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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Calcio Debate: Why Serie A 2009-10 Could Be A Special Season

Inter's Jose Mourinho 'bored' his way to another championship in his career and Juventus' Claudio Ranieri at times almost beat him at his own game. Milan desperately tried not to finish third but eventually did so, Genoa did their best to finish fourth but ended up fifth.

Roma were depressingly short of fit players, Milan were overwhelmed with the old and Inter were maddeningly starved of creative midfielders. Napoli looked like a Champions League team in the first half of the season and struggled to stave off relegation in the second and Antonio Cassano inspired a first half relegation candidate Sampdoria to a 13th place finish in the end.

Paolo Maldini retired and so did Luis Figo. And so did Pavel Nedved. Mourinho called Ranieri "too old to change his mentality" and Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis exposed that English "women do not wash their genitalia". Roma fans once again stormed Trigoria, Zlatan Ibrahimovic stormed Serie A and Diego Milito stormed opponents' goals. And so did Marco Di Vaio, for a side that finished one place above the relegation zone.

If that was interesting, then what 2009-2010 has to offer would be doubly so, especially in the title race.

Title Race

Especially in the title race. Juventus couldn't recover from the Calciopoli scandal until now and Inter haven't really felt threatened of losing their new found perch until now. Summer signings Diego, Felipe Melo and Fabio Cannavaro combined with the first full season of coach Ciro Ferrara and his pledge to play Barcelona-esque football have strengthened a squad that didn't lack so much as quality as tactical awareness, stability and consistency.

What Will Eto'o Add To The Serie A?

Inter might have added Samuel Eto'o, Thiago Motta, Lucio and Diego Milito but the absence of a playmaker augmented by the departure of their best player for three seasons, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, mean the Nerazzurri would have to restructure their strategy.

And who knows what Milan might conjure up? Klaas-Jan Huntelaar guarantees goals if given the service, Alexandre Pato can only improve on his 15 league goals last season and although Leonardo's perhaps over-reliance on a past-his-prime Ronaldinho is a gamble, maybe this being a World Cup year Ronnie could rediscover a fraction of his Barcelona magic.

As for the other teams, well, 'impossible is nothing' but a Scudetto triumph is unlikely.

Finishing Fourth And Conquering Europe

What is probable, though, is at least seven teams fighting for the fourth spot. As's Italian football editor Carlo Garganese persistently insists almost to the point of obsession, quality in the Serie A is spread very thinly across the 20 teams. Which is why Roma could finish only sixth last season and why Genoa, Napoli, Lazio and Palermo might like a crack at that 'Florentined' fourth spot.

But this is as much a boon as a bane. While the spread of quality implies the depth in the Serie A, it is also a reason why Italian clubs have not been very successful in Europe in recent seasons. And until an Italian side wins the Champions League and wins it with some style or at least reaches the semi-finals, Serie A will never get the recognition it deserves.

Which is why the onus will be on Inter, Juventus and Milan. And if 2009-10 turns out to be another disappointing campaign for Italian clubs in the Champions League and the Europa League, then the fans won't be happy.

The Tifosi

Oh yes, the fans. For an outsider or non-Italian like this columnist, the tifosi in Italy can be mystifying at times. Italian football fans don't think twice before invading their club's training ground or throwing oranges and what not at club coaches, and while this might superficially seem very ugly, it also has a dark and perhaps fatal attraction attached to it, like the gaze of a snake.

True, the chants by certain fans and behaviour of others demonstrate that Calcio is not clean yet, but perhaps behind the violence that Italian football has yet to cope with lies a strange and unbreakable bond between the fans and their clubs, a bond that has not been diluted by foreign ownership or shameless selling of the soul, a bond that reflects the unbridled passion and unalloyed love the nation retains for football.

Italian Football Fans Are A Different Lot

The Rest Of The Package

Strange as it may seem, perhaps it is through such 'ugly' incidents and not through what can be flat atmospheres in stadiums that one truly appreciates and understands Calcio and realizes that it is unique.

Calcio can be ugly, it can be violent and at times the rigidity of tactics and the slow pace can make it seem boring but it is intellectually pleasing, has its own place in football, is known for its subtle skills and cannot be undermined.

Then there's the media headed by the pink paper, La Gazzetta dello Sport that is the largest selling newspaper in Italy in spite of being a sports-only paper in which the majority of news is football. The Machiavellian politics and dark underlying forces in the game add to the enigmatic character of Calcio and recent talks of AS Roma and Bari takeovers have imported more 'openness' to the game in Italy.

Add to that Mourinho forcing Marcelo Lippi to apologize, Walter Zenga's conviction of overhauling Inter at the top and De Laurentiis making this columnist wary of all English women, and Calcio becomes as much spicy as beautiful.

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