Milan: Serie A re-starts at the weekend amid a bewildering whirlwind of transfer rumours, including a reported race to sign Didier Drogba and even a possible home-coming for Manchester City’s maverick forward Mario Balotelli.
Leaders and champions Juventus, eight points clear of second-placed Lazio, should at least maintain that lead with a straightforward home match against Sampdoria as the championship reaches the halfway mark.
Lazio also have a home game against relegation-battling opponents as they host Cagliari, but it is the transfer talk, rather than the championship itself, which has dominated headlines following the opening of the January window.
According to the rumour mill, Juventus are vying with Milan to sign Ivory Coast and former Chelsea forward Drogba from Shanghai Shenhua.
Drogba signed a two-and-a-half year deal reportedly worth around $300,000 (Dh1.1 million) per week in June, but the Shanghai-based Oriental Sports Daily said last month the 34-year-old was owed wages following a long-running equity row at the club.
Juventus have also opened negotiations with Athletic Bilbao for striker Fernando Llorente.
Milan, who are lying an unimpressive seventh and host bottom club Siena on Sunday, have been at the centre of the intrigue.
Massimiliano Allegri’s team are expected to part company with at least one, and possibly both, of their Brazilian forward pair of Alexandre Pato and Robinho, with the former reported to be on the brink of signing for World Club Cup champions Corinthians.
According to Gazzetta dello Sport, that could make funds available to sign either Drogba or Balotelli, or even both.
Despite this, Allegri said this week that Milan’s emphasis would remain on developing younger players.
“The club president has taken the right path, no one in Italy can afford players earning six to seven million euros a year, and certainly not any team which wants to comply with the (Uefa) financial rules,” he told Gazzetta in an interview.
“In Italy there are clubs that will finish in the red, but as I said at Milan we’re concerned only about ourselves and happy with our chosen philosophy.
“The youth sector will become increasingly important, along with the synergy between the club, first team and youth sector.”
At Milan’s neighbours Inter, the speculation has centered around playmaker Wesley Sneijder, whose return to training on Thursday failed to quell the rumours.
The Dutchman was asked by the club to extend his contract from 2015 to 2016 for the same overall payment in a move criticised by the world players’ union FIFPro. Since then, he has been left out of the team.
Inter have made their first move in the transfer window by signing 35-year-old striker Tommaso Rocchi, ending his spell of eight seasons at Lazio, where he has made only three appearances this season.
Inter, level with Fiorentina in third place and one point behind Lazio, visit Udinese on Sunday while Fiorentina, who have been linked with a bid for AS Roma striker Pablo Osvaldo, host Pescara.
Inter have run into a mini-crisis after winning only two of their last seven games following their 3-1 victory at Juventus.
“We have to keep believing it’s possible all the way and hope that we’re still in with a shout heading into the last month,” said Javier Zanetti.
“We’re going to give it everything we’ve got in all the competitions then we’ll see where it gets us.”