Onana, Kim and the Most Successful One-Year Spells in Serie A (Top XI)

In football, short stints at big clubs are often associated with failure. When a fresh signing is unable to meet the expectations, the two parties may opt for a swift divorce that cuts the losses. On the contrary, a successful signing ought to linger for a while before moving on to a new venture. But in some rare cases, a successful collaboration could end prematurely, much to the dismay of the club’s supporters. The departures of André Onana and Kim Min-jae are two contemporary examples, but they aren’t the first Serie A stars to change destinations on the back of a solitary yet fruitful campaign.

So let’s take a look back at some of the most memorable and successful one-year stints in Serie A while primarily focusing on the modern era.

Note: For obvious reasons, loan stints won’t be taken into consideration, but only those who spent a campaign in the year after completing a permanent transfer.

Goalkeeper: André Onana (Inter)

When André Onana joined Inter last summer, the free transfer was met with a sense of skepticism, especially since the Cameroonian had to serve a lengthy ban due to alleged substance abuse in recent years. Nonetheless, some viewed it as one for the future, with Samir Handanovic’s career reaching its autumn years.

But after serving as an understudy to the aging captain for a couple of months, it was only a matter of time before the brilliant 27-year-old usurped the Slovenian and cemented himself as the ultimate custodian in Simone Inzaghi’s starting formation.

The former Ajax man displayed a wide array of skills that rapidly won him the respect and appreciation of Nerazzurri supporters. Whether it’s pulling off stunning reaction saves or helping his teammates build up from the back, Onana can do it all. His heroics played an essential role in the club’s run towards the Champions League final.

Sadly for Inter fans, the goalkeeper’s time at Appiano Gentile turned out to be a brief one. When Manchester United came forward with an offer of around 60 million euros, the financially troubled Italians couldn’t resist, registering whopping capital gains from the operation.

Honorable Mention: Angelo Peruzzi (Inter)

Centre-Back: Mehdi Benatia (Roma)

After rising through the ranks at Marseille, Mehdi Benatia spent two years at Clermont before sealing a free transfer to Udinese. At the Friulian club, the Moroccan slowly but surely established himself as one of the best-rising defenders in Serie A.

He became an integral part of a solid band (led by the legendary Antonio Di Natale) that finished third in the table and reached the Champions League qualifiers.

After three impressive years in the North East, a switch towards a bigger club became inevitable. And so, Benatia took one of those roads that lead to Rome which we often hear about.

At the Olimpico Stadium, the centre-back became an instant hit in Rudi Garcia’s tactical system, building a solid defensive partnership with Leandro Castan. But make no mistake about it, Mehdi was the ultimate star at the back.

While Roma fell short in their attempt to upset the reigning champions Juventus, a second-place finish in the Serie A table was a remarkable feat on its own, and Benatia’s heroics didn’t go unnoticed.

Bayern Munich came calling and the Giallorossi decided to cash in on their star defender, selling him for more than 100% profit, before returning two years later to haunt his former club while defending the Bianconeri’s colors.

Honorable Mention: Marquinhos (Roma) 

Centre-Back: Kim Min-jae (Napoli)

At this point, Napoli fans must be cursing their luck. For the second summer in a row, they’re being forced to bid farewell to a world-class defender. Last summer, Kim Min-jae landed in the metropolitan city as a replacement for Kalidou Koulibaly who departed towards Chelsea.

After eight years of service, the club’s backline was almost unrecognizable without the commanding presence of the charismatic Senegalese powerhouse. Yet, former Napoli sporting director Cristiano Giuntoli had a trick up his sleeve. So make way for the South Korean Monster!

In a surprisingly short period of time, Koulibaly became a distant memory at the Maradona Stadium, with Kim Min-jae immediately announcing himself as arguably the most physically imposing defender in Serie A, playing a vital role in Napoli’s unforgettable and historic achievement that is winning the Scudetto title, the club’s first in 33 years.

