Serie A Preview: Napoli

Saturday, August 30, 2008

They made their return to the Serie A in brilliant fashion thanks largely to the inspired signings of Ezequeil Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik. This summer Napoli went for a similar strategy making few transfers but those who have come in really count.

General director Pierpaolo Marino first went back to Argentina to bring in German Denis to partner Lavezzi up front and then raided Sampdoria for their right sided midfielder Christian Maggio.

Otherwise, Napoli have only brought in a couple of players to bulken up a squad that admittedly looks rather lightweight. Last season Napoli struggled when Marcelo Zalayeta suffered an injury and it could be a problem again this season if they were to suffer any similar injuries.

Key Man: Clubs had long been admiring the talents of Slovakian midfielder Marek Hamsik but it was only Napoli who made a bid big enough to convince Brescia into letting go. Their faith in him proved to be more than justified with Hamsik taking the Serie A by storm last season. With added maturity and consistency, he is bound to become even better.

Best bit of business: Antonio Cassano was Sampdoria’s undoubted star last season, but Christian Maggio caught the eye just as much with his hard work and excellent timing. Napoli certainly took note, focusing on him most of their resources during the summer.

Keep an eye out for…Andrea Russotto. As a sixteen year old at Lazio, Russotto made news by opting to move to Switzerland rather than change agents to join GEA as he was being pressured to do by the club. As a result, the talented player had fallen off the radar even though he’s spent the past two seasons at Treviso. Napoli have taken a gamble on him, taking Russotto on loan for the season, but he looks set to be another of Marino’s finds.

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Serie A Preview: Inter

Friday, August 29, 2008

He’s only been here a matter of weeks but already Mourinho is making himself new enemies. Predictably, the first target was Juventus’ Claudio Ranieri, also Mourinho predecessor at Chelsea, with a tit-for-tat squabble over each other’s winning mentality.

Mourinho’s criticism of Ranieri will obviously win him points with the Inter fans not that anyone needed any convincing of his abilities. Few however, seem to appreciate that what Mourinho does best is making his players comfortable enough to play their best football. His bluster is simply one of the ways he ensures that comes about.

Already, his work is making an impact. Dejan Stankovic, who Inter wanted to get rid of for much of the summer, is making a mockery of their desire to buy Frank Lampard such have been his early season performances in midfield. If Mourinho manages to repeat this trick with Adriano, then surely it would be enough for him to justify his hefty wage packet.

Of course, that is an exaggeration. Inter still want to win the title but what they’re really desperate for is the Champions League. Just as it was at Chelsea, it will be on delivering on that objective that Mourinho will be judged.

Key Man: That Roberto Mancini was on the way out was evidenced by Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s continuous disregard and disrespect towards his manager at the tail end of last season. The Swede will find that Mourinho is much less malleable yet the Portuguese manager will be aware that if he wants to win he need Ibrahimovic to be at his best.

Best Bit of Business: He’s not a player that Inter really needed but Mancini’s transfer from Roma will, if anything, ensure that their creativity isn’t reliant on Ibrahimovic’s form and

Keep an eye out for…Mario Balotelli. Ok, so he’s not exactly a player of whom little is known but the young striker really deserved to be tagged as a phenomenal prospect. For one so young he displays incredible maturity and composure, and Mourinho is bound to put much faith in him.

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Serie A Preview: Roma

The death of Franco Sensi put a downer on Roma’s season but probably cemented the Sensi family’s place in the hearts of the fans. And, having been tempted by the dollars of George Soros, they have decided to stay on and it does seem as the best decision for the club.

They may not have the sort of money to throw about as they did when Franco first took charge but under the guidance of his daughter Rosella, they have still remained one of the main challengers for the title thanks to long-term planning and belief in what they are doing.

This includes going for players who others have discarded. John Arne Riise’s departure from Anfield was welcomed by many whilst it is doubtful whether anyone at Real Madrid will realize that Julio Baptista has gone. Both players, however, have the quality and experience to keep Roma at the top.

Otherwise the squad is strong enough to take off from last season and the departure of Matteo Ferrari has been more than made up for by the arrival of Simone Loria. The late transfer of Jeremy Menez will also add options in a midfield shorn of Ludovic Giuly who did reasonably well last year.

The doubt at the back of everyone’s mind,however, is whether that will be enough to keep Roma as Inter’s main rivals or whether they’ve been overtaken by Fiorentina and Juventus.

Key Man For all of the progress made by Danile De Rossi and Alberto Aquilani, Roma are still highly dependent of Francesco Totti. Last season they briefly managed to get by without him but, had he been available for the finish, they would probably have won the Serie A.

Best bit of Business: Whilst Milan went for Ronaldinho, Roma opted for another Brazilian discarded by a major Spanish side: Julio Baptista. The big striker’s reputation has been hit after average seasons at Real and Arsenal but for evidence of his talent one only has to look at how he played in last year’s Copa America.

Keep an eye out for…Stefano Okaka. The Italian U19 international striker may still go on loan but the feeling at Roma is that he should be retained because he is already good enough to play in the Serie A.

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Serie A Preview: Juventus

This will be the key season for Claudio Ranieri. Having seen his side strengthened with the arrival of some big-name players the aim is to win the title. Even though you won’t find anyone connected with Juventus admitting it, last year’s talk of being a ‘ neo-promossa’ (newly promoted) with the implication that even staying up was a success simply won’t wash.

Ranieri might be disappointed at the refusal to pay that little bit more in order to sign Xabi Alonso, a player he had personally requested, yet otherwise there is nothing to be dissatisfied about.

The arrival of Amauri probably is the key buy especially given the way with which the Brazilian striker tormented Juventus during last season’s away game with Palermo. He will take some of the pressure for scoring goals off David Trezeguet’s back whilst at the same time ensure that it isn’t simply down to Alex Del Piero to create chances.

Slightly more of a gamble is the arrival of the Danish midfielder Christian Poulsen to add steel to their midfield. There are still a lot of people who are unconvinced about his abilities – hardly surprising given that he was basically fourth choice after Matthieu Flamini, Dejan Stankovic and Xabi Alonso – but Poulsen has all the characteristics of a player who can be a success.

Away from the big names, Juventus have also ensured that their future is catered for with the return home of Claudio Marchisio, Sebastian Giovinco and Paolo De Ceglie. All will feature prominently but their best will surely come in future years.

Key Man: Now more than ever, it is Alex Del Piero. Written off a number of times during his career – none more so two seasons ago when he was one of the first to agree to playing in the Serie B – the capitano has bounced back each time. Last season was a fantastic one for him, one that led to public pressure on Roberto Donadoni to choose him for Italy.

Best bit of Business. Ever since Palermo reluctantly agreed that Amauri would be allowed to leave, Juventus were the favourites to sign him. A word of caution, however: this move is very much similar to that of David Suazo last season, the striker who was supposed to make the step up after moving to Inter from Cagliari. That move didn’t work out so placing to much pressure on Amauri might not be the wisest of choices.

