Big signings have breathed new life into Serie A
Italy also doing more to tackle racism
21 August ~ It has become rare of late to see good things written about Serie A. But the arrival of top players in the close season might mean we'll get a break from articles celebrating how washed up the once great Italian top flight has become. What is most appealing is that many of the newcomers have not gone to Juventus, AC Milan or Inter. Napoli are building an impressive squad, with owner Aurelio de Laurentiis adding €60 million (£51m) to the €64m he got from Edinson Cavani's move to Paris Saint-Germain to it to give his team a huge transfer budget.
The biggest of a clutch of signings is Argentinian forward Gonzalo Higuaín, one of three arrivals from Real Madrid. Napoli were runners-up last season but with the reinforcements and Rafa Benítez in the dugout, they are aiming to add to the two titles they picked up in the Maradona glory years.
Fiorentina, who just missed out on qualifying for the Champions League preliminaries last season when they finished fourth behind Milan, have bid farewell to Stevan Jovetic but also landed arguably the signing of the summer by luring Mario Gómez from Bayern Munich. Milan have not made such eye-catching deals but coach Massimiliano Allegri says they don't need to after buying Mario Balotelli in January.
Inter's biggest acquisition is that of coach Walter Mazzarri, who has arrived after a successful four-year stint at Napoli and is looking to turn around a team that finished a lowly ninth last term. The club's relatively prudent approach to transfers of late may change if Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir takes over from Massimo Moratti as the club's majority stakeholder, though that doesn't look likely to happen in time to have a major impact before this transfer window closes.
Champions Juventus remain the team to beat, with Carlos Tévez being mooted as the striker the team need to become bigger contenders in Europe. There are plenty of other class acts to enjoy, including Andrea Pirlo at Juve, Roma captain Francesco Totti, Lazio's Miroslav Klose and Udinese's Antonio di Natale. And it will be interesting to see whether Antonio Cassano can keep a lid on his temper and enjoy a new lease of life at Parma. Furthermore, after Hellas Verona won promotion to rejoin Chievo in the top flight, this season Serie A has five derbies for the first time, along with the city duels in Milan, Rome, Turin and Genoa.
Naturally, a league's lustre is not just measured by the players on display and Serie A still has many big problems regarding debt, poor facilities, violence and, above all, racism. On this front, new rules should end the farce of teams getting pointless fines for racist chants by their fans, with penalties now including the closure of part of the offending club's ground for a game, the closure of all of it and points deductions.
Both Rome clubs are about to get a taste of the new regime, with the Stadio Olimpico's Curva Nord being shut for Lazio's first game of the season, following racist chanting towards Juve players during the Supercoppa, while the Curva Sud will be shut for Roma's first home match, against Verona, after their fans were punished as repeat offenders at the end of last season. The hope is that a real deterrent can put a stop to the monkey chants Balotelli and others have had to endure. Paul Virgo