The Rebirth of Serie A

The end of Juventus’ reign at the top was a vital moment for the Italian Serie A towards becoming entertaining again. With the league finally disassociated from a sense of winner predetermination caused by Juve’s nine consecutive Scudettos, there is a general feeling that its anyones game now and competition has returned. There is no guarantee that the 20/21 season wasn’t just a blip in Juventus’s era of domestic dominance but with rivals clubs growing in stature over the past few years and narrowing the gap on the I Bianconeri, many are touting a new dawn in Italian football and the rebirth of Serie A.

Juventus’s failure went hand-in-hand with the reignition of Inter Milan, which can only increase the interest towards Serie A long term. Antonio Conte, who ironically began Juve’s streak of Scudettos in 2011-12, came as close as one point to win the league with Inter in 19/20 before comfortably running away with it in the latter stages of last season. He may have now departed from his role as head coach of Inter but his legacy is secure having stopped the Juventus dominance of the league.

Another good sign for Serie A was that it was AC Milan who gave their local rivals the most competition for the first spot on the table. One of the biggest derbies in world football, the Derby di Milano which had lost some of it’s magic until last season, was played with high stakes and simmering tensions. The occasions were encapsulated in a heated moment between the self proclaimed king and god of Milan, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Inter’s Romelu Lukaku which was later turned into a beautiful mural in Milan. The reemergence of this derby works as a crown jewel for Serie A which has been searching for a way to reinsert itself into the mindset of fans across the globe. By finishing second I Rossoneri, the second most successful club in Champions league history, booked a return to the top echelon of club competition after seven years of absence which in turn will help to boost Serie A’s relevance worldwide.

Last season, there was also a nail biting race for the top four until the dying stages which could have left Juventus without Champions League football for the first time in a decade. So in light of the Old Lady’s fourth place finish there is a fact to be remembered that Serie A is a league with a precious mixture of big and exciting clubs. Apart from the already mentioned three, Napoli, Roma and Lazio are clubs with respected pedigrees and good potential. In Atalanta, the league has someone who can win the heart of neutrals through their attractive football, underdog nature and capability of beating anyone on their day. Arguably, Serie A has a ‘big 7’.

There have been more positive signs in the off-season for Serie A. Apart from Italy winning the Euro 2020 which would bring some more light to the domestic league, the players from the Italian league combined to score 37 goals at the European Championship, at least nine more than players from any other league. Juventus players scored 12 goals, the most by players of any club with star player Cristiano Ronaldo winning the Golden Boot. However, these are more like fun facts than any statements of weighted benefit for the league. It’s the will shown by some Italian clubs to keep their national stars in the league that would be making the Serie A executives excited. Juventus rejected Chelsea’s €100 million bid for Federico Chiesa, declaring him “untouchable”, the same term has been used by Inter for Nicolo Barella amid interest from Premier League clubs.

Federico Chiesa is staying in Serie A after impressing at Euro 2020

A host of other top players have stated their loyalty to the league. Manuel Locatelli, another star for the future, prefers to stay in Italy and play for Juventus next season over a move to Arsenal. Lukaku has declared he wants to stay at Inter despite being on the wanted list of a host of top EPL clubs. With Ronaldo also likely to stay, these are all favourable signals for Serie A, which hosted the biggest football names in the 1990’s. However with the departures of Hakimi and Dunorumma to PSG demonstrate, there are still plenty of obstacles for Serie A to overcome and fierce competition from other leagues for their star players.

Financial woes led to complications between Antonio Conte and Inter and Serie A losing one of the best managers in the world. Conte ambitiously wanted to strengthen the team after disastrously finishing bottom of the Champions League group but that didn’t align with Inter’s need to raise funds. For a league to shine it needs it’s clubs to do well in Europe and it’s been more than 10 years since an Italian club won the UCL trophy. There also might be a couple of worrying signs for Serie A in Juve’s reappointment of Allegri. Arguably one of the key reasons behind Juventus’ previous dominance, the return of their former coach could signal another long spell of dominance for Juventus which would not be good news for the league as a whole. Whether Juventus leadership has changed its stance on Allegri since his last spell is yet to be determined. After all they sacked the manager who brought them numerous league titles and got them to two European finals for failing to win the Champions League.

Serie A, which has an image of being a slow and technical league, has to compete with other big leagues for top tier footballers as well as the eyes of global fans. English Premier League has greater commercial and financial value, more entertaining football and arguably the best managers. Long-term and consistent investment is needed in diverse sectors to compete with them as well as La Liga and Bundesliga who continue to jostle for dominance. So, there remain plenty of hurdles to be tackled but the Italian league is moving in the right trajectory and away from it’s dull self of the past several years.