Keep an eye out for…Sebastian Giovinco. Despite Empoli’s self inflicted problems last season, Giovinco shone for them proving not only his talent – of which there had never been any doubt – but also his ability to handle the physical challenge of the Serie A. Juventus had little worries in taking him on, seeing in Giovinco the man to eventually take over from Del Piero.

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Serie A Preview: Fiorentina

Claudio Prandelli is not a man known for his angry outbursts so when he did go public with his dismay over the potential transfer of Adrian Mutu to Roma, it was enough for the club’s owners to re-think and pull back.

It was understandable, too. Slowly and patiently, Fiorentina have built a squad capable of really challenging for the title. Not simply a good starting eleven but a real and proper squad of twenty five players each and every one capable of slotting easily into a side going for the top prize. And they’ve done so without going overboard with their spending.

Yet every side has its stars around whom play is centred and to whom they turn when things are getting tough. For Fiorentina, Mutu is one such player so selling him would have sent them out of balance.

The prospect was particularly galling for Prandelli having finally managed to re-partner Mutu with Alberto Gilardino who he had managed with so much success at Parma. Fiorentina’s determination to get Gilardino, who Milan were so determined to get rid of, underlines their manager’s belief in his abilities and rightly so given what he had managed to do in a struggling side.

It was still a somewhat surprising transfer, certainly compared to the arrivals of Jaun Vargas and Luciano Zauri who will give their defence much more power whilst there is much hope around the arrival of Felipe Melo from Almeria even though Fiorentina have also brought in Almiron just in case the Brazilian’s move doesn’t work out.

Key Player: Adrian Mutu had a frustrating summer with Romania in the European Championships and his eagerness to join Roma – perhaps to raise some cash with which to pay off Chelsea – wasn’t much appreciated by the fans. Yet they realize that he remains their most talented and experienced player against whom holding a grudge would be completely futile.

Best Bit of Business: The arrival of Stevan Jovetic was heralded by Fiorentina as a major signing even though he is just eighteen years old and will have to wait a while till he gets a chance to play. Having seen the player in action, however, it is easy to comprehend their enthusiasm such is his talent. He’s ready to play in the Serie A and, given Fiorentina’s track record in bringing players through, will undoubtedly go on to be a star.

Keep an eye out for…Zdravko Kuzmanovic. An unheralded player when he signed for Fiorentina last summer, the Swiss born Serb went on to have an excellent debut season for the Viola. Hard working but with great ability on the ball, he is the ideal player for Prandelli’s system with the plus point of having the potential to get much better given his age of just twenty.

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Serie A Preview: Udinese

The well remunerated sales of Gyan Asamoah to Rennes and Andrea Dossena to Liverpool have been sufficient to fend off the much feared sale of their star players. This means that for the first time in a long while Udinese can go into a season with confidence that they can build on a side that promised so much last year.

Not that they haven’t been tempted. Arsenal were only one of a host of clubs to show an interest in Gokhlan Inler whilst defender Christian Zapata already has already caught the attention of some of Europe’s biggest teams.

Yet, as long as the bank balance is healthy enough and the offers not big enough, then Udinese were more than happy to resist. As in Udinese tradition, to that squad they’ve added a host of semi-unknowns from around the globe. The gigantic Swiss defender Alain Nef has been brought from Piacenza, striker Alexis Sanchez from River Plate and Serbian midfielder Dusan Basta from Red Star Belgrade.

Neither one of those three is likely to start the season as a regular in the excellent Pasquale Marino’s starting eleven. One player who should, however, is the twenty two year old Argentine Fernando Tissone who Udinese got from Atalanta and who will be replacing Dossena. With the Italian youth international Marco Motta slotting in at right-back after arriving from Torino and Luigi Sala offering back up as well as experience, it is starting to look that Udinese have the strength and depth to cause a few upsets.

Key Man: Hype would point at either Fabio Quagliarella or Antonio Di Natale but the man that Udinese would really struggle to do without is Gokhan Inler. Last season the little known Swiss midfielder easily slotted into the gap left by the departing Sulley Muntari where his tactical diligence and technical ability promptly shone through.

Best bit of business: In co-ownership with Atalanta, both clubs were desperate to sign the other’s half of Fernando Tissone yet it was Udinese who won out when the two clubs bid in a silent auction. The Argentine had impressed with the Bergamo club last season and Udinese had long since earmarked him as the potential replacement for Dossena.

Keep an eye out for… Alexis Sanchez. In a revealing story of how Udinese manage to find so many exceptional players, Sanchez was spotted playing for Chilean side Cobreloa back in 2005 when he was just seventeen. Udinese promptly signed him up and then loaned him out first to Colo Colo and then to River Plate. He did well enough with both to confirm that he was good enough to play in Europe so this summer he made his way to Italy despite River’s best attempts to retain him. So, when in twelve months’ time Udinese opt to sell either one of Quagliarella or Di Natale, there will be a ready made replacement waiting.

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Serie A Preview: AC Milan

After the debacle that was last season’s fifth place finish this was supposed to be the summer in which Milan finally started to re-build. Lessons learned, was the message coming out of Milanello, and our problems will be seen to.

A couple of months later and, whilst there has been an influx of new players, it is difficult to conclude that whatever problems there were have been solved. Take Philippe Senderos: presented to the Italian media as the solution to Milan’s defensive problems, he is nowhere near that. The truth is that Senderos has failed to develop after a positive first season with Arsenal and his lack of mobility was being ruthlessly exploited in the Premiership.

Much more complex is the move that led to Ronaldinho. Initially it looked like the usual ruse by Berlusconi in an attempt to boost popularity ahead of the upcoming election. That feeling was re-inforced by Milan’s sudden pull out from the deal once Berlusconi got elected. It was only when Barcellona had substantially lowered their demands that Milan went back in.

Whether they really need Ronaldinho or if it was simply a marketing ploy remains to be seen. Ronaldinho remains a very good player but the rush with which Barcellona wanted to get rid of him suggest that perhaps his reputation exceeds his real value.

Another gamble, for that is what most of Milan’s signings amount to, is the return of Andrii Shevchenko. Effectively this is the least risky of all: in Milan he will find a coach and a team that knows how to play to his strengths rather than one unwilling to see how best to integrate him. And, if any motivation was needed, the possibility of beating Jose Mourinho should surely see to that.

Despite all this, the summer had gotten off to a great start with the arrival of Matthie Flamini from Arsenal. Then Milan seemed to get lost in their desire to sign a striker to really look at other problem areas. Defensively, for instance, they are still vulnerable whilst the reliance on Zeljko Kalac a disaster in waiting.

At least in that area they’ve seen the return of Christian Abbiati. Whether the man who enjoyed an average season in Spain with Atletico Madrid and of whom Milan have continuously tried to get rid of in the past can prove to be better than the Australian is, however, the subject of a huge debate.

