This month the world commemorated its love for Italian food by celebrating World Pizza Day, and it got me reminiscing about our best and worst Italian takeaways – namely players we have signed from Italian football. Without any real debate, it is obvious to all that a certain Paolo Di Canio would top any chart regarding Italian Hammers.
But whilst Paolo Di Canio was born and raised in Rome – his journey to West Ham took him from Juventus via Celtic and Sheffield Wednesday to the Boleyn. As such, for the purposes of this article, Paolo does not count as an Italian takeaway. Instead the eclectic list of talents below all joined us directly from the domestic Italian leagues and left a mark on the club in one way or another.
When Savio Nsereko was signed in 2009 by then Director of Football Gianluca Nani, we all had high hopes for the young attacker from Serie B side Brescia. Savio was secured for a club record fee of £9 million and given the no.10 shirt. We were told we were signing a future star and trusted that Nani’s knowledge of Italian football had helped him to uncover a hidden gem. We couldn’t have been more wrong.
Savio made 10 massively mediocre appearances for the club before returning to Italy with Fiorentina. In the 10 years since leaving West Ham, he has played just 64 games for a total of 13 clubs. He has failed to score for any of them.
Another takeaway that never quite lived up to his billing was Paulo Futre. Signed from AC Milan in 1996, the portuguese international was seen as a real coup for the Hammers. He was a highly-revered attacking midfielder whose close dribbling skills, pace and vision had seen him play for some of Europe’s biggests sides including Sporting Lisbon, Porto, Atletico Madrid, Benfica and Milan.
In 1986, Futre finished runner up for the Ballon D’Or, but it is safe to say that by 1996, Futre’s best years were in his past. And whilst the fact that we could secure his signature was an achievement in itself, his on-pitch performances did little to fulfill the hype.
Other players who arrived from Serie A in possession of unbound potential or established big reputations include Victor Obinna, Luis Jimenez and Simone Zaza. Obinna, who was on loan from Inter, did at least score a few goals and grabbed some assists in our run to the semi finals of the League Cup in 2010/11. However, their contributions will only ever be a footnote in the history of West Ham.
We have had a number of more successful Serie A signings however. David Di Michele formed a decent strike partnership with Carlton Cole after joining from Torino in 2008. He grabbed four goals and linked up well with Cole, helping him to one of his most prolific seasons in the claret and blue and seeing Zola’s Hammers finish 9th.
Di Michele was joined in east London that season by fellow Serie A export Valon Behrami.
The all-action central midfielder signed in 2008 from Lazio and immediately won supporters over with his non-stop running and willingness to get stuck in. After a series of injuries interrupted his season the following campaign, he eventually left for Fiorentina in 2010.
Alessandro Diamanti was another Italian import during the 2009/10 season to don the claret and blue. The attacking midfielder-come-striker was a bit of flair in an otherwise uphill battle of a campaign. Not shy of having a shot from the most ridiculous of angles, he won fans over with his desire to do something special. And he had a hell of a left foot.
The Italian, signed from Livorno, scored eight times in 29 outings for the club in all competitions and finished runner up to Super Scotty Parker as Hammer of the Year. Understandably fans were disappointed to see him return home the next season. Leaving us all with a sense of what if…?
Then, of course, there was Tomas Repka who signed from Fiorentina in 2001 and the combative centre-back-turned-right-back left a real fan favourite. Sent off for two yellows on his debut, he served his suspension and then promptly got sent off again in his return match.
It set the tone for a West Ham career that would see him become the no nonsense partner of Christian Dailly before becoming a fullback who would often put wingers into the advertising hoardings. Having helped get the club back to the top flight and establish itself under Alan Pardew, ‘Super Tom’ left the club in 2006 with a tear in his eye and a place in our hearts.
The current West Ham side has three players who joined from Italy.
Two of them joined in the summer of 2015 and have names that are so similar that David Gold famously posted a picture of one to announce the signing of the other! In truth both Angelo Ogbonna and Pedro Obiang (signed from Juventus and Sampdoria respectively) have been solid acquisitions who played their part in the long goodbye to the Boleyn season and have scored some memorable goals (see Ogbonna’s header vs Liverpool and Obiangs bullet shot vs. Spurs) and will be fondly remembered once they do eventually leave east London.
Felipe Anderson is our most recent and probably most exciting signing from Serie A since Paulo Futre. However, with his peak years still in front of him it will hopefully be more fulfilling than the Portuguese’s stint.
He has certainly started to settle into life in the Premier League. After a rough first few games, he has ridden the learning curve and is now looking like the side’s difference maker. Blessed with pace, an eye for a pass and a propensity for the spectacular, it feels like he is just getting going. If he continues at his current rate of trajectory he may even surpass perhaps our most beloved Italian takeaway to date.