A Week Is A Long Time In Serie A
The season is over and the verdicts are in. Juventus are champions and are joined in the Champions League by Milan and Udinese (who will have to go through the preliminary qualifying round). Cesena, Novara and Lecce are relegated.
As is tradition in this column, we close with the best and worst of the Serie A season.
Juventus: An impressive debut season for Antonio Conte, who guided his team to an unbeaten season and the club’s 28th league title. Conte and the club have assembled a deep squad by Serie A standards, with Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal, Stephan Lichsteiner and Mirko Vucinic all performing well. The club has also inaugurated its very own stadium (although it has conspicuously failed to sell the naming rights to the “Juventus Stadium”) and is on a (relatively) sound financial footing. Champions League football will provide a real test for Conte, but Juventus fans can rejoice for now in the familiar glow of Serie A success.
Udinese: Last season Udinese were the surprise package, led by Antonio Di Natale and Alexis Sanchez. This season, with Sanchez and other first team regulars gone (including Ghokan Inler and Cristian Zapata), Udinese narrowly lost to Arsenal in the Champions League qualifying round and many feared they would not be able to sustain last season’s form. But manager Francesco Guidolin managed to turn his side into a consistent Serie A force, with high pressure, attacking fullbacks and Antonio Di Natale’s 23 goals leading them to a third place finish. Udinese are a reality of Serie A, and the club must do all it can to persuade Guidolin not to take a sabbatical, as he has recently threatened.
Hopes of rejuvenation: This season has seen the last Serie A outings for a number of ageing players, some timely and others far less so. Milan alone bid farewell to Clarence Seedorf, Gennaro Gattuso, Alessandro Nesta and Pippo Inzaghi, although Bologna stalwart Marco Di Vaio also deserves a mention on his way to the MLS and Montreal Impact. These departures have coincided with promises to rejuvenate squads, so hopefully next season will see the emergence of young, Italian talent in a number of teams.
Continued low standard of play in Serie A: Juventus’s achievements this season must be seen in the context of an ever declining Serie A. This was seen most clearly in European competitions. In the Champions League, while Inter, Milan and Napoli all qualified for the second round of the competition, none made it to the semi-final stage, with Inter and Milan wilting with little trace and Napoli failing to deal with the pressure of the big stage. In the Europa League Udinese and Roma went nowhere. But even domestically, the signs of a mediocre league are most clearly seen by the fact that while Juventus were unbeaten, they finished only four points above Milan, who had six defeats.
Inter and Roma: Both clubs started the season with new managers and big pronouncements, but they finished in 6th and 7th place, respectively. Inter will have to play in the Europa League qualifying round, while Roma are out of Europe completely. In retrospect, Inter’s season was doomed from the start, with manager Giampiero Gasperini, who was fired after 3 games, never receiving the support he had asked for in the transfer window. Two managers later, Inter are seemingly keeping faith with 36-year-old Andrea Stramaccioni, but the problem is an ageing squad with long contracts rather than the manager. Roma embarked on a new “project” under former Barcelona B manager Luis Enrique, but the manager never gelled with his senior players and resigned in frustration at the vagaries of the Roman fans. Neither club is in good shape for next season.
Violence and matchfixing: The scourge of violence has not been eliminated from Italian football, as unfortunately stabbings, violent confrontations and other ugly incidents aided by the ineptitude of the police have never been far from the headlines. The example was set at the top by former Fiorentina manager Delio Rossi’s deranged physical assault on his player Adem Ljajic. And this season has also brought yet another matchfixing scandal, implicating clubs in both Serie A and Serie B.
See you in August.
– Michael Ottolenghi