Key Man: There is a reason why Milan have rejected off-hand all the offers that have been put through for Kaka and that is that he remains arguably the finest player in the world. With Ronaldinho alongside him, Milan fans should be in for quite some spectacular football.

Best bit of business. There might still be question marks over how he will adapt to live away from the lose comfort of the Emirates and an understanding manager like Arsene Wenger but Matthieu Flamini remains the least risky out of all the new arrivals.

Keep an eye out for…Pato. Perhaps the most deserving mention would have been that of Alberto Paloschi but with the young striker now apparently on his way away from Milan, the next choice is Alessandro Pato.

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Serie A Preview: Sampdoria

Having found the perfect manager in Walter Mazzari and fully recovered the talent of Antonio Cassano, Sampdoria have built the ideal platform on which to build and hopefully return to something nearing their former glory.

Their need to keep check of their finances occasionally means that some difficult sacrifices have to be made such as the transfer of Christian Maggio but if this ensures that they can keep the rest of the squad together than it is well worth it. After all, that was also Sampdoria’s policy during the great days of Paolo Mantovani.

To compensate for Maggio’s departure Sampdoria have gone for the Lithuanian Marius Stankevicius who has matured after years at Brescia in the Serie B whilst Daniele Dessena is bound to flourish having finally been libered from playing for a club that is continuously struggling against relegation.

Apart from Maggio, the players who have left – Volpi and Montella in particular - did so because their age suggested that they were past their best. Neither one of the two is expected to be missed too much but a replacement for the erratic goalkeeper Luca Castellazzi, however, would have been beneficial.

Key Man: How is it possible to look beyond Antonio Cassano? He may be a head-case, his theatrics annoying and his antics frustrating but there’s no player in the Serie A who can match his ability to thrill.

Best bit of business. If there was an area where Sampdoria struggled last season, it was that of scoring goals. The Uruguayan striker Bruno Fornaroli has been brought in to solve that issue having done wonders for Nacional.

Keep an eye out for…Andrea Poli. The midfielder is just one of Sampdoria’s highly rated primavera team that won the league next season and on whom Mazzari is expected to start turning with increasing regularity this season.

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Serie B Preview: Mantova

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mantova fell well short of their stated ambition of making it to the Serie A but that hasn’t deterred their rock and roll president Fabrizio Lori (pictured).

His desire to see the team win through attractive football has seen Mantova to shell out in order to buy midfielder Tomas Locatelli. This despite last season’s failed experiment of Stefano Fiore who found it too difficult to adapt to the pace of the Serie B. Another experiment that didn’t impress was that which put Giuseppe Brucato in charge and he has apparently done enough to see him in charge even in the new season despite rumours of the possible return of Mimmo Di Carlo..

Their forward line certainly seems to be up to the task with the experienced duo of Denis Godeas and ‘Re’ Giorgio Corona. Allied with a group of talented individuals and the support of one of the Serie B’s most loyal set of supporters, perhaps this could be the year when Mantova’s dreams come true.

Key Man: Denis Godeas
Best Bit of Business: Tomas Locatelli from Siena
Key an Eye out for…Gaetano Caridi

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Serie B Preview: Ascoli

Twice in recent years they’ve announced the start of a long term strategy and on both occasions their hopes ended in disappointment. With hindsight, letting go of Attilio Tesser after their relegation from the Serie A was a mistake and, whilst initially Ivo Iaconi had done well, in the long term he wasn’t too convincing.

So the club have turned to a new man – Nello di Costanzo – and the heralding of a new, patient strategy with long term goals. Di Costanzo has a good record in the lower leagues and his sole experience in the Serie B was promising even though it ultimately ended in disappointment with the financial meltdown of Messina.

During the summer, Ascoli lost Massimo Bernacci to Bologna but managed to include Christian Bucchi in the deal. Few strikers have Bucchi’s track record in this division and he’s the closest you’ll get to a sure fire bet. Otherwise, the side remains unchanged from last season meaning the inclusion of a certain Massimo Taibi (pictured) as regular goalkeeper with Roberto Benigni (no, not that one) as president.

Key Man: Simone Pesce
Best Bit of Business: Cristian Bucchi
from Bologna
Key an Eye out for…in demand midfielder Stefano Guberti

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Serie B Preview: Rimini

It is an end of an era for Rimini after manager Leo Acori – the man who took them from the Serie C2 to the Serie B in the space of six season – decided that he had taken the club as far as he could. Wisely, Rimini have gone for continuity and have handed the job to Acori’s long time assistant Elvio Selighini.

They are also quietly optimistic about the coming season having improved on the side that just missed out on the play-offs last season. Most of their play will go through the talented Argentine midfielder Adrian Richiuti (pictured) whilst striker Daniele Vantaggiato is developing into a good striker.

In the summer, they brought in goalkeeper Federico Agliardi confident that he will be able to re-discover his best form after a traumatic experience at Palermo whilst the twenty year old Marco Mancosu, a loanee from Cagliari, will add width to midfield.

Key Man: Adrian Richiuti
Best Bit of Business: Federico Agliardi from Palermo
Key an Eye out for…midfielder Marco Mancosu

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Serie B Preview: Pisa

No one expected Pisa to do as well as they did last season when they made it to the play-offs and this coming season is likely to be met by similar expectations. Their hopes have been hit by the dismantling of last season’s impressive forward line with Alessandro Cerci and Vitali Kutuzov both returning to Roma and Parma respectively whilst Javier Ignazio Castillo has been sold to Lecce.

At least they’ve retained manager Giampiero Ventura, something that was in doubt for quite a while as the club’s ownership changed hands. Ultimately that was sorted when Luca Pomponi took over from Leo Covarelli, the man who had financed Pisa’s rise to the Serie B but who eventually decided that his money was better spent financing his hometown club of Perugia.

All that hasn’t helped the club’s preparations and as yet their only significant arrival is the experienced full-back Alessandro Birindelli. Ventura will have to alter his tactical approach given that his forward line is much less talented than it was last season. They should still enjoy a quite enough season but hopes of repeating, let alone improving, on last year’s success are rather far fetched.

Key Man: Gael Genevier
Best Bit of Business: Alessandro Birindelli from Juventus
Key an Eye out for…on-loan midfielder Ivan Radovanovic

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Serie A Preview: Atalanta

After a fairly quite campaign in which they once again exceeded all expectations, Atalanta had quite a summer with the fans protesting against the transfer of Cristian Vieri (pictured) from Fiorentina.

Apart from signing Vieri, Atalanta have done very well in signing the promising Luca Cigarini from Parma – it makes a change from seeing your own best young players continuously sold off – as well as taking Alessio Cerci on loan from Roma.

Otherwise, their only other highlight has been trying to fend off clubs wanting to take Sergio Floccari with the striker who came to the fore last season heavily interesting both Genoa and Palermo. As always with Atalanta, a substantial bid by any one of those two will see the striker go.

