For a long time now, Serie A has not been the league you’d turn to for extremely expensive transfers. There are some exceptions, but even Italy’s best and wealthiest clubs are having to get smarter and more frugal with their scouting and spending.

This has led to an increased focus on those in the boardroom who have a lot more sway with transfers than the coach himself. Clubs like Atalanta and Bologna have become extremely good at finding players for a cheap deal who rapidly increase their market value, hence why their signings feature heavily on this list.

At the same time, AC Milan and Inter generally don’t spend money without thinking about it anymore, meaning they unearth a few gems here and there. The following 10 players are our picks for the 10 best Serie A signings this season, in no particular order.

10 best Serie A signings of the 2023/24 season

Marcus Thuram – Inter

Inter Thuram home
Inter’s Marcus Thuram celebrates. [@Inter_en]

The frequency with which Inter‘s president (previously CEO) Beppe Marotta is able to acquire players without a transfer fee is astonishing, and they are getting Piotr Zielinski and Mehdi Taremi this summer without spending a cent on transfer fees.

Marcus Thuram looks as though he could be one of his best. It was one of the worst-kept secrets in European football that Thuram‘s Borussia Monchengladbach contract was coming to an end and would not be renewed.

More wealthy clubs than Inter were linked, but Marotta managed to get the deal done and it has paid off. The Frenchman got 13 goals and 13 assists in his debut season in Serie A, and produced some seriously impressive moments that made the whole of Europe sit up and take note. Not only has he produced goals himself, he has gotten more out of Lautaro Martinez who strolled to the capocannoniere prize despite tailing off at the backend of the season.

Charles De Ketelaere – Atalanta

Charles De Ketelaere celebrates his two goals from Atalanta against AS Roma (@Atalanta_BC).

Charles De Ketelaere arrived at AC Milan in the summer of 2022 after a long transfer saga and there was a lot of pressure placed on him immediately. The youngster failed to impress and was shipped to Atalanta on loan for €3m, with an option to make the deal permanent for €22m plus €2m in add-ons.

Bergamo proved to be somewhere where the Belgian could shine. With Atalanta playing every competitive game possible in 23/24, De Ketelaere appeared 50 times for La Dea. He grabbed 14 goals and 11 assists, meaning it was a no-brainer for Atalanta to make the deal permanent. He is instantly worth a lot more than they have paid and they now have a confident, talented and versatile 23-year-old in their attack.

Benjamin Pavard – Inter

Inter’s Benjamin Pavard and AC Milan’s Theo Hernandez compete. [@Inter_en]

When Beppe Marotta isn’t signing great players for free, he’s signing them for less than you’d think. Inter signed Benjamin Pavard for just €30m as he only had a year left on his Bayern Munich contract, but his market value is now €50m.

Even if you ignore the fact they now have an extremely valuable asset on their hands which they stand to make a capital gain from, they also have an excellent defender who can do it all. Pavard arrived with an injury and it took some time for him to bed in, but he then became an undroppable member of Inter‘s back-three. He ended up playing 31 times this season and will be even more important in 24/25.

Isak Hien – Atalanta

Atalanta defender Isak Hien. [@Atalanta_BC]

It isn’t normal for a January signing to get into a list like this, but Isak Hien has proved to be a very good opportunistic move from Atalanta. The Swedish defender was at Hellas Verona when the season began but the Gialloblu seemed to adopt a policy of accepting any bid for any player in January.

Arriving for €8.5m, Hien quickly became one of Gian Piero Gasperini’s favoured starters and he ended up playing 26 games for La Dea, the majority of which were from the start. There is no reason to think he won’t be one of the pillars of the team next season and given he is 25 years old, Atalanta stand to earn a lot more than they paid in the future if he moves on.

Yann Sommer – Inter

Yann Sommer of Inter. (@Inter_en)

It’s another of Beppe Marotta‘s free transfers. This one is slightly less impressive when you consider that Yann Sommer is 35 years old, but he has done exactly what Inter needed. Having sold Andre Onana to Manchester United (another player who arrived for free), Inter needed a first-choice goalkeeper.