So what Koulibaly couldn’t achieve in eight years, Kim pulled it off in his first attempt. But sadly for the Partenopei crowd, they will have to find themselves a new stalwart at the back, as Bayern Munich decided to trigger the South Korean’s release clause this summer.

Honorable Mention: Amir Rrahmani (Verona)

Centre-Back: Milan Skriniar (Sampdoria)

In January 2016, Sampdoria raised some eyebrows by splashing 5 million euros on a rather unsung young defender whose experience was limited to his home country of Slovakia.

Yet, this turned out to be a masterstroke on the Ligurians’ part. Despite his tender age, Milan Skriniar rapidly became a reassuring presence at the back. He spent one and a half seasons at the Luigi Ferraris Stadium before commanding almost 35 million euros to make the transfer to Inter.

Despite the major career step-up, he was unfazed by the pressure at the Giuseppe Meazza. Skriniar became a stalwart at the back for successive Nerazzurri coaches Luciano Spalletti, Antonio Conte, and Simone Inzaghi.

He has now joined Paris Saint-Germain as a free agent after seeing out his Inter contract, leaving club directors to bite their fingers for rejecting a massive transfer fee just last summer.

Honorable Mention: Giorgio Chiellini (Fiorentina)

Right Wingback: Achraf Hakimi (Inter)

While Inter stubbornly refused to sell Skriniar to PSG in 2022, they had adopted a significantly more lenient approach when the Ligue 1 champions knocked on the door asking for Achraf Hakimi in 2021.

The Morrocan is arguably the best right-back (or right wingback) in the world, and he exhibited his prowess at the Giuseppe Meazza during one successful season that culminated in a Scudetto triumph. At times, opposition defenses had no answer for the marauding Real Madrid youth product who came darting on the flank with sheer speed and ferocity.

However, a challenging financial situation prompted the Beneamata to sell the high-flying wingback prematurely, though they were handsomely rewarded (receiving 68 million).

Honorable Mention: Kingsley Coman (Juventus)

Central Midfielder: Thiago Motta (Genoa)

When Atletico Madrid released Thiago Motta in 2008, many believed that the Italo-Brazilian would join a long list of Barcelona youth products who were never able to fulfill their initial promise. In an attempt to reignite his waning playing career, the midfielder resorted to Genoa, which turned out to be the best choice he could have possibly made.

Under the guidance of the impeccable Gian Piero Gasperini, Motta found his footballing soul again as well as his desire and sublime technical touch.

A single year at Marassi was sufficient for the player to resurrect his career and earn another crack at the top level. In the following season, he was playing a substantive role in José Mourinho’s Treble-winning side. He then finished his career with a six-year spell at PSG where he won countless trophies.

However, his short Genoa stint might just be the most important of his career, as it paved the way for his following achievements.

Honorable Mention: Juan Sebastian Veron (Parma)

Central Midfielder: Felipe Melo (Fiorentina)

Felipe Melo is neither the first nor the last Fiorentina star who enraged the Tuscans by making the switch to their most hated rivals. From Roberto Baggio to Dusan Vlahovic, several star players have left behind an angry mob on the street of Florence while making the trip to Turin.

Yet, the Viola can look back on this one with a sense of satisfaction, as the Brazilian became the poster boy of a failed Juventus project built upon costly flops – at the time, 25 million euros was a significant amount of money on the transfer market.

But regardless of his struggles in Turin, Melo was an absolute beast of a player during his lone campaign at the Artemio Franchi, proving to be a complete midfielder. Perhaps it could have lasted a bit longer, but it remains a highly-productive stint.

Honorable Mention: Bruno Fernandes (Sampdoria)

Left Wingback: Joao Cancelo (Juventus)

Joao Cancelo is primarily a right-back but we’ll thrust him on the left as he can cover on both flanks. Prior to his stint at Juventus, the Portuguese had spent a season at Inter. However, that one didn’t make the cut for two reasons: First, it was a loan spell. Second, it was decent but far from spectacular.

Nevertheless, the fullback’s time at Giuseppe Meazza gained him some valuable Serie A experience and it paid dividends during his more memorable spell at Juventus.