Last season was a significant one for Gigi Del Neri who finally managed to put together his reputation that had been shredded by a series of unlucky job choices. With a squad that seems stronger than last season and Atalanta’s perennial ability to produce talented young players, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them pushing on for a place in Europe.

Key Man: With Atalanta, there is only one option: Cristian Doni. The midfielder probably should have done more with his talent but try saying that in Bergamo where he is a living legend and with reason. Goalscorer, goal creator, team captain and a player who gives his all, he has been Atalanta’s outstanding player of the past decade.

Best bit of business: He was expected to join Juventus but for some that deal fizzled out. So instead Luca Cigarini has joined Atalanta hopeful of building on his fine showings for Parma last season.

Keep an eye out for… Michele Marconi. The latest to emerge from Atalanta’s youth scheme, Marconi made his debut towards the end of last season and Del Neri clearly has a lot of faith in him. The nineteen year old scored his first goal in the Coppa Italia first round win over Modena and with Vieri’s injury and Floccari’s possible departure, he could be getting his chance earlier than expected.

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Serie A Preview: Genoa

After a decent first season back in the Seria A where they finished in mid-table, Genoa have opted for revolution rather than evolution. They’ve been one of the most active sides in the transfer market and at least six of next season’s starting eleven are set to be filled by new arrivals.

Genoa have opted to stick by manager Gianpiero Gasperini who did better than expected last season despite a couple of worrying patches. Surprisingly, they were the ones who won out the auction for former Roma defender Matteo Ferrari whilst the additions of Giandomenico Mesto from Reggina and Raffaele Palladino from Juventus are both intelligent signings. That trend should continue after the arrival of the wily Rino Foschi (pictured) from Palermo to take over the role of general manager.

Lucho Figueroa is worshiped among the fans yet he is no Marco Boriello whose presence will be greatly missed unless Genoa make a move in the last days of the transfer window.

Key Man: One of the revelations of last season Omar Milanetto’s vision in midfield remain fundamental for Genoa, with the midfielder giving balance to a side that is often too focused on the attack.

Best bit of business: There’s too much unjustified hype around Matteo Ferrari to make him anything more than a decent signing. Not the same can be said of Raffaele Palladino who found it next to impossible to break through at Juventus but who has the talent to make his former club regret letting him go.

Keep an eye out for… Sokratis Papastathopoulos. Rino Foschi’s first buy since taking over as general manager at Genoa, the young defender is already a Greek international and if someone like Foschi swears by his talent, then he must have something to him.

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Serie A Preview: Palermo

A disappointing season was made bearable thanks to Amauri’s return to full fitness in the second half of the season. Most of Palermo’s problems were of their own making. Having placed faith in Stefano Colantuono, it didn’t take long for president Maurizio Zamparini to change his mind opting instead to bring back Francesco Guidolin.

That move didn’t turn out too well either so it was soon back to Colantuono who remains in charge this season despite not fully convincing in his second stint. An early defeat in the Coppa Italia won't have increased his chances of surviving for much longer.

Unlike Colantuono, striker Amauri isn’t there since, was widely expected, the Brazilian striker moved to Juventus. With the money they got for him, Palermo have almost completely rebuilt their side and could start the season with just two players from last season.

In fact, rather than Amauri Palermo’s biggest loss in the summer was that of general manager Rino Foshi who opted to return to Genoa. Foschi is one of the shrewdest operators around and his final transfer campaign for Palermo bears that out. In have come the Italian national team goalkeeper Marco Amelia, the promising defensive trio of Andrea Raggi (Empoli), Cesare Bovo (Genoa) and Moris Carrozieri (Atalanta), as well as the highly rated duo from Juventus Davide Lanzafame and Antonio Nocerino.

Palermo still lack a suitable replacement for Amauri as the Brazilian TUlio De Melo hasn’t convinced, but they’ve got a basis of a side that could develop along the lines of Prandelli’s Fiorentina.

Key Man: Palermo made a mistake in getting rid of Eugenio Corini who wasn’t ever really replaced. The arrival of Fabio Liverani looks set to make up for that shortcoming.

Best bit of business: Palermo were determined to include Davide Lanzafame (pictured) in the Amauri deal and, after the player’s initial fears had been allayed, they got their man. Lanzafame was sensational for Bari last season and Palermo’s insistence is more than justified

Keep an eye out for…Simon Kjaer. Having spotted Kjaer at the Viareggio Tournament, Palermo moved quickly for the young Danish defender before others could be alerted of his talent. A typical Rino Foschi buy, he should soon be pushing for inclusion in the side.

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Serie A Preview: Lazio

It is easy to write off Lazio and their frugal president Claudio Lotito but for all their lack of activity, it seems that they have put together quite a useful squad.

Lotito never fails to irritate yet his steadfast stand against paying too much for players – both in transfers and in wages – is to be admired especially in a league where everyone seems to be doing the opposite. This has cost him Valon Behrami, who opted to move to West Ham, and could see Lazio lose out on Cristian Ledesma who is threatening to follow a similar path at the end of the season.

This doesn’t help foster stability, and neither does the fans’ continuing criticism of Lotito, yet regardless of all this manager Delio Rossi has done quite well in the past. This could be Rossi’s final season in charge but he’s been handed the most complete squad for quite some time so has the perfect opportunity to go out with a bang.

At long last, Lazio have solved their chronic problem in goal by brining in the Argentine Juan Pablo Carrizo who is already looking like a solid choice whilst Behrami has been replaced by his Swiss team-mate Stephan Lichtsteiner. With Matuzalem offering more fluidity in midfield and Mauro Zarate a viable alternative to Tommaso Rocchi and Goran Pandev, Lazio have strengthened in every department.

Key Man: Much of Lazio’s fortunes over the past couple of years have depended on Goran Pandev and his partner up front Tommaso Rocchi and, for all the new additions, not much has changed in that respect this season.

Best bit of business: But for a farcical problem with his passport, Juan Pablo Carrizo would have been a Lazio player last season. However, a further season at River Plate under Diego Simeone – who is already being mentioned as the long term successor of Delio Rossi – and a title win has helped his development.

Keep an eye out for…Lorenzo De Silvestri. After the hype of the previous season, De Silvestri seemed to lose his way last year but the young central defender remains a huge talent with comparisons to Alessandro Nesta more than justified.

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Serie B Preview: Brescia

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Brescia made a real hash of things last season when a side that was too talented not to go up lost their way and only made it to the semi-final of the play-offs.

Thankfully, financially Brescia are in a healthy position and as a result the only major departure has been right-back Marius Stankevicius. Otherwise they’ve sensibly held on to the host of promising players that they’ve managed to attract to the club thanks also to the efforts of their former general manager Gianluca Nani.

Nani has since gone, taking up a similar role at West Ham, but somewhat surprisingly manager Serse Cosmi has been retained. The former Perugia coach, however, knows that he can make no mistakes this time round and is boosted by the arrival of Domenico Morfeo.