Post by Achyut Dixit, Contributor to BOTN. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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Serie A Prepares To Restart After Pandemic, But Not Without Concerns

We are living in dark times and on unfamiliar territory. With the current epidemic, COVID 19 has taken away the thing we love most, football. In doing so, it has stopped some really enticing title races throughout Europe from reaching their conclusions especially in Italy.  Before the shutdown, Juventus and Lazio were only separated by only one point having both played 26 times. Juventus haven’t really been the same as maybe previous seasons but the stardom of Paulo Dybala has made the difference for the league champions. Meanwhile against all the odds Lazio have found themselves in title race for the first time in decades.

Dybala has been in incredible form but will he and Juventus get to finish the season? (Image from Tumblr)

Dybala has been in incredible form but will he and Juventus get to finish the season? (Image from Tumblr)

Beyond that title race, the Champions League race is really tight with Inter Milan, Roma, Atalanta and to a degree Napoli fighting for the final two Champions League spots. This has been one of the best years of Italian football in recent memory. The coronavirus has put a stop to all that and we’ve have been waiting months for the league to resume and for the final places to be settled. Who will win the league? Will Lazio manage to dethrone Juventus after seven years on top? Or will the brilliance of Paulo Dybala be enough to earn yet another title for Juventus.  Or will Inter upset everything by clawing their way back into title contention?

We have been sitting on these hypothetical questions for the last two months while the coronavirus has hit hard throughout Europe as well as the United States and beyond. It has left fans waiting for the day matches can resume and we can feel ‘that’ feeling again. That day however appears to be coming it has been announced that Serie A is looking at June 13th as the date to reopen Italian football. It will follow the German Bundesliga which restarted earlier this month much to the delight of its fans. It certainly is the right move but that doesn’t necessarily mean it comes without risk. Even without fans there was going to be a risk that someone can still catch the virus. The risk is obviously something that the Federation needs to take seriously and appears to be. Clubs are obviously conflicted about the league restarting. This decision will benefit some teams and it will deeply upset others. However we must find a way for the league to return it has to come back eventually. If the league is not restarted then the alternative is that its cancelled and will be deemed a lost season. The safety of the players is incredibly important but canceling the league or suspending it until next season just doesn’t sound like a productive way of handling this situation and wont resolve the unknown questions that only come from the league being up and running. This is the tightest title race we’ve seen the last couple years  so throwing away the season will frustrate more than just the fans.

Preparations are being made to make it safe for the league to restart (Image from Tumblr)

Preparations are being made to make it safe for the league to restart (Image from Tumblr)

This year Lazio made a massive step forward after finishing 8th last season. They without doubt have been the biggest story of the season. They didn’t add all that much and still have drastically improved since last year. It’s hard to say what the future will hold for this team because this might be the only chance for Lazio to win the title in the next 20 years. Stripping them of that warranted chance would be a travesty regardless of how much Lazio winning would hurt me they deserve to see how the story ends this season; it would be would be cruel to the sport itself. Equally though the safety to the players has to be taking into consideration and made a priority. If there’s a way that the league can continue this season and conserve their safety they must find a way to make that happen; cancelling the season just isn’t an option.

The matches will probably have to be played without any fans for at least a year. Unfortunately the impact of the coronavirus is going to change sporting events for at least the next two seasons at the very minimum which will be sad because of the value that fans bring in football. They are why we play the game especially; during derbies it hard to fathom them without fans. We will eventually get to go to games again and see our teams score goals and win big matches but in this time we are living in that seems to be far from where we are now. The impact of this virus will take some of the passion and emotion from the game unfortunately but there’s no way around this. All the leagues need to prevent stuff like this happening again; safety has to be the number one priority. Which means for at least a year the Milan Derby, the Roman Derby, the Derby del Mole and others will have to play without fans in attendance setting a heartbreaking precedent. Sadly we’re just going to have to abide by these rules. One day football will be more or less back where it was a few months ago before all this stuff happened but that day unfortunately is not today.

Serie A will play its games with no fans in the stadium likely for the foreseeable future (image from Tumblr)

Serie A will play its games with no fans in the stadium likely for the foreseeable future (image from Tumblr)

The fall out of the virus long term is not only going to impact the fan support but it could impact the seasons of many teams in the league’s top flight.  Essentially when the year kicks off again it will be a fresh start or a new season. Teams like Inter Milan and Roma will greatly benefit from this because both teams have really struggled as of late. Inter seemed to bow out of the title race with a second loss to Juventus that has damaged their bid for a league title. Meanwhile Roma had won two in a row but prior to that lost three on the bounce. Neither have been experiencing their best moments of late. It will allow them to reset and chase down the Champions League spots. Juventus is a team I just feel will always figure it out and maybe in some way they’re going to benefit from the struggles the other teams may endure because of the virus. Juventus may not be the best team but they may end up winning the title despite that. Lazio and Atalanta will be the most affected. Before the break Lazio were unbeaten in their last 21 and Atalanta were in incredible form. They could suffer which will give an opportunity for Inter Milan to reset and find a way to fight back in the title race. The right decision is clearly opening the league up with safety precautions. If there is a way for them to play out the rest of the season they should exercise this option. If safety is at stake for the players and then they have no choice but to cancel it but as long as they can provide safety to the players the team and the league June 13th should go forward the open up the gates to Italian football.

