Wednesday 19 August ~
If Italian football supporters had any doubts that Serie A is now a Big Issue-selling relation to the English and Spanish top flights, they have been dispelled this summer. First Kaka moved to Real Madrid, kicking off Florentino Perez's spending orgy and prompting AC Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi to vow to do something about football's "mad prices" after having pocketed €68 million (£58m). The comments did little to make up for the loss of his side's main creative force, but they did produce some chuckles from those who remember when Berlusconi used to be the one destabilising transfer markets by willy-nilly cash splashing.
Champions Inter then also lost their best player when months of bellyaching paid off for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Swede was granted his wish to go to Barcelona. At least Inter got Samuel Eto'o in exchange, bought Brazil captain Lucio from Bayern Munich and repelled a Perez bid for Jose Mourinho, leaving them with at least three world-class acts. But Milan will have to reorganise under novice coach Leonardo after Carlo Ancelotti went to Chelsea and cope without retired captain Paolo Maldini, while their only major buy so far this summer has been Dutch forward Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
Those who sustain that Serie A is now little more than an elephant's graveyard for past-their-best big names, meanwhile, will be pleased to have seen 35-year-old Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro return to Juventus. Many Juventini, still irked that he dumped them for Real Madrid in the middle of the 2006 match-fixing scandal, were less happy and it'll be interesting to see how long they hold the grudge. One consoling note for the tifosi is that Serie A still looks to have its nose in front of the Bundesliga, if Lucio's move and Juventus's success in luring top-notch playmaker Diego from Werder Bremen is any indication.
Indeed, the hope is that Diego's arrival at Juve along with his midfield compatriot Felipe Melo means we'll see a real title race this year, rather than another scudetto stroll for Inter. Don't count on it though. Like Milan, Juventus are in the hands of a novice coach, Ciro Ferrara, who was given the job after Claudio Ranieri failed to convince anyone in Turin that second place was actually really good. Roma have money troubles and do not look equipped to do any more than challenge Fiorentina for the fourth Champions League qualification slot. So Mourinho is unlikely to have lost much sleep about his rivals during the close season.
Perhaps I'm being too pessimistic though. With the glamorous foreigners all in Spain and England, Serie A clubs might give more space to their academy products and reveal some gems before Manchester United snap them all up. Ferrara or Leonardo might be the new Pep Guardiola. Ronaldinho might regain the form he had four years ago and David Beckham might come back on loan to steer Milan to a European and domestic double. Impossible is nothing – ask Roy of the Rovers. Paul Virgo