Now in his thirties, Morfeo hasn’t achieved anything as much as he should have during his career thanks to a combination of a series of injuries and a difficult character. At Brescia, he is likely to play in a different role to the one that he is used to: rather than up-front he is likely to be used in a midfield position and asked to dictate play as a sort o mini-Andrea Pirlo.

Apart from Morfeo, Brescia will also be looking at striker Andrea Caracciolo who last January returned to the club where he came to prominence after bitterly disappointing experiences at Palermo and Sampdoria. If Caracciolo and Davide Possanzini can hit it off up front, then Brescia shouldn’t find too many problems in winning promotion.

Key Man: Andrea Caracciolo
Best Bit of Business: Domenico Morfeo from Parma
Key an Eye out for…German youth international midfielder Savio Nsereko

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Serie A Preview: Siena

The surprising departure of manager Massimo Beretta means that it is back to the drawing board for Siena. They’ve turned to Marco Giampaolo who has hardly had the best of times lately but who is promising to build on Beretta’s work.

His job is made easier by the fact that Siena haven’t sold too many of the players who helped keep them in the Serie A last year. Those who did go – Alex Manninger and Simone Loria – were key men and it will take time to see how their replacements will do.

In goal Siena will have the promising Gianluca Curci (pictured), one of the three players taken on loan from Roma, who has to prove his worth having found his path in Rome blocked by the excellent Doni. Up front they can no longer turn to club legend Enrico Chiesa (the thirty eight year old will play out his career at non-league Figline) but the arrival of Emanuele Calaio from Napoli will add solidity whilst Abdel Ghezzal was the standout player in the Serie C last term and well worth a gamble.

Key Man: He may not get too many headlines but every team needs a player with Simone Vergassola’s assurance and consistency. The thirty four year old will once again anchor Siena’s midfield.

Best bit of business: The hero of Napoli’s rise through the leagues, Emanuele Calaio was given short shrift once they got to the Serie A. The move to Siena will help revitalize a career that had stalled and provide the former youth international with the opportunity to shine.

Keep an eye out for…Fernando Forrestieri. Born in Argentina of Italian parents, the eighteen year old is slowly making a name for himself and with seventeen games last season for Siena, he is already looking as something more than simply a promising player.

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Serie A Preview: Torino

Last season was a huge let down for Torino who started out with the stated ambition of qualifying for Europe but ended with an unseemly scrap to avoid relegation.

That was achieved largely through the appointment of Gianni De Biasi (pictured) in his third stint at the club and who has, finally, seemingly won owner Umberto Cairo’s approval. In the past, Torino’s main failing has been the transfer market opting to over spend either on players that they don’t need or else others who simply aren’t good enough.

There are indications that this season won’t be too different. Having already secured Nicola Amoruso from Reggina they pressed ahead in moving for their long term target Rolando Bianchi. The Manchester City striker had already turned Torino down last January, opting instead to move on loan to Lazio, and his every touch was jeered by the Torino fans when the two sides met in the league.

With Alessandro Rosina at the club, not to mention Davide Di Michele, Nicola Ventola, Roberto Stellone and Elvis Abruscato, it is already looking over crowded up front.

Not the same can be said of the rest of the side with defence and midfield looking rather bare both in quality and in depth. The reliance on the ageing Eugenio Corini to build up their play also looks like a risky proposition.

Key Man: His high opinion of himself doesn’t do him any favours but goalkeeper Matteo Sereni finally came into his own last season emerging as one of the best in the league.

Best bit of business: Forget Bianchi, Torino’s best buy is his former Reggina striking partner Nicola Amoruso. His past at Juventus won’t be easily forgotten by the fans yet his experience, goals and selfless play will be fundamental.

Keep an eye out for…Ignazio Abete. Although only twenty one, Abete already has three full seasons behind him – at Napoli, Modena and Empoli on loan – and Torino fought hard to take him off AC Milan.

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Serie A Preview: Reggina

A side that has turned Serie A survival into an art form, Reggina are in for their fourth struggle against relegation in a row. Two years ago, their feat in staying up truly bordered on the miraculous when they managed to turn around a fifteen point penalty to finish fourteenth and then last year’s last gasp survival after a summer that had seen the heart of the side ripped out with the sale of Giacomo Tedesci, Rolando Bianchi, Pasquale Foggia and Alessandro Lucarelli as well as manager Walter Mazzari.

Finding the right man to replace Mazzari was always going to be a difficult task and Reggina tried out Massimo Ficcadenti and Renzo Ulivieri before ultimately settling for Nevio Orlandi in March. Not much was expected of Orlandi, previously coach at the club’s primavera but thanks to three consecutive 2-1 victories against fellow strugglers Catania, Parma and Empoli he managed to steer the club to safety.

As a reward, Orlandi has been retained for this season but his job hasn’t been made any easier. Nicola Amoruso, last season’s top scorer has been sold to Torino, with Bernardo Corradi brought in as a replacement, whilst Francesco Modesto has gone to Genoa.

The main plus point, however, is that otherwise the side hasn’t suffered too many changes and Orlandi can rely on the inspirational Franco Brienza and talismanic captain Francesco Cozza.

Key Man: Discarded by Palermo, Franco Brienza joined Reggina at the start of January and promptly helped kick them to life. One of the best players in the Serie A in the second half of the season, he is another of the outrageously talented forwards that seem to pop up in Southern Italy and to whom no one really pays that much attention.

Best bit of business: He might not score as many goals as Nicola Amoruso, but Reggina needed a player of Bernardo Corradi’s abilities whose main role will be a basic one of holding up the ball for Brienza and Cozza to work their magic.

Keep an eye out for…Carlos Carmona. Another summer arrival from the Chilean side O’Higgins, Carmona captained the Chilean U20 side that impressed so much at the most recent Toulon Tournament. A central midfielder of whom great things are expected, Reggina feel that they’ve found the player around whom to build their team.


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Serie B Preview: AlbinoLeffe

Monday, August 25, 2008

Defeat at the hands of Lecce in the play-off final brought to an end AlbinoLeffe’s dream of making it to the Serie A. In reality, however, much of the blame lied in the rash decision to sack manager Elio Giustinetti a month before the end of the season with the side in place for automatic promotion.

The wonderfully named Armando Madonna was chosen to guide the side for that final month and the club has shown faith in him for the coming campaign. Inevitably, they’ve failed to hold on to their best players with Marchetti moving to Cagliari and Marco Cellini on the verge of moving to Empoli.

As is their tradition, these have been replaced by little known players with most of their signings coming from the lower leagues as well as returning loan-ees such as Massimiliano Pesenti, scorer of 10 goals with Canavese, who has been identified as the long term replacement of Cellini.

Whilst such strategy has worked in the past the danger is that, deprived of Giustinetti’s leadership skills, the whole project crumbles and rather than fighting it out for promotion they end up struggling against relegation.