Post by Eliot Ben-Ner, writer for the EverythingRoma blog.

Follow him on Twitter and Instagram now.

There’s Only Two Claudio Caniggias

Wait a second? Even the mascot didnt believe it was Caniggia as Cordone tries to pull a fast one (Image from Reuters)The unmistakable figure of Claudio Caniggia stood motionless in the tunnel, waiting for the call to take the field for Sunday’s friendly veteran’s game between Argentina and Brazil. The match in Natal, Brazil was billed as a clash of the greats with 1986 World Cup winning Argentina centre-back Oscar Ruggeri, Argentine midfielder Ariel Ortega and Brazilian duo Junior Baiano and Adilio all on show. But arguably one of the star attractions was Caniggia, a pacey winger turned striker that in his day excited crowds wherever he played. As the teams took to the field, Caniggia’s name was read out over the loud speaker and his photo flashed on the big screen to a barrage of applause and cheers. Wearing the number 7 shirt, Caniggia looked good for his 47 years with his famous long blond locks blowing in the wind. But in closer inspection, something just wasn’t right. Caniggia appeared to have gotten a tattoo on his right forearm, which did not look like a recent addition. Added into this, his style of play was slightly different and his passing somewhat off. As the game began fans began to wonder if the player on the field was in fact Claudio or instead an imposter?

Caniggia and Maradona embrace during another veterans match in Georgia earlier this year  (Image from REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili)

Caniggia and Maradona embrace during another veterans match in Georgia earlier this year
(Image from REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili)

They were right to question this as it was in fact not Caniggia but instead former Newcastle and Velez Sarsfield striker Daniel Cordone who was on the pitch. The former Magpie striker was pretending to be Caniggia who it was later revealed had missed his flight. Cordone, who was deemed a flop on Tyneside played the full ninety minutes before quickly scurrying off the field into the dressing room ignoring the waiting media. This caused suspicions to arise in the press core as Caniggia was usually more than willing to speak to reporters, especially given his status in Argentina as a legend. Unlike Cordone who never represented his country, Caniggia appeared over 50 times, scoring 16 goals during a 15 year international career. He played in two World Cups (selected for three but didn’t take the field during the 2002 World Cup) helping Argentina to the final in 1990 but his finest hour was leading Argentina to Copa America success in 1991. His dynamic play and gritted determination to own the ball during that tournament steered Argentina to its first Copa win in over 30 years. Caniggia is also fondly remembered for his club career and the many teams that he turned out for. After starting his career in Argentina with River Plate, he moved to Italy where he would play for Verona, Atalanta and Roma before moving to Portugal with Benfica. After a single season, he returned to Argentina with Boca Juniors before being persuaded three years later to return to Atalanta for a final swansong. Caniggia was happy to escape his homeland after a troubled three years which including losing his mother who commited suicide by jumping from the fifth floor of her apartment building. The event affected Caniggia deeply who considered retiring after spending almost a year out of the game in mourning but when the offer from Atalanta came in, he decided to give it one last shot. It was a move that would eventually see him move to Britain but strangely not to one of England’s big clubs who had been chasing him his entire career but instead to Dundee in the Scottish Premiership. In Scotland he regained his passion for the game and after a fantastic debut season, he secured a lucrative move to Glasgow giants Rangers where he would gain cult status with the fans over a two year stay. He would eventually leave Scotland for a single season in the money laden Qatar league but in truth Caniggia had by then called it a day. Now retired from the game and in an effort to maintain his fitness, he takes part in exhibition matches like this one, but for reasons unconfirmed was not in Natal come Sunday.

