As the new Serie A season belatedly kicked off in mid-September, it was hard to keep “Old Lady” Juventus off the front page. Not only did she break new ground by becoming the first current Serie A side to inaugurate her own stadium but the Old Lady also indicated that happy days may be on the way back with an impressive 4-1 demolition of Parma on the opening day.
Juventus were impressive but that was perhaps nothing quite so sensational as the bright starts made by the two leading southern clubs, Napoli and Palermo. On the eve of their Champions League debut, Napoli were comfortable 3-1 away winners over Cesena whilst Palermo sprang easily the biggest surprise of the opening weekend when beating Inter 4-3 in a Sunday night thriller.
The intriguing thing about Palermo’s win is that it came just ten days after the club’s volcanic owner, Maurizio Zamparini, had sacked his 29th coach in the last 20 years. Former Chievo coach, Stefano Pioli, who joined Palermo this summer, became the 14th Palermo coach to be sacked in the nine years that Zamparini has owned the club. Palermo’s Europa League elimination by Swiss side FC Thun was the spark which prompted the Palermo boss to sack his new coach before it had played even one league game.
Remarkably, Pioli’s replacement, 37-year-old Devis Mangia, a man who coached Varese’s “Primavera” to the youth team final last season (lost to Roma), made the perfect start, with his Palermo looking much more hungry and more motivated than the new look Inter of ex-Genoa coach, Gian Piero Gasperini.
These are, of course, early days but already it looks as if Gasperini will have his work cut out persuading the Inter “senators” – men like goalkeeper Julio Cesar, defenders Lucio and Walter Samuel and midfield ace Wesley Sjneider – that his beloved three man defence really does work. Not against Palermo, it didn’t.
The opening weekend threw up a myriad of intriguing possibilities. In the very opening game both reigning champions Milan and Lazio contributed to a highly entertaining 2-2 draw which would suggest two things. Firstly, Milan may struggle to retain their title and, secondly, Lazio’s new signings, Frenchman Djibril Cisse and German Miroslav Klose, scorers of a goal each, are nothing if not very useful old dogs for the hard road.
One man off to a false start was the new Roma coach, Spaniard Luis Enrique Martinez Garcia. If he did not already know just how perversely defensive Italian football can be, well he does now. Roma were beaten 2-1 at home to Cagliari in a game totally dominated by the home team. Cagliari spent almost the entire game in their own half of the field but still managed to score two goals from two counter attacks.
In the build-up to this opening game, much had been made of the fact that Luis Enrique had substituted club icon, Francesco Totti, during the side’s Europe League elimination by Slovak side, Slovan Bratislava. There were those who suggested that this substitution had proved fatal to the Roma cause. Some of those same critics will probably argue now that Luis Enrique’s decision not to substitute Totti during the Cagliari game proved equally fatal to the Roma cause.
Whichever way you look at it, for the new look, US-owned Roma, the road ahead looks long, winding and distinctly uphill.
Roma might have got their season off to a poor start but the capital city club can at least claim one early season title. Namely, they were surprisingly the biggest spenders on the transfer market with an outlay of 58.4 million euro for 11 new players followed by Juventus on 50.5 million euro for nine new players with Napoli in third place on 42.1 million euro for ten new players.
The most expensive signings of the Italian summer were Montenegrin Mirko Vucinic (Roma to Juventus), Argentinian Dani Osvaldo (Espanyol to Roma), Argentine Erik Lamela (River Plate to Roma) and Swiss Gokhan Inler (Udinese to Napoli) who all cost a reported 15 million euro. Fifth most expensive purchase was another Argentine, Ricky Alvarez (Velez Sarsfeld to Inter for 11.5 million euro).
Italian football might be in crisis but it can still boast some very healthy wage packets. Highest earner is Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic (9 million euro per annum after tax) followed by Inter’s Wesley Sneijder (6m), Juve’s Gigi Buffon (6m), Roma’s Francesco Totti (5.2m), Roma’s Daniele De Rossi (4.61m), Milan’s Mathieu Flamini (4.5m).
Then we have four players on 4 million per annum, namely Inter pair Maicon and Esteban Cambiasso and Milan pair Philippe Mexes and Thiago Silva. The total Serie A wage bill comes to 1.1 billion. Some crisis!
By Paddy Agnew