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Italy flagAfter a summer of positives – with excellent performances in the Confederations Cup in Brazil and the Euro Under-21 Championship – fears are once again raised about the state of the domestic game before the start of the new season.

The greatest concern lies with the fate of two of the stars of the under-21 side: defenders Luca Caldirola and Giulio Donati.

It is indicative of both the current, relative economic weakness of Italian football and of its eternal conformist caution that Caldirola and Donati were rewarded for their efforts in Israel with moves to the Bundesliga; Caldirola joining Werder Bremen and Donati going to Bayer Leverkusen. Although the pair played in Serie B last term, for Brescia and Grossetto respectively, both were owned by Internazionale – so we are not talking about a small club with no option but to sell a burgeoning talent.

The sales of Caldirola and Donati are just another example of how Italian football is traditionally slow in giving young stars a break at the highest level. Despite their excellent performances for the under-21s, no Serie A club was ready to come up with the ¤5million euros that the two German clubs offered for them.

Having been overtaken financially by the Premier League in England and La Liga in Spain, recent events seem to suggest that both Germany and France have also now outflanked Serie A.

While the results of German sides are there for all to see, the continuing economic power of French football, for the third summer in a row, has been forcibly brought home by the transfer market, with Napoli’s Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani having joined Paris Saint-Germain for
the tidy sum of €64m.

The record deal for Cavani means that in the last two years, Qatari-backed PSG have spent €273m on 10 Serie A players: Menez (Roma), Sirigu (Palermo), Sissoko (Juventus), Pastore (Palermo), Motta (Inter), Lavezzi (Napoli), Thiago Silva (Milan), Ibrahimovic (Milan), Verratti (Pescara) and now Cavani. That is an average price of €27m. By comparison, the 20 clubs in Serie A spent €523m on players last year, at an average of €500,000.

Serie A’s most impressive import of the close season has been Juventus’ ¤12m purchase of Carlos Tevez from Manchester City.

Even before the arrival of the Argentinian striker, it was hard to see beyond Juve for this season’s title. The defending champions look to have a far stronger side than anyone else, but there are also a number of reasons to suggest that they have no real challenger out there.

Last term, Napoli were the one side that did – for a while at least – make a fight of it with Juventus, but they, of course, look much
less competitive following the sale of Cavani. While owner Aurelio
De Laurentis intends to spend some of the money brought in
on new players, the big problem is on just who exactly.

The suspicion remains that new coach Rafa Benitez will have his work cut out maintaining the standard set by predecessor, Walter Mazzari. Benitez’s inglorious six-month stint with Internazionale in 2010, when he appeared to have trouble adapting to the often complex club culture of Serie A, does not augur well for Napoli.

And then there is Inter themselves, the club who dominated the post-Calciopoli
era. With a new coach in Mazzari, various new players and even a potential new owner in the Indonesian media tycoon Erik Thohir, they seem headed for
the transitional season to end all transitional seasons. Improving on their mid-table finish of last term seems certain, given the Mazzari factor and that they will not be involved in Europe, but it requires a flight of imagination to envisage Inter as title challengers.

Fourth-placed Fiorentina were one of the pleasant surprises of last season, thanks to the excellent work of coach Vincenzo Montella. But with Stevan Jovetic and Adem Ljajic likely to leave, the team seems destined to be less competitive. The arrival of Mario Gomez from Bayern Munich for ¤16m may help somewhat.

Roma face the campaign with an unknown quantity in new French coach Rudi Garcia. Questions remain over the future of in-demand midfielder Daniele De Rossi and whether 37-year-old Francesco Totti can still steer the ship through  stormy waters. Local rivals Lazio are still celebrating after beating Roma in last season’s Italian Cup Final and the suspicion is that their ambitions do not go any further than establishing city dominance.

The only real threat to Juventus may come from Milan, which is hardly a surprise when you consider that – leaving out the post-Calciopoli Inter years – these two have won 13 of the last 16 league titles between them. With Massimiliano Allegri still in charge and Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy in attack, Milan look like the only team that could give Juve a run for their money. It is arguable that Juve’s quarter-final elimination by Bayern Munich last spring provided one important consolation: it left the squad with enough energy to go on and secure the league title.

If they were to go further this year, as they very much want to, then that could represent an opportunity for Milan.

By Paddy Agnew

Season starts: August 24, 2013

Season ends: May 18, 2014

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