Caniggia became a cult hero at Rangers thanks to a goal in the Old Firm derby  (Image from PA)

Caniggia became a cult hero at Rangers thanks to a goal in the Old Firm derby
(Image from PA)

An investigation has been launched into why the organizers would allow Cordone to play in place of Caniggia and more importantly lie to the fans about it. The event organizers, Phoenix Sports insisted when questioned that there was nothing to hide and that it was Caniggia who took to the field on Sunday. ‘This is the Caniggia, the real Caniggia. There is no other Caniggia,’ insisted Andre de Paula, promoter of Phoenix Sports after the game.  But he quickly retracted this remark later on and admitted that Caniggia had failed to turn up so they were forced to field Cordone.  In the end the result of the match was not important, with it finishing in a 3-3 draw. But for the fans it was a bitterly disappointing day as some had paid good money to come and see Caniggia play in particular. Several fans left in disgust before the match had finished after working out that it wasn’t Caniggia on the field, with many more feeling angry about being lied to. There has been no word yet about whether further action will be taken against the promoter or against Cordone himself for his part in this fraud. Caniggia has yet to reveal his side of the story and has remained silent as the controversy over why this happened continues.

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Conte Returns To His Old Lady After Ban

Antonio Conte’s season begins today as he finally can take his place again in the Juventus dugout as he concludes his four-month ban for match fixing. Originally given a ten month ban, his sentence was reduced by the National Court of Arbitration for Sport in early October, much to the delight of Conte who had already served two months by that point. Conte was found guilty of match fixing during the summer after Filippo Carobbio accused Conte, then manager of Siena which included Carobbio, that the result in a fixture against Novaro had been pre-arranged. A similar accusation was flaunted following another game between Siena and AlbinoLeffe which ultimately led to the Juventus manager to be found guilty. Conte continued to plead innocent to all charges and stating that the evidence given was of poor quality and lacked credibility.

Antonio Conte is led into court to face the charges for match fixing

Antonio Conte is led into court to face the charges for match fixing

Conte, a former favourite of the Juventus fans because of his 13 years spent as a player and captain at the club, returned to The Old Lady as head coach in May 2011 following the departure of Luigi Delneri. The former italian internationalist concluded his playing career in 2004 and immediately look towards staying in football through coaching. He began as assistant manager at Siena to Luigi De Canio at the start of the 2005-2006 season, before eventually moving on to full management with Serie B side Arezzo in the summer of 2006. He lasted only 5 months before being sacked but bizarrely returned to the Arezzo managers seat 5 months later after the manager brought in to replace Conte performed worse than Conte had during his time. Conte did perform better in his second spell but was powerless in preventing Arezzo from being relegated that year.

Captain Conte during his playing days

Captain Conte during his playing days

After leaving the now Serie C team, Bari became the next port of call for Antonio. His luck and managerial skills began to show and within two years, he had turned Bari from relegation candidates in Serie B to champions and gained promotion to Italy’s top league. It was in this summer, in 2009, that Conte was first linked with Juventus. As a club legend, Conte was the people’s choice following the sacking of Claudio Ranieri by Juventus instead turned to another former player and legend, centre back Ciro Ferrara. Conte was disappointed but knew that some day he would have the job so started to look at other options after agreeing a mutual termination with Bari of his contract. Atalanta was his next stop but problems between himself and the organized ultras of the club around the way the club was managed forced Conte to step down in January 2010. His stock had risen in Italian football by this point and it wasn’t long until Siena, the club he was assistant manager at, came in for his services again. He took full control on May 2010 and immediately led them that season to promotion from Serie B back into the top flight.

After a year at Siena, Juventus came calling and it was a call that Conte couldn’t ignore any longer. His former club had suffered badly in the previous years which included a match fixing scandal of their own which they ultimately lost and saw them relegated to Serie B and stripped of the two titles they had won in 2005 and 2006 under then manager Fabio Capello. Now back in Serie A,  Conte knew that he needed to restore pride in the club once more and deliver a title to his beloved club. Juventus, the most succesful club in italian footballing history had been stripped of its titles but also its dignity during the scandal and had fought for the past 5 years to reclaim their top spot again in Italy’s top league. Other managers had come and gone and been unable to win the title but Conte delivered, winning Juventus’s first title since 2003 (2006 if you include the titles taken away). Remarkably he managed Juventus to an unbeaten season, quite a feat in the professional game. With the title came Champions league football again to the delight of Conte and the Juve fans.

Juventus lift the title in 2012

Juventus lift the title in 2012

That was until the match fixing scandal broke and their manager was suddenly at the heart of it. Conte returns today to the hot seat and takes charge of Juventus once more and he will be pleased at what he sees. Top of Serie A after 15 games ( the unbeaten record has been ended y two defeats), still in both domestic cups and qualified for the knock out stages of the Champions League, Juventus are on a roll. Conte knows that with the ban now behind him, he can focus once again on his beloved club. Juventus may well have just made their most important signing of the year without even knowing it. The master has returned and he is fired up, ready to go and once again stamp Juventus’s name across every trophy he can find.