China could provide a captive market for Italian football.

With a just under a month to go to the beginning of the new Serie A season, three of the country’s biggest clubs, champions Juventus and the Milanese pair, Milan and Inter  were in pre-season friendly action last weekend. In far away Shenzhen in China, the Sinisa Mijahlovic coached Milan landed its first blow of the season when it defeated city cousins Inter 1-0 whilst closer to home, in St. Gallen, Switzerland, champions Juventus lost 2-0 to German side Borussia Dortmund.

Arguably more interesting than the result of the Far East Milan derby was the enthusiasm generated by the two clubs, with 38,000 people attending the game. Wearing Inter and Milan shirts, many of them even broke into typical Italian fan chants of the “Chi Non Salta, Rossonero E”  (Whoever is not jumping up and down is clearly a Milan fan) etc.

Even if the names on the backs of some fan shirts – Zanetti and Milito for Inter, Inzaghi for Milan – were not exactly right up to date, there was no denying the enthusiasm.   The point was not lost on Inter’s Indonesian owner, Erick Thohir, who told China Business News TV:

“With a population of 1.3 billiion people, China is the reference point for football in Asia. Inter will be focussing on countries where football is in expansion…In China, Inter is the fifth most followed team in the country…”

As for the football, a game in which both sides made 11 substitutions meant that it was nigh impossible to draw any meaningful conclusions. However, already it would appear that the new Milan strike force of former Seville FC striker, Colombian Carlos Bacca and former Shaktar Donetsk stiker, Brazilian Luiz Adriano, could become very effective.  So much so that several commentators wondered why, with these two purchased, Milan ever considered recalling their one time glory boy, Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Paris St. Germain.

As for Inter, watch out for 18-year-old Ivory Coast midfielder Assane Gnoukouri, a player who has come up through the youth team ranks at Inter.  Not suprisingly, Frenchman and ex-Monaco player, Geoffrey Kondogbia, a €30 million euro buy this summer, also looked like a very handy purchase.

If one aspect of Inter’s game was a certain lack of creativity in the attacking midfield, then that deficiency may be addressed by the purchase of Manchester City’s  Stefan Jovetic. The Montenegrin, who travelled to Milan on Sunday for the ritual medical tests, could move to Inter for a €3 million euro loan fee, plus a €12 million euro buy out clause.

Given the Montenegrin’s many physical problems over the last three years, today’s medical tests are obviously crucial.  If Inter do pull off the deal, then they might feel they are doing well landing a player who only two years ago moved to Man City from Fiorentina for a reported €26 million.

As for champions Juventus, they looked some way behind Borussia in terms of fitness. Hero of the hour was captain and goalkeeper Gigi Buffon who made a number of important saves.  If the game suggested anything technically, it was that Juventus will have to work hard this year to replace their two key midfield aces, the playmaking Andrea Pirlo (off to New York in the MLS) and the dynamic Chilean, Arturo Vidal (off to Bayern Munich).  Stand by for a possible big name midfield purchase by the Old Lady.

All is not well in the garden of Italian football.  This time it is not World Soccer saying this but rather former Italy captain and 2006 World Cup winner, Fabio Cannavaro.   In an interview in today’s sports daily, “Gazzetta Dello Sport”, Cannavaro says:

“Notwithstanding the fact that Juventus made it to the Champions League final, this is not a good moment for Italian football.  Nobody has the courage to change, to invest in young players and in new structures (stadia).  When I drive past the San Paolo in Naples, it make me sad…”

Fabio Cannavaro

Fabio Cannavaro is concerned about the lack of quality in Italian football.

For long, it has been argued that Italian defenders were amongst the best in the world.  Today, Cannavaro is not so convinced:

“There was a time when a defender had to concentrate merely on defending well. Nowadays, coaches want a defender to “play”, they teach him to keep his eyes on the ball, not the man he is meant to be marking…”

And who are the favourites to win this year’s Serie A title.  As a former Juventus player, Cannavaro understandably puts the Old Lady right at the top of the list:

“It’s not a question of numbers (of how many strikers Juventus may field) but rather of a team’s spirit of sacrifice. Sometimes, at Real Madrid we played with five strikers.  (Marcello) Lippi beat Germany in the 2006 World Cup semi-final with four strikers.  If a side is not organised and settled, you can look unbalanced with just one striker…”

Of one thing, however, Cannavaro remains convinced, namely the quality of Italian footballing know-how.  Asked if the best coaches in the world are Italian, Cannavaro says:

“Absolutely, at every level…”