27 August ~ "Everything must change so that everything can stay the same," Italian novelist Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa wrote in The Leopard. The famous phrase is often used to describe the way cosmetic change is used to cover a lack of real reform in Italy's political, economic and social spheres, but it may also be applicable to the country's top-flight football this season. It's all change at the big clubs, with three of the big four starting the campaign with new coaches. Nevertheless, the expectation is that we'll have the same story of the last four seasons since the Calciopoli scandal shook things up, with Inter proving too good for the other contenders.
Jose Mourinho and his cantankerous winning ways will be missed by Inter, if no one else in Italy, but the team he claimed a Champions League-Serie A-Coppa Italia treble has been largely untouched – Mario Balotelli was not a regular starter last term and they may have a fine replacement in 18-year-old Brazilian Philippe Coutinho. The club have not done much else to reinforce the side, but the fact that, so far, they've managed to hang on to the likes of full-back Maicon and striker Diego Milito means they should be the team to beat again, unless Rafael Benítez contrives to repeat the misadventures of his last season at Liverpool.
Juventus are the team that have made the biggest changes, including the arrival of new chairman Andrea Agnelli of the Fiat-controlling dynasty. They have spent big in the transfer market, but they did last year as well and ended up finishing seventh after humiliating exits from both European competitions. This year they do at least have a seasoned coach in charge, Luigi del Neri, who led Sampdoria to a fourth-place finish last season, rather than a novice like Ciro Ferrara, who was given the keys last year.
Roma, who pushed Inter hard in the league and were also Coppa Italia runners-up last season, are the only big club to have the advantage of continuity, with Claudio Ranieri still on the bench. There is a question mark about whether uncertainly over the future ownership of the debt-laden club will affect the team's fortunes after it was put up for sale. With little to spend on players, Roma have gambled on former Brazil forward Adriano in the hope he can rediscover the fearsome form he had before depression and personal problems culminated in him walking out on Inter last year.
AC Milan have also been quiet on the transfer market, given Silvio Berlusconi's recent frugality, and are hoping former Cagliari boss Massimiliano Allegri can do better than the third place his predecessor Leonardo achieved with an ageing squad. The one element that could pose the biggest threat to Inter's dominance would be if Milan manage to sign their city rivals' former striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose anarchic talents may not be well suited to Barcelona's silky team play, but could be just the ticket for the Italian prime minister's side. Genoa are arguably the team best equipped to trouble the big clubs this season, after making some interesting signings including Luca Toni and Miguel Veloso from Sporting Lisbon.
This season will also see the introduction of a new supporters' ID card, which will be required by fans wanting to buy season tickets or travel to away games. The government scheme aims to help solve Italy's ongoing hooliganism problem, but many fans complain it infringes their civil liberties and is unlikely to be effective because much of the trouble happens outside the grounds. Another area where Lampedusa's maxim may apply. Paul Virgo