Without the opportunity to sign a younger, long-term replacement for Onana, the Nerazzurri opted to bring in Sommer which proved to be a seamless transition. He is good with the ball at his feet and has so much experience which undoubtedly played a part in them cruising to the Serie A title. This free transfer bought Inter time to plan who the long-term goalkeeper will be.

Christian Pulisic – AC Milan

AC Milan midfielder Christian Pulisic celebrates scoring (@ACMilanBR)

After such a disappointing time at Chelsea, many people had completely written Christian Pulisic off. Considering they paid €64m for him, you can understand why people expected a lot more than what he managed to produce in the Premier League.

Milan sniffed an opportunity and with a serious need for a right-winger, they took a punt on the American for €20m. They could probably sell him for around double that figure this summer if they had any intention to. Across all competitions, he has scored 15 goals and created 11 more, whilst also giving Milan some shape they were missing before.

Given Milan were very poor for a lot of the campaign, to have put up those numbers is really impressive.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek – AC Milan

Ruben Loftus-Cheek celebrates scoring for AC Milan. (Photo: acmilan.com)

Pulisic isn’t the only player that Milan signed from Chelsea. It seemed implausible for Ruben Loftus-Cheek to go out on yet another loan away from Stamford Bridge and the Rossoneri convinced him to move abroad, paying €18.5m in the process.

Like Pulisic, he has increased his value after one season thanks to his superb performances. Originally playing deeper, Loftus-Cheek eventually became the attacking midfielder in Stefano Pioli‘s 4-2-3-1 formation. He really found his goalscoring touch, grabbing 10 goals across Serie A and the Europa League. He is a player Paulo Fonseca will build around and look forward to coaching.

Giovanni Fabbian – Bologna

Bologna players, including Remo Freuler and Giovanni Fabbian, salute their fans. (@BolognaFC1909en)

Whilst Atalanta are rightly the Italian team that gets the most credit for finding players for cheap and turning them into much better ones, Bologna are getting better and better. That’ll be the Giovanni Sartori link in action.

Giovanni Fabbian made the brave call to leave Inter having come through the academy, and Bologna took a chance on the midfielder for just €5m. The 21-year-old really grew into the campaign and despite only starting 29% of the games, he was quickly being picked out as a very important performer. He ended the season with five goals and two assists, and you’d back him to be more prevalent next season under Vincenzo Italiano.

Riccardo Calafiori – Bologna

Bologna’s Riccardo Calafiori celebrates. [@Bolognafc1909]

Bologna‘s second entry on the list, Riccardo Calafiori is quickly becoming a major star. He left AS Roma as a right-back who wasn’t quite making the grade and came back from Basel as a commanding, modern centre-back. He has then come on leaps and bounds during the season and is receiving huge attention for his performance in the Italy Men’s National Team defence against Albania at Euro 2024.

Bologna only paid €4m for Calafiori and they stand to make a huge capital gain on the 22-year-old. He looked set for Juventus but if he keeps impressing at Euro 2024, more clubs will come in for him and the price will rise. Bologna have played a blinder.

Duvan Zapata – Torino

Torino’s Raoul Bellanova and Duvan Zapata celebrate. (@TorinoFC_1906)

An example of Atalanta selling a player makes it onto the list, with Torino doing well to acquire Duvan Zapata and get a tune out of him. Signing a then-32-year-old striker from team not much higher up in the league is a risk, as there must be a reason why they are willing to let him go.

Torino do not score many goals as a team so Zapata was never likely to be rivalling the top strikers in the league, but he managed to get 13 Serie A goals and five assists and played 37 games, as well as one more in the Coppa Italia. Two of those appearances and one of those goals did come for Atalanta before leaving in August.

At 33 years old and having recently struggled with injuries, that is really impressive. He signed on loan but it will only take €5.6m to make it permanent.