Key Man: Francesco Ruopolo (pictured)
Best Bit of Business: Simone Laner from Pro Sesto
Key an Eye out for…twenty one year old striker Massimiliano Pesenti

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Serie B Preview: Livorno

Having slowly sold off the club’s best players, Livorno’s relegation last term came as no surprise especially with an owner like Aldo Spinelli (pictured) who tried to replace them with other club’s cast-offs. A trick that worked once but failed dramatically last turn round.

Leonardo Acori is the man chosen to help the club pick itself up and try to get out of the Serie B. A determined and head-strong coach with an impeccable track record – he took Rimini from the Serie C2 to the Serie B in six seasons – it will be interesting to see how his relationship with the meddling Spinelli will turn out.

Goalkeeper Marco Amelia has finally gone with Palermo being his destination in a deal that has helped finance’s Livorno’s re-building job. Francesco Tavano, the Serie A’s top scorer from three seasons back, remains and up front he is partnered with Tomas Danilevicius, the talented Lithuanian striker who comes from a disappointing experience at Bologna.

Key Man: Francesco Tavano
Best Bit of Business: Tomas Danilevicius
from Bologna
Keep an Eye out for…Danish midfielder Martin Bergvold

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Serie B Preview: Empoli

From the UEFA Cup to the Serie B in the space of a season, Empoli’s fall from grace has been dramatic. The club paid for its rash decision to get rid of Gigi Cagni midway through the season and, seeing how their form picked up once he returned, it is safe to assume that he could have helped steer them clear.

The task of taking them back up has been handed to Silvio Baldini (pictured) a manager whose reputation has been tarnished with a string of dismissals ever since leaving Empoli back in 2003.

Although last season’s best players in the form of Andrea Raggi has gone and Nicola Pozzi also on his way out, most of the squad has been retained and improved upon. Striker Francesco Lodi, scorer of twenty goals last term with Frosinone, is an excellent buy whilst at this level the talent of Ighli Vannucchi can make a huge difference.

Key Man: Ighli Vannucchi
Best Bit of Business: Francesco Lodi from Frosinone
Key an Eye out for…goalkeeper Davide Bassi

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Serie B Preview: Parma

Although the feeling that relegation could have been avoided had certain mistakes been avoided – particularly putting Hector Cuper in charge – it provides a good opportunity for Parma to rebuild.

As expected, Parma’s young midfield stars of Daniele Dessena and Luca Cigarini have been sold but although they will be missed, their departure has helped considerably improve the club’s financial position. Striker Cristiano Lucarelli (pictured) has promised to make up for last season’s lack of goals and for that has been rewarded with the signing of his brother Alessandro whose experience will be vital in defence.

Gigi Cagni’s appointment as manager is a very sensible one. At Empoli he had achieved minor miracles and deserved to be treated better. Handed a squad that could probably hold it’s own at a higher level, he knows that he must get promotion whilst at the same time laying the foundations for the future.

Key Man: Cristiano Lucarelli
Best Bit of Business: Leon from Genoa
Keep an Eye out for…defender Marco Rossi

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Serie B Preview 2008/2009

As Il Re Calcio is promising to look into all things related to Italian football, it isn't only the Serie A that will be getting our attention but also the lower leagues. And, in keeping with that position, we will also be previewing all of the sides making up the Serie B.

As with our Serie A previews, each day there will be four club previews based on their final league position last season starting from the top meaning that today we kick off by looking at the three relegated sides as well as AlbinoLeffe who finished fourth last year.

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Serie A Preview: Cagliari

Welcome to the club with football’s equivalent of a death-wish. Bereft of any sense of direction, motivation and ambition, Cagliari looked set for relegation when Davide Ballardini took over the club in December, by which stage they had already gone through Marco Giampaolo and Nedo Sonetti.

Rather than fulfilling what was being predicted for them, however, Ballardini managed to revitalize the side dragging them out of the relegation zone to what was ultimately a rather comfortable finish thanks to thirty two points won in the second half of the season. Such was their transformation under Ballardini that the reviled owner Massimo Cellini, who had been hinting at this desire to sell the club, announced that he had rediscovered his passion and wanted to remain in charge.

If that wasn’t bad enough, worse was to follow when Cagliari announced that they had failed to reach an agreement with Ballardini. All of which has tempered the mood at the Sant’ Elia where not even the news that striker Robert Acquafresca has been convinced to stay has been enough to raise too many hopes. Equally astonishing was the decision to let goalkeeper Marco Storari – so impressive after joining last January – move to Fiorentina.

Massimo Allegri, the man chosen to replace Ballardini, comes from a great season with Sassoulo whom he managed to lead to a historic promotion to the Serie B along with winning the Coppa Italia for the Serie C. In all probability, however, it would have been better to stay there for another season, not only to build up experience but, as many others have found out at there expense, Cellino isn’t one who lets his managers work in peace.

Key Man: When Cagliari accepted Inter’s offer for Davide Suazo it was at one condition: Robert Acquafresca (pictured) was to move in the opposite direction. It proved to be a wise choice with Acquafresca’s ten goals and fine performances in the latter part of the season being pivotal.

Best bit of business: The decision to let Storari leave for Fiorentina may have been strange, but at least Cagliari have seem to have identified a more than suitable replacement. Federico Marchetti was too good to stay in the Serie B with AlbinoLeffe and has all the makings of a top-class goalkeeper.

Keep an eye out for…Jeda. Having done so well in the Serie B with Rimini and Crotone, bigger clubs always seemed skeptical of his abilities, perhaps fearful that he wouldn’t be able to adapt to football at a higher level. Yet, upon joining Cagliari last January, the Brazilian striker immediately won over the fans with a fantastic goal against Parma. Now twenty-nine, he has the ability and trickery to create chances for Acquafresca and is ideally suited for Allegri’s offensive style of play.

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Serie A Preview: Catania

Their fans may make Catania one of the most reviled clubs in the Serie A but it is impossible not to like Walter Zenga (pictured). His appointment at Catania was widely ridiculed but he did a magnificent job in taking the pressure off the players and managed to keep the club up. Still people refuse to take him seriously, often focusing on his coloured past and love for all things Inter.

The latter led Zenga to come up with one of the best quotes this summer. Asked about his opinion on Inter’s new manager, he replied “what do I think of Mourinho? I don’t know: have you asked Mourinho what he thinks of Zenga?”

Behind his unassuming exterior, however, there is a hugely determined individual who wants to prove those who doubt him wrong. As expected, Catania lost Juan Vargas but they can always rely on the shrewd general director Pietro Lo Monaco to find a good deal in South America.

In that respect, they’ve gone for the Argentine duo Pablo Ledesma and Ezequiel Carboni to anchor their midfield, even though the latter made the trip via Red Bull Salzburg whilst Zenga’s contacts in Romania have led to the signing of Niculae Dica. It will be another long and hard struggle to avoid relegation, but if the new foreign players are as good as they promise to be then Catania may just about have enough to do so.

