THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

31 May ~ New Italian title-holders AC Milan were ejected from the Champions League by the team that finished fifth in England, runners-up Inter were dumped out 7-3 on aggregate by the 14th-best side in Germany and third-placed Napoli failed to go beyond the round of 32 in the Europa League. So it's probably fair to say that it has not been a vintage quality year for Serie A. There were some redeeming factors though. Inter have taken over from Juventus remarkably quickly as the nation's most disliked side after the Turin team paid their debt to football with a year in Serie B after the 2006 match-fixing scandal.

So many neutrals were happy to see the back of Inter's five-year reign as scudetto holders, even if Milan's success gave Silvio Berlusconi something to smirk about. Inter got the Rafa Benítez of his hapless last season at Liverpool, rather than the version of the Istanbul comeback. That left his replacement Leonardo with a bit too much to do, but the former Milan boss did restore some of the spirit of José Mourinho's treble-winning side, and Inter retained the Italian Cup as a consolation prize. Massimiliano Allegri was humble about lifting the title in his first season at Milan, identifying the money Berlusconi has spent on the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho after years of relative transfer-market prudence as the key to success.

It was a nice surprise to see Napoli, who were in the third tier in 2004 after going bankrupt, crash the title race and Udinese rewarded for their devotion to attack with a fourth-place finish that's good for a slot in the Champions League preliminaries. Sadistic pleasure was to be had too from seeing some big teams flounder. AS Roma, the 2010 runners-up, suffered from the uncertainty of the drawn-out negotiations that eventually led to an American consortium making them Serie A's first foreign-controlled club and only came sixth. A 5-1 drubbing at Cagliari in the second game of the season was a forbearer of the troubles that would lead to Claudio Ranieri quitting. Having changed manager and bought virtually a whole new team last summer after finishing sixth, Juventus contrived to do even worse this season, coming seventh and missing out on Europe all together.

Sampdoria's relegation to Serie B, meanwhile, was tinged with both sadism and masochism. The former European Cup finalists, fourth in the 2009-10 campaign, looked set for dull mid-table security before they sold their two best players in January. Antonio Cassano, in the doghouse for telling the chairman he was "an old bastard", was allowed to leave for Milan and fellow forward Giampaolo Pazzini was packed off to Inter. The subsequent slide gave Genoa the opportunity to put their city rivals on the brink, which they seized, winning the derby 2-1 in the third-last game, before Samp's fate was sealed the following week with defeat at Palermo. Talk about downsizing your ambitions. Paul Virgo

Comments (1)
Comment by t.j.vickerman 2011-05-31 19:02:23

Are you giving credit to Rafael Benitez for the Istanbul comeback? But I've been led to believe that was achieved in spite of the bungling, paranoid Spaniard. What, with players of the quality of Djimi Traore, Igor Biscan and Vladmir Smicer, who wouldn't have won it that season!?

But, from what I've seen and read, it was quite an entertaining Serie A season lit up by the emergence of Udinese and Napoli. It would be nice to see them hold on to the likes of Cavani, Lavezzi and Sanchez and make an impression in Europe next season and Samp's demise serves as a warning should they cash in early.

I do feel that beyond the ridiculously talent-packed squads of Barcelona and Real Madrid, there isn't much between sides like Valencia, Villareal, Milan, Inter, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Porto and the Premier League sides and it would be good and healthy to see a more open and competitive European Cup next season.

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