After a hard-fought but comfortable run during the 2012-13 season during which they never really relinquished their vice-like grip of the league championship, 2011-12 champions Juventus FC managed to secure a second Scudetto on the trot. Experience tells us the only certainty in football is change, the old must give way to the new, and winning and losing go hand in hand. Touché for Juve, who secured their second consecutive Scudetto since their return to Italy’s top flight in 2007 by rediscovering their grinta and hunger for victory under the tutelage of one of its former sons, Antonio Conte. Moreover, since the Juventus juggernaut – lest one forgets, was unbeaten for the entire 2011-12 season – did not look like it was going to slow down anytime soon, their steamrolling to another Scudetto was a foregone conclusion among pundits and critics alike.
Nevertheless, that chapter is now closed, and as in life, one must continue to look forward.
A quick look at the 20 teams contesting for the 2013-14 title reveals the names of the newest additions – U.S. Sassuolo and Hellas Verona.
Although founded back in 1922, Sassuolo have never managed to gain promotion to Serie A. They do so for the first time after winning their first Cadetti. Hellas Verona (fierce cross-town rivals of A.C. ChievoVerona), on the other hand, come back to Serie A after an 11-year hiatus. Serie A aficionados will remember them as the side that once most famously boasted of, in 2002, stars like Mauro Camoranesi, Massimo Oddo, Adrian Mutu and Alberto Gilardino in their ranks. These two provincial sides will be battling with Bologna (regional rivals of Sassuolo), Genoa, Sampdoria, Torino and Atalanta in a scramble to survive the dreaded drop to Serie B.
A quick comparison of the 2011-12 and 2012-13 standings reveals that amongst the mid-table sides only Catania and Fiorentina (who finished fourth and narrowly missed out on a Champions League play-off spot) bettered themselves, whereas Parma and Chievo each slipped two positions below their standings from the preceding championship. Two other sides, Bologna and Atalanta, fared even worse as they slipped, post the winter break, into the relegation zone and only managed to reach safety after stringing together a decent run of results late into the season.
Rumors suggest that La Viola, as Fiorentina FC are known, have closed in on the mouth-watering signing of die Mannschaft star Mario Gomez. That signing, in addition to talents like Adem Ljajic, Juan Cuadrado and former Italy international Giuseppe Rossi makes Fiorentina’s attack, on paper, one of the best in Italy.
Also worth a mention are Udinese – the other Bianconeri – with their evergreen captain Antonio “Toto” Di Natale and a squad with a never-say-die attitude, who have always performed exceedingly well over the years, despite their modest means. After hitting their strides, both Udinese and Fiorentina possess the quality to ruffle quite a few feathers, and are capable of causing more than just the odd major upset against any of the top sides.
As for the top 6 sides – Lazio, Roma, Napoli, Internazionale, Milan and, the odds-on favorites to complete a hat-trick of titles, Juventus – what matters is how they deal in the mercato in the next 2 months. One expects that due to the self-inflicted financial austerity in Italy and the necessity to comply with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules, Juventus, Milan and Inter – the crème de la crème of Calcio – would be cautious before making big moves in the market. However, carefully planned signings are clearly not beyond these clubs, and are, in fact, a forté for Adriano Galliani and Giuseppe Marotta, CEOs of AC Milan and Juventus, respectively.
Juventus seem to have paved the way, with an outstanding Bosman signing of Spanish international Fernando Llorente and the recently concluded coup of wantaway Manchester City star striker Carlos “El Apache” Tevez for a fee of €9m, in addition to the magnificent captures of Andrea Pirlo and Paul Pogba (both free agents) from the previous seasons. The signing of Torino’s highly rated Italian international Angelo Ogbonna will only add further steel to the best defensive unit in the world.
One, however, feels that in order to go all the way to winning the elusive third “Cup with the big ears”, Juventus need a fantasista – a Del Piero.
