Struggling giants bid to bring back the glory days

Despite a strong Euro 2012 showing, Italian teams are mired in controversy and austerity

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 August, 2012, 3:17am


Despite the national team's stellar performance at Euro 2012, a cloud hangs over Italy's domestic game as the 2012-13 Serie A season gets underway this weekend.

Italy's run to the European Championship final, even if it did end in a 4-0 defeat by Spain, should have galvanised the game in the country.

But, while pride in the Azzurri has been restored, Serie A is not the force it once was.

These days, Italy's leading clubs struggle to compete financially with their continental rivals, notably Paris Saint-Germain, who have plundered the likes of Milan duo Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva, Napoli's Ezequiel Lavezzi and the man seen by many as the next Andrea Pirlo, Pescara's Marco Verratti.

Then there is the latest match-fixing scandal to hit the Italian game. As part of the "Last Bet" or calcioscommesse affair, Atalanta and Siena will start the season with points deducted, as will promoted Sampdoria and Torino.

Of the many individuals punished for their involvement in the scandal, the most notable is Juventus coach Antonio Conte.

The man who led Juve to last season's title without losing a game has been banned for 10 months for failing to disclose knowledge of two fixed matches while at Siena during the 2010-11 season.

Conte can continue to take training and work with the team during the week, but will not be involved on match days.

Instead, assistant coach Massimo Carrera will fill in, starting with today's home game against Parma.

The Bianconeri remain the team to beat, especially with last season's runners-up Milan having lost Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva, as well as Inter-bound Antonio Cassano.

Fans of the Rossoneri have been left looking to the future with a sense of trepidation.

"Juve are clear favourites to defend their title," said Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri.

"We have a good squad with young players who were here last year and now have a bit more experience and some new faces too, so we should be able to compete for a place in the top three."

Inter endured their worst season in more than a decade last time around, finishing sixth and missing out on Champions League qualification, but the Nerazzurri have placed their faith in 36-year-old coach Andrea Stramaccioni and have made some interesting signings.

The signing of Cassano appears quite a coup, while goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, midfielder Walter Gargano and striker Rodrigo Palacio will give Inter some much needed freshness.

"I think the president and all of us thought that it was the right time to try to build something new," said Stramaccioni.

"This club has gone through a fantastic cycle in the last 10 years, but so far 10 players have moved on and six have come in. It has been a major change."

Napoli have become a force once again under Walter Mazzarri and won last season's Coppa Italia, but they have lost key players in Lavezzi and Gargano.