What would the world of football transfers be without dramatic and unthinkable last-minute surprises? It would probably be pretty boring, that's what. Thankfully, the January session that officially opened at midnight on New Year's Day is shaping up to be anything but surprise-free for Interisti. It's less than 24 hours old and yet already we appear to have our first intrigue of the month.
Up until a couple of days ago, it looked nigh-on certain that Lucas Leiva would be the first, and possibly only reinforcement that Piero Ausilio and friends would be able to present Stefano Pioli with for the second half of this season. As Baraka reported here on Boxing Day, everything was set for the Liverpool midfielder to arrive on a six-month loan deal that would include an option for Inter to sign him permanently, should things go well, after the two clubs reached an agreement that would enable us to 'reinforce' our midfield and them to offload someone who wants to play football but isn't doing so under Jurgen Klopp. All that was missing, so said most sources in Italy, was the signature on the contract - but as we know when it comes to the mercato, that is no small detail at all. And in fact, since last week something has changed.
What's changed is that Inter are now aiming higher than Lucas. Not that they could have aimed much lower. Despite having had a deal for the Brazilian all sewed up for a good few days now, and despite the initial intention of bringing someone in immediately before our first match of 2017 against Udinese, owners Suning have not yet given the green light to officially complete this signing, and that is a pretty strong sign that they have something decidedly more juicy up their sleeves. They cannot throw all of their (supposedly stratospheric) financial weight about in this month, as this is the final transfer window in which Inter will be bound to the Financial Fair Play regulations they signed up to with UEFA a couple of years ago, but a tiny bit of room for maneuver exists in the present nonetheless, and after holding a strategy meeting with Pioli and Ausilio in China during the week it seems they're determined to make the most of it.
In short, we haven't finalized the Lucas deal yet because there's a chance we might be able to sign Roberto Gagliardini or Luiz Gustavo instead. And that would certainly be good news. A week or so ago, these were both players that we couldn't afford in our current economic situation, with neither Atalanta nor Wolfsburg willing to consider anything other than an outright sale for their players and Inter only capable of offering the kind of loan-with-option-to-buy deal that Liverpool have accepted. (In the case of Atalanta, they were also unwilling to sell Gagliardini midway through what has already become the most successful season in their entire history.)
Remarkably though, in the last few days both clubs seem to have softened their respective positions and are now willing to talk, which means that it's not so certain that Lucas turns up at Appiano Gentile after all. At the moment it remains unclear whether we have the luxury of being able to sign both or just one, but the chances of getting at least one of them have risen considerably in recent hours - particularly if we are able to shift some midfielders out of the door in the coming weeks (Felipe Melo is on the brink of joining Palmeiras, Assane Gnoukouri could head to Crotone on loan and Ever Banega could yet be sacrificed should a big-money offer arrive from China).
It must be said that Juventus are also interested in these two players, so if Inter's ears have perked up upon hearing that they're both available on loan then it's reasonable to assume that theirs have too - particularly after Axel Witsel decided to snub them and head to China instead (on the subject of that: lol!) - but at the moment we are the ones pushing hardest and therefore we should get first choice, with Gagliardini in particular being of real interest to Suning should sources in Italy be believed. If only one between him and Luiz Gustavo are available, it's probably him that we'll end up signing, as he is exactly the kind of player the new owners want us to invest in over the coming years - young, promising and Italian. €25m is the asking price Atalanta have fixed for him, and if Alfredo Pedulla is to be believed it's a price we are willing to meet.
So, watch this space folks - this January window might be about to get exciting. Or we might end up signing Lucas anyway...