Key Man: Homegrown hero Giuseppe Mascara has taken a roundabout route to the Serie A, rather surprising given his talent. Capable of inventing chances from nothing, he is one of those players who, for some reason, no one gives to much attention to. A brilliant talent and a joy to watch.

Best bit of business: It isn’t often that managers in Italy get the players they want, at least away from the top clubs, but Zenga was determined to add Niculae Dica to his side. The striker is highly rated in Romania but his reputation so far had not extended beyond the confines of his country. Likened to Adrian Mutu, he could be Catania’s next big find.

Keep an eye out for…Michele Paolucci.
Impressive at Ascoli two years back, Udinese opted against loaning him out again at the start of last season but then struggled to give him a game. Making his mark at Catania, where he will be spending the season on loan, should be easier and Paolucci has made the perfect start by scoring twice in the Coppa Italia win over Parma.

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Serie A Preview: Chievo Verona

Winning promotion for Chievo was nothing: winning over the Veronese fans has been their real battle ever since emerging from the lower leagues. Last season, with Hellas Verona struggling to avoid relegation for the Serie C1, what had previously been considered as unthinkable started to happen as people started to migrate to the more fashionable Chievo.

That they will offer the possibility to watch the likes of Juventus and Milan at the Bentegodi should act as a further catalyst as will their much more positive public image – Hellas are still seen as being dominated by a racist core of fans – and whilst they’re still the second club in the city, the gap is closing.

The squad that probably really was too good to be relegated two seasons ago was kept together and that laid the foundation for a fairly easy promotion from the Serie B. In true Chievo style, they’ve retained faith with those players making only minimal changes.

In the past that policy has paid off and, whilst expecting Chievo to qualify for Europe as they did under Del Neri might be too much, they should be good enough to avoid relegation.

One player who has gone (or so it seems) is the talented but disruptive Victor Obinna. The surprising arrival of Antonio Langella – who had only moved to Udinese at the start of the summer – means that technically the club is poorer but at least they’ve gotten rid of the Nigerian’s continuous whingeing.

Promotion also confirmed the talents of manager Beppe Iachini who had impressed at Vicenza and Piacenza. His inexperience at this level will count against him and his lack of the famous patentino – the necessary qualifications to be officially licensed manage in the Serie A – will count against him if things get difficult. But his job is fairly secure, despite a summer run-in with the club’s technical director, by virtue of Chievo’s eye on a long term strategy.

Key Man: Long gone the time when Arsenal were sniffing around but Sergio Pellissier is still a talented striker who makes those around him play better. Twenty-two goals in the Serie B last season provide additional proof of the Pellissier’s talent who was considered to be the most gifted striker at the club even when that comparison included Amauri.

Best Bit of Business: Having moved to Udinese at the start of the summer, apparently to replace the Liverpool bound Andrea Dossena, there is every reason to deem Antonio Langella’s subsequent move on loan to Chievo as a surprise. Good enough to play for Italy whilst at Cagliari, he enjoyed a great season at Atalanta last year and looked set to finally play for a side challenging for the top. For him, Chievo is a definite step backwards yet he’s a great choice to replace Obinna on the left hand side.

Look out for…Stefano Sorrentino. After three years spent in Greece (AEK Athens) and Spain (Recreativo Huelva), Sorrentino finally returns to Italy where he’s been asked to fill what has traditionally been Chievo’s weakest point.

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Serie A Preview: Bologna

Beware Americans trying to buy your club. Not a lesson that Bologna have learned from English football despite it often being held up as the example to follow but rather because of a summer long saga where the club was on the verge of being sold up to a consortium called Tag Partners.

After a number of delays it became clear that they didn’t have as much money as they were making out they had – or indeed if they had any available for this deal - so instead Alfredo Cazzola opted to sell the club to Renzo Menarini, already a significant shareholder.

The uncertainty didn’t help in building a team ready for the Serie A even though, unsurprisingly, they are likely to start the new season with eight new players in their starting eleven, a tacit acceptance that the side that made such a tough task of winning promotion last season wasn’t good enough for the Serie A. Not that the new look side has much better probabilities.

The admission that the three players brought from South America – Dyego Rocha Coelho, Diego Rodriguez and Miguel Angel Britos – were chosen from the various DVD sent to them by the players’ agents is hardly going to inspire confidence and the reliance of the veteran Francesco Antonioli in goal seems risky. Midfield, boosted by the arrivals of Gaby Mudingayi from Lazio and Sergio Volpi from Sampdoria seems solid enough but much depends on how long it takes for the new players to integrate and how good the likes of Britos and Coelho turn out to be.

Their form will also be the key for the future of boss Daniele Arrigoni (pictured). Bologna’s promotion helped salvage some of the reputation sullied by his chastening experiences at Torino, Cagliari and Livorno. Despite that promotion, however, not everyone is convinced by him and a bad start could see him go.

Key Man: For long a key element at Sampdoria, Sergio Volpi’s move to Bologna came as a surprise. His experience and leadership skills will be vital

Best Bit of Business: Although Massimo Marazzina is phenomenal at Serie B level, he’s struggled to make an impact in the top flight after breaking through at Chievo. It is why Bologna have turned to the experience of Marco Di Vaio as back-up even though he didn’t have the best of times at Genoa either.

Look out for…Marco Bernacci. Excellent at Cesena two seasons ago, he didn’t really find his feet at Mantova where he was supposed to lead the side to the Serie A. Signed by Ascoli last year, he re-discovered his form, scoring sixteen goals and convincing Bologna that he is now good enough to make the step up.

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Serie A Preview: Lecce

Having gotten rid of the experienced Giuseppe Papadopoulo who didn’t get along with the club’s managing director, Lecce could have done worse than Mario Berretta who has an enviable track record at Parma and Siena, whom he managed to keep in the Serie A.

Staying in the top flight is exactly what Lecce want of him despite the limited resources at the disposal of the play-off winners. Last season, Lecce had the best defence in the Serie B as well as a record number of home wins, both characteristics on which to build if they are t o avoid what, at this stage, looks like a real possibility.

Tellingly, however, it is in attack where they have focused their energies during the summer. With Elvis Abruscato returning to Torino, they went for two strikers proven at Serie B level: Daniele Cacia and Javier Ignacio Castillo. The latter is an interesting choice, having scored twenty one goals last season at Pisa after having worked his way up from amateur ranks. At thirty two, this is his big opportunity but the Argentine will have to play as he did in the first half of last season if he is to make an impact.

Key Man: The difference between promotion and an extended stay in the Serie B, Simone Tiribocchi (pictured) was undoubtedly one of the best players in the second division last year. Having scored some spectacular goals, he should start the season as first choice even though the recent arrival of Javier Castillo means that competition will be tough.

Best Bit of Business: Fabio Caserta’s decision to swap Catania for Palermo proved to be the wrong one as he struggled to find a way into the side. Lecce means a fresh start for him as he tries to rediscover the dominant performances in midfield that made him stand out two season ago.

