Italian season begins under a cloud yet again
Match fixing scandal still dominates
24 August ~ It took Daniele de Rossi to cheer everyone up. The Roma midfielder announced to the media on Tuesday afternoon that he was staying put in the capital and turning down Manchester City. "This is just a regular press conference for me, it's not like I'm announcing World War Three," he said. It was a rare bright spot in a dark summer of scandal and trauma in Italy. Last week the news magazine L'Espresso published what is now a pre-season staple, a hand-wringing profile of the state of the Italian game headlined "Sick football".
The cover story's detailing of the ongoing decline of the national sport, its moral and economic collapse and lack of credibility, has a depressingly analytical bluntness.
The season begins to a backdrop of bickering over the calcioscommesse appeal verdict, with Juventus coach Antonio Conte's ten month ban for failing to disclose information about an attempted match fix while at Siena during the 2010-11 season upheld by Italy's FA, the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC). Another appeal is expected in September.
There's also the aftermath of the Supercoppa final. The showcase in Beijing earlier this month between champions Juventus and cup holders Napoli ended in bickering as the latter, beaten 4-2, refused to attend the trophy presentation. They were angry at the number of contentious decisions in the Turin club's favour, with Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri claimed he actually considered quitting football altogether afterwards.
Meanwhile, the departure of high-profile players, such as Milan duo Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva, and promising native talents such as Fabio Borini and Marco Verratti – the teenage midfielder who left promoted Pescara for PSG – has prompted many a dark mutter in the press.
Serie A is a league in transition and it is proving a painful process, nowhere more so than at Milan. Thwarted by the economic problems of Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset empire, the club have spent the summer bristling indignantly, but generally powerless, as they miss out on big-name players or watch them leave.
New arrivals Riccardo Montolivo, who was impressive during the European Championship, and Giampaolo Pazzini, at the expense of Antonio Cassano and €7 million (£5.5m), will have pressure on them from the start, though not as much as coach Massimiliano Allegri.
There are some reasons to be optimistic and much to look forward to. Roma, under the returning Zdenek Zeman and with much expected of young striker Mattia Destro, promise to be an entertaining force after the club's US owners' false start last season. Inter should be worth watching again for the right reasons, with young coach Andrea Stramaccioni enjoying the benefits of an apparently settled Wesley Sneijder, a focused Fredy Guarín and Cassano.
Juventus have strengthened their squad with an eye on Europe and, while still lacking physical presence up front, a midfield bolstered by former Udinese duo Mauricio Isla and Kwadwo Asamoah looks set to continue the club's success. President Andrea Agnelli has fostered something of a siege mentality during his two years in Turin and the events of this week concerning Conte will only feed into that.
Napoli can survive the departure of Ezequiel Lavezzi but need to keep hold of Edinson Cavani – which they have managed so far while Udinese have had the usual squad turnover – Columbian striker Luis Muriel was in fine form during a loan spell at Leece.
Lazio's new coach Vladimir Petkovic seems to be quietly establishing himself after initial problems and Fiorentina are shaping up nicely since Vincenzo Montella arrived earlier in the summer. With or without Stevan Jovetic they could enjoy one of their more successful seasons for a long time.
Finally, a welcome back to Sampdoria and Torino. An Italian television executive told me recently that he was hoping those particular two clubs and Hellas Verona would be promoted, "not one of those silly small teams like Pescara". It was, of course, Pescara who also went up, back to Serie A for the first time in 20 years. Matthew Barker