A 23-year old curly haired Montenegrin international by the name of Stevan Jovetic, known affectionately in Italy as “JoJo”, fits that bill, and it is my opinion that Jovetic’s signing would be the missing piece of the La Vecchia Signora puzzle. Despite Jovetic’s strong yearning to move to Juventus, whether Beppe Marotta can pull off what would probably be his pièce de résistance remains a question on every Juventino’s mind.
AC Milan, too, will be busy reinforcing their squad with quality players, with a rumored move for Italy and Juventus striker Alessandro Matri on the anvil, in addition to the already acquired young starlets Mario Balotelli, Stephan “El Pharaoh” Shaarawy, M’Baye Niang and Serie A veteran Giampaolo Pazzini, with Robinho rumored to be on his way back to Brazil. Whispers of a move for Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic have abounded in the red half of Milan. Vidic is currently on the fringes of the Red Devils, ergo he would come at a relatively low price, suiting Milan’s wallets, and help Milan find a solid and experienced partner for the capricious Philipe Mexes. A few suitable reinforcements later, Milan would then be ready for the new season in earnest.
On the other side of Milan are Walter Mazzarri’s Internazionale. Last season, Mazzarri – in three successful seasons with Napoli – managed a career-best second place finish with Napoli’s modest squad. In his first season in charge, Mazzarri will have the difficult task of rebuilding and motivating a relatively young and inexperienced Inter squad, reeling after a disastrous and injury-plagued season in which they stooped to a lowly ninth position under Primavera coach Andrea Stramaccioni. Inter have, so far, only managed to buy French-Algerian starlet Ishak Belfodil from Parma for cash and Antonio Cassano, a move which sees the former Italy international move in the opposite direction. All said and done, one does not expect Inter to buy or invest too heavily, as they only have to wait on the recuperation of their injured players. Starting by bringing some form of stability to Il Serpente in the next few months, Mazzarri will be under tremendous pressure from Massimo Moratti, Inter’s owner, to challenge their cousins and, particularly, bitter-rivals Juventus to bring success sooner, rather than later to Inter.
The future of 2001 Serie A champions AS Roma, saved from bankruptcy by American magnate DiBenedetto, remains in doldrums due to the fickle-minded changing and chopping of coaches and confusion about strategies in the Eternal City. Ousted from Europe altogether – they did not even manage a Europa League play-off place – Roma would do well to look at current champions Juventus. Juve endured the ignominy of two seventh place finishes and the replacement of three coaches in 2 years, until they placed their faith in 1 man – and look how well it has repaid them! Even if Roma cannot find their Moses, can they not place their trust in Garcia and give him a fair chance to take this club back to amongst Europe’s elite?
Apart from Juventus, the most interesting mercato will happen in Naples. No prize for guessing this – the most talked-about transfer in all of Italy is that of Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani. Cavani’s departure to Paris-Saint Germain will provide Rafael Benitez (winner of the Europa League with Chelsea just over 2 months ago) a bountiful kitty, with which he could substantially strengthen Napoli and probably give Juventus a run for their money! Finding a suitable Cavani replacement to play alongside with Azzurrini starlet Lorenzo Insigne and Marek Hamsik could provide Napoli the necessary firepower to challenge for a top-3 finish next season.
The question now remains – will Juventus win their third consecutive title, their first hattrick of titles since the glorious 1930s? On the other hand, will one of Milan, Napoli or Inter stop the Juventus juggernaut? Will Roma, having no European commitments, manage to do a Juventus and win a title after 13 long years? Overall, it looks like a mouth-watering season ahead, especially with the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil just a year away!
Signore e Signori, I am Kunal Rajput, a harcore Juventino from Pune, India. As a young lad, I fell in love with Gli Azzurri and Calcio in 1994. I pride myself on idolizing Alessandro Del Piero and having been faithful to La Vecchia Signora since 1998. As a tifosi, I live on a steady diet of Calcio, Spaghetti Carbonara and Indian lentils. You can send your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact me at www.facebook.com/kunalrajput05.