Serie A season preview – a spectacle to behold
Turbulent waves of controversy are never too far away from the murky shores of Italian football, especially towards the beginning of each new season over the past several years. The countdown to Serie A’s last campaign was marred, and eventually delayed by a strike, after the Players’ (AIC) and Clubs’ (LEGA) unions failed to agree upon a new collective bargaining agreement.
The Calciopoli match-fixing scandal in 2006 shook the entire sport to its core. With the subsequent trial lasting years and uncovering a ravage trail of corruption, but also descending into a complete mockery when evidence was only brought to light after the statute of limitations had already been superseded.
The built-up to the upcoming 2012-13 Serie A season has proved to be no exception to this now unwritten rule. It all began in bizarre fashion a year ago, in the shady lower echelons of the peninsula’s most popular game, and has gradually moved up the divisions. Spiked sleeping pills and a car crash in Cremona ultimately led to the discovery of mass betting-chains tied in with organised crime groups which formed the latest scandal nicknamed Calcioscommesse.
When the national sport is not being dominated by controversy, a bit of football is actually played in Italy too. The scandal had dealt out several severe personnel bans and points reductions to teams in the top flight, but the show must go on and it is set to be a remarkable eight months filled with thrills and spills in Serie A.
Current Champions Juventus have been dealt a rough hand from this latest scandal, with coach Antonio Conte being banned from the touchline for 10 months for alleged activities while at Siena. The Turin based outfit have reinforced their already concrete squad with the key arrivals being Kwadwo Asamoah and Mauricio Isla from Udinese. Athletic Bilbao’s Fernando Llorente is currently sitting top of their most wanted list, as they have been in desperate search for a European pedigree striker throughout the summer.
Despite the loss of their talismanic boss, The Old Lady marched on to conquer the Super Cup against Napoli a week ago, showing promising signs with temporary replacement youth tactician Massimo Carrera on the bench. Adjusting to the rigors of the Champions League while attempting to defend their domestic title could prove slightly too overambitious for this season at least, however.
Italy’s other big hitters have been having vastly different summers in their preparations to pip Juventus, but the theme of rejuvenation runs throughout.
Both Milan clubs have been having a mini-revolution of sorts with a mass exodus of legendary and prominent players from the San Siro. Internazionale have gradually begun disbanding the team of their 2010 Champions League triumph under young coach Andrea Stramaccioni. There is plenty of optimism around the club for the first time since former boss José Mourinho left for Real Madrid two years ago.
On the contrary, Milan supporters have even gone as far as to hold miniature funerals for their side, after selling their only prized assets in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to Paris Saint-Germain. Vice-President Adriano Galliani has been severely criticised for only signing cheap alternatives, with forward Antonio Cassano also set to jump ships across the city because of the management’s unpopular attitude.
With vastly younger squads, highly touted prospects such as Stephan El Shaarawy and Philippe Coutinho look set to spearhead, Milan and Inter respectively. The blue half of the city remain the most likely to pose a threat to the Piedmont giant judging on this summer’s transfer campaigns, however.
Down in the capital, Rome’s big two have brought in vastly different ideologies with their new eastern European coaches. Chain-smoking Czech Zdeněk Zeman is set to bring an all out attack approach to Roma, while Lazio’s Bosnian Vladimir Petković is a completely unknown quantity but is said to favour a slightly more rigid formation.
Zeman’s return to Roma has already seen season tickets sold out at the Stadio Olimpico, with his dynamic style guaranteed to entertain in both victory and defeat. On the other hand, Lazio could not have got off to a worse start. The team has been booed during pre-season friendlies, and look set to implode before the season can even begin.
To the fury of their supporters, Udinese have persisted with their model for success by selling their most influential players once again this summer. Doubters were proved wrong after the Friulani qualified for Europe’s elite competition last season. Plans to renovate their Stadio Friuli have been greeted with protests from the fans, calling for more quality signings instead. Coach Francesco Guidolin has been touted as a miracle worker before, but it is almost impossible to tell if his relatively young squad can settle again this time around.
Further south and Napoli have reinforced their squad substantially over the summer, with Fiorentina’s Alessandro Gamberini and Valon Behrami signed. Coach Walter Mazzarri has presented an altered system to adapt to, with several new youngsters thrown in the mix. Despite the tactical changes they will only have the Europa League on the backburner while they try to wrestle that coveted third spot back.
Drifting slightly outside the bracket of European contenders, Palermo and Fiorentina have also had major overhauls and appointed new coaches. The latter are only set to have three players from their previous campaign in Vincenzo Montella’s new starting line-up. Meanwhile the Sicilians looked to have finally found stability, bringing in Giuseppe Sannino, a man who has consistently proven to get the best out of limited resources.
Newly promoted Pescara, Sampdoria and Torino will all have a fight on their hands to remain in the top flight. Serie B Champions, Pescara have since been gutted of all their star players and influential Coach Zeman, and look set to be the battering boys this season. Roberto Mancini’s former club and Turin’s second team are iconic outfits in Italian footballing history, and will always be welcomed with open arms, but have just as much of a fight on their hands as the former.
The 2012-13 Serie A season will undoubtedly be an exciting one with plenty of new faces, and a few old ones too. Scandals will pass, however repulsive they may be, and despite losing a Champions League place last season to Germany, Italy remains the heart of stylish and tactical football. With fanatic fans and even more delirious club presidents and officials, it will always be a spectacle to behold.Tagged in: Antonio Conte, football, serie a
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