Cancelo proved to be a force to be reckoned with on the right flank in Massimiliano Allegri’s formation, providing an extra weapon in a star-studded squad that featured the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Miralem Pjanic.

But despite his solid displays, the Portugal international parted ways with the Old Lady after a single season with rumors suggesting a rift with some of the locker-room senators who weren’t impressed with his antics. He joined Manchester City in a swap deal that saw Danilo move in the opposite direction.

Honorable Mention: Roberto Carlos (Inter)

Attacking Midfielder: Clarence Seedorf (Sampdoria)

In the mid-90s, Sampdoria were already a far cry from the side that lifted the Scudetto title and reached the European Cup final at the beginning of the decade. Yet, the Blucerchiati still had the means to lure some of the finest young prospects in European football, and chief among them was Clarence Seedorf.

At the time, the Young Dutchman had already made a name for himself at Ajax and had just lifted the Champions League trophy in 1995. Thus, a switch to Liguria was somewhat surprising.

Yet, it proved to be an immensely beneficial move for both parties. Samp gained the services of a brilliant young midfielder – albeit for a single year – while Seedorf used this experience as a stepping stone to earn a major transfer to Real Madrid.

The Dutch legend collected silverware for four years at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium before returning to the Italian peninsula. While his two-year spell at Inter was underwhelming, he then found himself the right habitat to shine just across town, spending ten unforgettable years at Milan before hanging up his boots.

Honorable Mention: Patrik Schick (Sampdoria)

Striker: Christian Vieri (Juventus & Lazio)

In what was a mostly nomadic career, Christian Vieri only had one lengthy experience in the shape of a six-year spell at Inter between 1999 and 2005. But for the most part, Bobo always found himself on the move.

However, this wasn’t prompted by a lack of goals, as the former Italy international possessed a stunning ability to find the back of the net.

In 1996, the bomber joined Juventus to replace the departing Gianluca Vialli and Fabrizio Ravanelli. While he had major shoes to fill, he surely didn’t disgrace himself despite his relatively young age.

However, Luciano Moggi decided to cash in on his services for a record fee when Atletico Madrid came calling. Vieri enjoyed what was arguably the best season of his career in the Spanish capital before making a return to Serie A through the gates of Lazio.

The striker had another impressive spell at the Olimpico Stadium before jumping ship yet again and finding himself a new home with the Nerazzurri.

Honorable Mention: Giovanni Simeone (Verona)

Striker: Diego Milito (Genoa)

When Diego Milito announced his return to Genoa, he was already a familiar face among Grifone supporters having donned the club’s jersey for a few months in 2005. But when Real Zaragoza suffered relegation in 2008, the Rossoblu offered their former striker an escape route, and the rest, as they say, is history.

To say that the Argentine made the best out of the opportunity would be a major understatement. Milito’s return to Genoa turned out to be the maneuver that instigated the striker’s rise to stardom.

Milito scored 24 goals in Serie A, just one less than Zlatan Ibrahimovic who won the Capocannoniere Award that season. In the following summer, he finally earned the chance to represent a top club, moving to Inter alongside Thiago Motta.

But if it wasn’t for his exploits at the Marassi, he would have never had the chance to cement himself as the ultimate hero in the Nerazzurri’s treble-winning campaign.

Honorable Mention: Hernan Crespo (Inter – First Stint)

Cherry on Top: Roberto Baggio (Bologna)

During his illustrious career, Roberto Baggio represented some of the biggest clubs in Serie A. But while the elegant Trequartista couldn’t deliver his best at Milan or Inter, he enjoyed an unforgettable short stint at Bologna in between his two spells with the Derby della Madonnina rivals.

Despite cutting off his trademark “Divine Ponytail”, a 30-year-old Baggio rediscovered the breathtaking touch he displayed earlier in his career, scoring 24 goals and providing 10 assists in 33 memorable appearances for the Emilians, storming his way back to Cesare Maldini’s national team just before the 1998 World Cup.

This might just be the most successful and scintillating one-year stint in Calcio history.

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