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As Italian football prepares for the new season, hoping to leave the disappointments of Euro 2004 and last season’s Champions League far behind, it would be nice to report that a new wind of change is blowing through the peninsula. But it’s not possible.

Yet again, the Italian footballing summer has been marked by financial crisis with the collapse of Napoli, the country’s fourth most supported club and with an estimated six
million fans around the world. Napoli, some £50million in debt, officially went into
liquidation following the deliberations of a Naples bankruptcy court on August 2.
For the 78-year-old club, one that will for ever be associated with the genius of Diego Maradona, this was a new low point in a 15-year steady decline.

To be frank, Napoli have been on an ever-slippier slope almost from the April 1991 day that Maradona ran away from both Naples and Italian football in the wake of his positive test for cocaine.

Gone for good?
However, the final chapter in the Napoli story is a long way from being written. The bankruptcy court’s ruling not only declared the club to be officially liquidated but also
its judgement would appear to block the way for the football federation’s purpose-designed escape clause, the infamous ‘Lodo Petrucci’.
This piece of creative rule-making by the federation basically allows for a liquidated club to be reborn, under new management, in a lower division and without having to inherit the debts left behind by the old management. But the Naples bankruptcy court argues that such a solution could cheat creditors by denying them not only monies owed but also the one thing of value left to Napoli, namely their ‘sporting title’ or, in this case, their place in Serie B (Napoli finished last season joint 13th with Vicenza, well clear of the relegation zone).

If I add that Luciano Gaucci of Perugia and Catania fame is the power behind one
of four new groups hoping to inherit the Napoli title/name (but not the debts), then readers familiar with Italian soccer will know all too well that we are in for a long, hot August while the issue is argued through Naples’ bankruptcy and appeals courts.

It may be premature to say as much but experience would suggest that a solution, perhaps of a legally creative variety, will be found whereby Napoli remain on the football map, probably in Serie C, when September comes around.

While the Napoli crash served as yet another reminder of the economic crisis
afflicting Italian football (how many do we need?), not everyone is despondent as we
wait for the curtain to rise on the new season on September 12. Newly-appointed Italy
coach Marcello Lippi has been making positive noises as he tries to drum up a sense of urgency about Italy’s 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign;

“Right from the first training session for the first friendly, the players had better get
one thing clear: that we’re beginning a new cycle with one precise objective – namely to win the 2006 World Cup. There are no half measures,” Lippi told Gazzetta Dello Sport in early August.

That first friendly was scheduled for August 18, against Iceland in Reykjavik, while the World Cup campaign gets under way with a home tie against Norway in Palermo on September 4, followed by a game away to Moldova four days later. Lippi has already
indicated the path he may take when suggesting that Under-21 players such as
striker Alberto Gilardino (Parma), defender Daniele Bonera (Parma) and midfielders Giampiero Pinzi (Udinese) and Daniele De Rossi (Roma) will all be immediately drafted into the senior squad.

Lippi has also suggested he will not be tied to any preconceived tactical notions, changing format and formations as the need arises. His main concern, he argues, is to generate a sense of “honour, pleasure and enthusiasm” within the Italy camp.

Don’t blame the foreigners
With honesty, too, Lippi has immediately rejected the cliched notion that the large
number of foreign players in Italian football is a prime cause for poor results at World Cup and European Championship level. He points out that the fact the majority of foreign imports are strikers has not stopped Italy developing a strong hand of attacking
talent, including such players as Gilardino, Francesco Totti, Alex Del Piero, Antonio Cassano, Filippo Inzaghi, Christian Vieri and Fabrizio Miccoli.

As for Serie A, Lippi is in a unique position to judge the forthcoming campaign having won the championship five times. He points to three teams as the main contenders, saying: “Milan, Juventus and Inter are the favourites. But you’d have to put Milan on the front row of the grid. They have got better, they’ve developed a winning mentality and they’ve strengthened themselves in the transfer market. They’re the side to beat.

“Inter look like a very, very strong side, while [recently-appointed coach Roberto] Mancini has brought them a whole new burst of enthusiasm.”

What about his old club, Juventus?

“I opted to leave when the time came. Some of the players simply needed another boss, a different stimulus, someone like [Fabio] Capello. But the basic squad is very strong, very solid.”

Continuing on his positive note, Lippi believes that the new season will be marked by a revival of the traditional club and national team powers of European football, Italy included. He says: “You can forget the last edition of the Champions League, the surprise finalists. It was a strange season. The key players failed to deliver and that
situation was repeated at Euro 2004, where Germany, France, Italy, Spain and England surprisingly all went out. That won’t happen again. Real Madrid, Manchester United, Arsenal and our clubs, they’ll all be back this season. The big names are on the way back.”

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