Look out for…Daniele Cacia. Shut out at Fiorentina whom he joined last January, this talented striker now has the ideal opportunity to prove his worth after impressing so much at Piacenza.

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Serie A Preview 2008/09

Inter's victory over AS Roma in last night's Super Cup officially kicked off the Italian football season for 2008/09 and, starting from today, we're going to be looking at each team that will make up the Serie A.

Each day there will be four club previews based on their final league position last season starting from the bottom meaning that today we kick off by looking at the three promoted sides as well as Catania who finished fourth bottom last year.

Enjoy and keep the feedback rolling.

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Benvenuti

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

So, somehow you’ve arrived at Il Re Calcio and you’ve had a look around wondering what it is all about. That it deals with Italian football should, I hope, be quite evident. At the same time, it doesn’t exactly match up to the normal expectations from a football blog. Nor will it ever.

There will never be , for instance, match reports or transfer speculation both of which traditional football staples. Put simply, I have neither the time nor the energy to do either one with the regularity that such an exercise deserves. More than that, it is far more interesting to look at the stories that make up the texture of the Italian game, that bring it to life.

So far, Il Re Calcio has been updated fairly irregularly but that was the plan all along. As inspiration tickled me towards the end of last season, I thought it best not to pick up a job when glory was nearly in sight. From now on, posts should start appearing fairly regularly. This is the official launch or rather that’s the excuse for this introduction

Il Re Calcio, the title of this blog, means Football is King. It is taken from a chapter in the Italian translation of Vladimir Dimitrijevic’s collection of short stories about football called La Vita e’ un Pallone Rotondo – Life is a Round Ball (originally titled La Vie Est un Ballon Rond). I’ve never come across an English version of this book so here’s a translation of that chapter whose title has served as inspiration and which captures the essence of football. Hopefully, I’ve managed to do Dimitrijevic’s beautifully crafted prose and the underlying humour of the piece justice.

Football is the king of games. Why? Well, for me it is because – like dancing – it takes our bodies back to a stage that can be defined as the prehistory of our movements. In football, it is strictly forbidden – unless you play in goal, it has to be said – to use your hands or arms. In other words, that with which you normally do everything. Organs that help you achieve the maximum precision, efficiency and dexterity. You can only use your feet and legs – these undeveloped ancestors of hands and arms. So it is that, unable to go about things in the normal and natural way, you’re taking back to archaic habits. Forced into recalling a legacy with an animal instinct buried within you.

These strange limitations of your abilities don’t end here. Two of the twenty-two players are normally arbitrarily allowed to use their hands, meaning their body in its entirety. But this generous emancipation costs them dearly: they are penalized. They’re only allowed to exercise this privilege within a confined space. The other twenty players can use their hands as well but only outside the pitch, to bring the ball back into play. A sort of subtle and perverse balance that evenly spreads the obstacles, penalizing or determining the legality according to the whims of a singular form of justice. You can be offside just as much as a free kick – an honourable concept – can be assigned.

But most surprising is the ultimate aim of all of this. A space, once again: a rectangle. If possible three dimensional, given that height has its importance, but which can be done without. To draw up the goals, school children tend to use their books, they group together rocks or hammer stick into the ground. You have to take the ball from a limited space and put it in another, even smaller and clearly defined. It is essential for it to go over the line. You can be as virtuous as you like, possess all the advantages in style and strategy possible but if the ball does not go over the line then you don’t win.

In a way, football is like chess. In fact, even there you have queens and knaves, towers and horses that can transport you back to a Medieval age that is all but forgotten. But all that matters is the death of the king, the check mate. And the check mate in football is called goal. All the rest is foreplay, exhaltation, a show, just like the animal world. Just like the dances, with feathers puffed out, of birds, the colours of exotic fish and the knowingly sinuous movement of reptiles.

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Nothing Super About Curtain Raiser

Monday, August 4, 2008

As games go, it tends to be seen as a glorified pre-season friendly on par with the Trofeo Berlusconi (played out each year between Juventus and Milan) or one of the multitude of tin-pot trophies that are ritually handed out during August with the aim of giving the illusion that there is some sort of edge to games that ultimately mean nothing.


That the Italian Super Cup is an official game, the one that effectively kicks off the Italian season, often means very little and there have been plenty of occasions when it has been played out amid the general disinterest.

Never, however, has it been as demeaned as it has this season where first it was pimped about for potential foreign interest and then humiliated by the realization that nobody is interested.

“I’m all in favour of playing it abroad,” the Lega Calcio president Antonio Matarrese had opined in May. “There’s interest to take it overseas, and there are a number of proposals even from America. We’ve even had a proposal from China.”


Those proposals may indeed have been made, but the reality was that these were nothing more than initial feelers. Not even the normally football hungry administrators in Dubai, who were only willing to accept provided that the game was played out in January.

Matarrese presented this, in typical fashion, as some sort of revolutionary concept that would be the first step to the rehabilitation of Italian football. He conveniently overlooked that the Italian Super Cup has been played abroad three times: Washington (Milan-Torino 1993), New York (Juventus-Milan 2003) and even in Libya (Juventus-Parma 2002).

After the disappointment in last season’s European competition, this rejection serves as a further reminder of the falling standing of Italian football. The multitude of controversies, bankruptcies and crowd violence have sullied calcio’s reputation to such an extent that few outside Italian confines take it seriously any more.

In the typical blinkered vision of Italian football administrators – as those almost everywhere else, to be fair - all those problems are to be resolved not by tackling the underlying issues but by making cosmetic changes. From this season, the Serie C1 and Serie C2 will be no more. The competitions will still be held and the teams playing in them will be largely the same – once the task of sorting which clubs are financially in a position to start the season is completed – yet they will now be known as Prima Divisione and Seconda Divisione: First and Second Division.

It is a re-branding similar to the one that took place in England which, it has been decided, is the example to follow. So it is that there are name changes and plans for global expansion that mimic the plans for Game 39. There is however, one minor flaw: with nothing of real substance to back the proposals up there is no way in which they can work.

The administration of the Italian game is still a complex one that is hampered by gross inefficiency. The example of the Serie B’s television rights is typical. Up till Juventus’ and Fiorentina’s relegation in 2006, there had been an agreement with SportItalia, a digital terrestrial station. Returns weren’t anything significant but at least it meant some added revenue for the clubs.

With typical short sightedness, SportItalia was dumped on the eve of the new campaign in favour of Sky Italia which paid significantly more for that one season but subsequently had no interest in the division.

At least the Serie B has avoided re-branding. For now. Because surely soon someone will step up with the opinion that the problem in selling the rights doesn’t lie with those whose job it is to make them attractive enough for anyone to be interested but rather in the fact that it is called the Serie B. Just as the post-game handshake between all players, the rule put in place at the start of last season, was meant to put an end to crowd violence.

And so it goes on.

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