THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Fiorentina, Juventus could also challenge

icon seriea29 August ~ Earlier this week it was finally confirmed that Italy had slipped below Portugal in UEFA's country coefficient rankings. We'd all been waiting for this one for some time; that the news arrived on the eve of a new Serie A season capped off another summer of missed opportunities and futile handwringing. The national team's abject showing in Brazil, the death of Napoli fan Ciro Esposito after he was shot during disturbances before last season's Coppa Italia final, the leaving of more young native talent and the appointment of a hapless septuagenarian as the head of the country's FA.

The latter is currently under UEFA investigation for racist comments made during his election campaign and all of this has done little to suggest things are going to improve in the Italian game any time soon.

My default setting has always been to sympathise with anyone on an "Against Modern Football" ticket, and it remains so. However, foreign investment has to open up calcio's closed shop, blow the dust off and let some air in. Some sort of renewal has already been underway for a couple of years now and, when you look at what clubs such as Roma are trying to do to improve the often underwhelming Serie A matchday experience, announcing plans for a new €1 billion (£794m) stadium and infrastructure out near the city's Fiumicino airport and due to open in 2016, you can only wish them well.

Roma showed some sparkling form last season and, at the time of writing, they're the only one of the expected frontrunners to really strengthen during the summer transfer market. Losing Mehdi Benatia may be a blow, but coach Rudi Garcia's organisational skills and tactical nous should avoid too many dramas, while the arrival of Juan Manuel Iturbe from Hellas, Davide Astori, on loan from Cagliari and, yes, Ashley Cole, are all decent additions to a squad which may yet prove to be a target man short of absolute dominance.

Saying that, with Juventus now under a new coach (Massimiliano Allegri, formerly at Milan and a man with much to prove) and Napoli continuing to blow hot and cold, this could still be Roma's season. Inter, another club under overseas ownership, may yet get their act together after spending so long flapping about after José Mourinho's departure; neighbours Milan, now with Filippo Inzaghi in charge, will continue to be held back by Silvio Berlusconi's shameless asset stripping.

A majority of neutrals would be happy to see Fiorentina emerge as Roma's main challengers this campaign. Vincenzo Montella's side have managed to stay pretty much intact and will be hoping to progress after last season's fourth spot. Their first game is on Saturday night, away at Roma. Serie A has been a hard sell of late, but there will still be much to enjoy this coming season. Starting on Saturday night at the Stadio Olimpico. Matthew Barker

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