs until 2018, he may still leave Inter this summer for one of his many, big money suitors.
It’s not just the northern football hubs of Turin and Milan that depend on their Argentinian heroes for goals and glory, however. Travel south to Naples and you soon come upon another famed attacker of the Albiceleste: Gonzalo Higuain.
In his second year with Napoli, he has recorded 12 goals so far in a somewhat topsy-turvy campaign. The club’s exit in the Champions League qualifier negatively affected the 27-year-old, who began to look like a man haunted by his other recent failures, most notably Argentina’s World Cup final defeat to Germany in the summer, during which he missed what could have been a vital chance for Alejandro Sabella’s side.
He became cursed, not finding the net in the first seven fixtures, but when he finally did, he produced a sublime performance, registering a hat-trick.
Since then, his season has seen some ups and downs; scoring seven in a span of five matches before a four game mini-drought unfolded. He then netted the remaining five in as many games but has failed to make his register a goal since January 26.
While his scoring pattern may seem sporadic, Higuain has been Napoli’s difference maker. In fact, they’re undefeated in every League match he’s scored in. Normally involving himself in buildup play, the striker also enjoys making deep runs in behind opposing defences. His stocky build allows him to muscle off the peninsula’s finest defenders while maintaining possession in search of team-mates.
It must be said that a lack of Champions League football could push him away from Naples’ shores. Nonetheless, supporters hope he sees out the majority of his contract that expires in 2018.
Ultimately, crossing the Tyrrhenian Sea from Naples brings us to Palermo, where Paulo Dybala plies his trade. The 21-year-old – who has netted 12 goals—has effectively been labeled a €40 million man by Palermo president Mauro Zamparini due to the Argentinian’s magnificent displays.
Deployed as a striker in a 3-5-2 setup with another compatriot in Franco Vasquez, his sweet left-foot can hurt opposing sides from all areas of the pitch. While Dybala enjoys riding the line of the last defender, the magician also regularly shifts out wide as well as into deeper positions where he turns into a steady provider. He’s very quick and agile, possessing superb control and technique that allows him to evade opponents without so much as breaking a sweat.
Dybala’s finishing is probably his best attribute, scoring some dazzling goals this campaign, both from inside and outside the area. Indeed, his left-foot is special; he’s scored all of his goals from his preferred foot.
The 21-year-old is already racking up a long list of suitors and is primed to choose a new team of his particular liking this summer.
All in all, Italian football is often criticised for no longer showcasing the greatest talents in the game to the world but that could not be farther from the truth when it comes to their South American cousins from Argentina.
Tevez, Icardi, Higuain and Dybala all add tremendous quality to the peninsula and would surely excel in other leagues if tested. It’s possible that all but Tevez may depart this June, but in the meantime, they’re leaving a collective legacy in Serie A every single weekend.