The new Italian season will finally get underway this weekend after a two-week delay caused by a row over pay-per-view television rights.

The dispute was resolved this week when the richer Serie A clubs such as Milan, Juventus, Inter, Roma, Lazio and Parma agreed to make a financial contribition to the other 12 clubs.

Financial difficulties have plagued many clubs in Italy over the last few months. None of them will want to become ‘the next Fiorentina’, who were refused a place in Serie B this season after losing their long battle to avoid liquidation. Their players, including international stars such as Enrico Chiesa, Nuno Gomes and Daniele Adani, were all given free transfers, as one of Italy’s most famous clubs faced extinction.

The fate of Fiorentina may explain why the Italian transfer market was somewhat quieter this close-season than in previous years. However, there have still been some eye-catching moves over the summer.

Arguably the biggest transfer of all was Milan’s capture of Brazilian forward Rivaldo. After his contract was cancelled at Barcelona, the World Cup star joins a mouth-watering forward line at Milan, which also includes Andriy Schevchenko and Fillippo Inzaghi, plus fellow new boy Jon Dahl Tomasson from Feyenoord.

Also on the move this summer were two-thirds of Italy’s defensive trio at the World Cup – Lazio captain Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro of Parma. Nesta lines up with his other defensive partner in Korea and Japan, Paolo Maldini, at Milan, whilst Cannavaro also completed a move to San Siro, signing for Milan’s rivals Inter. Cannavaro will be joined at Inter by Hernan Crespo, arriving from Lazio as a replacement for the outgoing Ronaldo, as the race begins to usurp Juventus as Italian Champions.

The Scudetto holders have been quiet in the transfer market, but have made some useful signings in Davide Baiocco from Perugia, Bolgna’s Matteo Brighi and Argentinian midfielder Mauro Camoranesi from Verona. Forward Marco Di Vaio has also arrived from Parma, and his services will be needed following David Trezeguet’s suspected long-term injury.

Juventus may become side-tracked this year with the Champions League, but with a squad including talent such as Alessandro Del Piero, Lilian Thuram and the fit-again Marcelo Salas, Juve will surely be sniffing around when the honours are handed out come the end of the season.

However, there is certainly no shortage of competition this season for the Scudetto. Inter are many peoples favourites to take Juventus’ crown, despite the loss of World Cup Golden Boot winner Ronaldo to Real Madrid. They will highly motivated for the coming season, following last year’s collapse on the final day, when they lost 4-2 to Lazio and consequently threw away the title. The introduction of Parma duo Matias Almeyda and Fabio Cannavaro will do their cause no harm, and Argentinia striker Hernan Crespo should be an able replacement for Ronaldo. If Crespo can form an understanding with Christian Vieri in attack, then Hector Cuper’s side could be in for a successful season.

Inter’s rivals Milan will be plotting a title challenge of their own this season. The signing of Rivaldo has caught everyone’s imagination, but there are some other new faces who could prove to have just as big an impact as the Brazilian. Clarence Seedorf has signed from Inter, and he will add to an already impressive midfield including tkes of Rui Costa and Gennaro Gattuso. Alessandro Nesta and Dario Simic will strengthen up the Milan rearguard, and The Rossoneri will be spoilt for choice in attack, with Rivaldo, Tomasson and Marco Boriello joining Inzaghi and Shevchenko in the fight for an attacking berth.

While other title contenders have bolstered their squads overt the summer, Roma will start the season with a similar squad to the one that finished as runners-up last time out. Fabio Capello will be disappointed not to have pulled off the signing of long-term target Edgar Davids from Juventus. However, the midfield has been bolstered by the signing of experienced Spanish midfielder Josep Guardiola, and Capello will hope that he can supply the ammo to an attack already decimated by the loss of Francesco Totti to injury. He will miss at least the first two months, and Roma will need him back firing on all cylinders if they are to stand any chance of challenging for the Scudetto this season.

The financial plight of Italian football has hit Lazio harder than most, forcing them to sell world class talents such as Alessandro Nestaand Hernan Crespo to ease debts. Any side would have problems in losing players of their calibre, and it looks as though it will be a hard first season in charge for new coach Roberto Mancini. Veteran striker Enrico Chiesa will fill the void left by Crespo and fellow new signings Eriberto and Christian Manfredini from Chievo could prove to be shrewd buys. There is no doubt that there is talent atLazio – players like Jaap Stam, Sinisa Mihajlovic and Claudio Lopez prove this, but Mancini will need time to create the side he wants, indicating that the Scudetto may be a bridge too far this coming season.

After a season that almost ended in relegation, Parma will be out to set the record straight this time around.Despite the loss of key players Fabio Cannavaro (Inter) and Marco Di Vaio (Juventus), there is reason to believe that they may fare better this season. New coach Cesare Prandelli has a reputaion as one of the best young coaches in Italy. Add this to new signings Adrian Mutu, Daniele Bonera plus the Brazilian duo Adriano and Matuzalem, Parma could have the ingredients for a European finish.

Chievo were the major surprise last time out, and it will be interesting to see what the new season holds in store for them. It will be harder this time though, as they are no longer the debutants, and other teams may have become wise to their entertaining style of play, as they now know what to expect. They will not want to follow in the footsteps of English Premiership side Ipswich Town, who surprised everyone by finishing 5th in their first season back in the Premiership in 2000/01, only to face relegation to Division 1 the following year. Chievo have also lost striker Bernardo Corradi to Inter and wide midfield players Eriberto and Christian Manfredini have signed for Lazio. However, boss Luigi Del Neri has signed veteran German striker Oliver Bierhoff to add to his strikforce, and he, and the rest of the team, will need to be at their best if they are to repeat last season’s exploits.

Bologna were unlucky not to qualify for Europe last season, only securing a place in the Intertoto Cup The aim this season will be to gain direct entry into the UEFA cup, but that may be easier said than done. They have a talented strike-force in veteran Giuseppe Signori and the Argentinian Julio Cruz, but they may live to regret the sales of Fabio Pecchia, Matteo Brighi and Salvatore Fresi. The return from injury of midfielder Tomas Locatelli will be a major boost, and they may find that they start the season particularly well, due to the fitness gained by participation in the Intertoto Cup.

A surprise team this season could be Como. Noone expected them to gain promotion from Serie B last season, and they will look to Chievo’s exploits last time out as inspiration. Former Bradford City striker Benito Carbone could prove to be an inspired signing, especially if he can hit it off with the Belgian Luis Oliveira up front. Bologna pair Massimo Tarantino and Fabio Pecchia, in defence and midfield respectively, will give coach Loris Dominissini more options, as will the signing of experienced Frenchman Benoit Cauet. Experience is the theme for Dominissini’s side, and they should not be underestimated.

At the other end of the table, newly promoted Empoli will do well to avoid a quick return to Serie B. They have an inexperienced squad, depleted by the sales of Mark Bresciano to Parma and Massimo Maccarone to Middlesbrough. Indeed, the departure of Italy forward Maccarone may leave Empoli struggling in front of goal throughout the coming campaign.

Like Empoli, Modena have a very inexperienced squad and may find that, after successive promotions, their stay in Serie A after a 40 year absence is a short one. In contrast to this lack of experience, Modena can boast the oldest player in the division. 38 year-old goalkeeper Marco Ballotta won the Cup-winners Cup in 1993, but if Modena’s inexperience works against them, his job may become a very busy one!!
By Matthew Baker