Straight from the dark heart of Italy
It looked like one-way traffic out of Italy this summer.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ricky Kaka headed off to Spain, followed by thousands of Italian holidaymakers discovering that the Iberian coast is a lot more affordable than their own shores.
But there has been at least one welcome move in the opposite direction.
The opening weekend of the season was full of delightful and unexpected performances, and topping the bill was without doubt Alberto Zapater.
Zapa who? Well, quite. There had been positive pre-season reports about the former Zaragoza midfielder, but no one could have expected such an eye-catching debut for Genoa against AS Roma.
Not only did he play Daniele de Rossi off the park - not something you can say often - but the 24-year-old scored a free-kick that would have had even Ronaldinho bowing his Alice band in appreciation.
Or, earlier in the day, Michel Platini putting on his best Gallic shrug and muttering “Mon Dieu.”
With Thiago Motta leaving Genoa for Inter, former local hero Diego Milito gave his old club the heads up on the strapping Spanish international, and coach Gian Pier Gasperini got a genuine snip at 4.5million euros.
La Liga’s loss, Serie A’s gain – and cheers to that.
Zapater wasn't the only player making a sudden impact. Edgar Alvarez has been knocking around Italian football for years, passing from one club to another with hardly anyone noticing him.
In fact, Francesco Totti couldn’t place the name despite sharing a dressing room with the Honduran for a season.
He’s now pitched up at Bari and one man not likely to forget his name is Inter's Javier Zanetti, who was left trailing in the speedy winger’s wake on Sunday evening.
For the ageing Argentinian, made to feel every one of his 36 years, it must have been akin to watching Usain Bolt disappear into the distance – albeit with a football tied to his boot.
There must be something in the water in Honduras: David Suazo is another speed demon from those parts – and let’s hope the popular striker finds a new club before he goes completely to seed at Inter.
Speaking of mysteriously unused Milanese squad members, remember when the Rossoneri had all those oldies lining up in defence and everyone was wondering how a club that had produced the likes of Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini couldn't nurture another half-decent youngster to fill the gap?
Well, one of those trainees-in-vain was Marcus Diniz, who came up through Milan's youth ranks at the San Siro after arriving from Brazil in 2005, but was shipped off to Monza and then Crotone on loan deals.
Now 22 and out on loan again at Livorno, the central defender turned in the sort of assured performance in the goalless draw with Cagliari that left one wondering why Milan kept wheeling out Kakha Kaladze, Giuseppe Favalli, or for that matter Philippe Senderos, last season.
Marcus wasn't the only eye-catching loanee at the weekend. There has been talk of a goalkeeping crisis in the Italian game, but obviously no one has told Antonio Mirante.
The 26-year-old keeper started as understudy for Gigi Buffon at Juventus before becoming another of football’s diaspora: wandering off for brief spells at Crotone (a popular stop-over), Siena and Sampdoria.
Samp were impressed enough to buy half of his registration from Juve before in turn loaning him to Parma, and this weekend his three extraordinary reflex saves did more than anything to earn the Gialloblu a point at Udinese.
The dazzling diamonds may have disappeared, but if you look hard enough there are little gems shining out there in the Italian game.
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