x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Italian club football in fluid state

Plenty of transfer activity in the off-season shows the country's top-flight is still settling down ahead of 2010/11, writes Ian Hawkey.

Inter Milan have achieved success over the past few seasons - including the Italian Supercup title which they lifted last week - thanks to a set of experienced players.
Inter Milan have achieved success over the past few seasons - including the Italian Supercup title which they lifted last week - thanks to a set of experienced players.

Plenty of transfer activity in the off-season shows the country's top-flight is still settling down ahead of 2010/11 Judge some of Serie A's transfer activity on the World Cup, and you could reach the impression that Italy's top-flight is still the stand-out location for aspiring overseas talents, that Italian scouts talk the best spiel and the most flattering numbers in terms of recruitment.

From the surprise achievers in South Africa, a handful of players who emerged with their status enhanced and will be starting new club adventures in Italy. Take Edinson Cavani, a ?16m (Dh74.1m) capture by Napoli. He was among the Uruguayans who took part in an unlikely World Cup semi-final. Cavani has hardly come from nowhere, and Napoli were tying up the deal that brought him in from Palermo before the tournament. But at the very least, he has gained more box-office appeal since July. Ditto Kevin-Prince Boateng, whose confident displays in attacking midfield for Ghana have raised his profile. Boateng is new to the roster at AC Milan, although he is there on loan from Genoa, who he only joined from Portsmouth earlier this month.

Add names like Yuto Nagatomo, the Japan defender who impressed wide audiences in South Africa and promptly signed for Cesena, and Eduardo, the Portugal goalkeeper who has joined Genoa from Sporting Braga, and around Serie A there looks to have been some smart, finger-on-the-pulse business over the summer. But scan the list of newcomers and it is hard to see individuals who might deliver a Scudetto. Inter Milan, champions for the last five seasons, did much of their recasting during Jose Mourinho's final summer in charge last year, and although Rafa Benitez, the new Inter head coach, has, in characteristic style, lobbied his president, Massimo Moratti, hard for further recruits, he will not have brought in many by the end of the month.

In the case of Javier Mascherano, Benitez's old midfield lieutenant at Liverpool, he heard the answer from his board that, as Inter had just won the treble partly on the strength and defensive intelligence of a midfield that can call on Esteban Cambiasso, Thiago Motta and if necessary Javier Zanetti and Christian Chivu, there was no need to sign the Argentine. So Benitez will work largely with the established champions, and hope that with his fresh ideas and the fact that the likes of Diego Milito, Samuel Eto'o and Lucio have now had 12 months to settle in and impose their authority, Inter can get even better.

The easy observation to make is that theirs is an ageing side. Lucio and Milito were already 30 when they joined. Zanetti, evergreen and forever Inter, is 37. Inter's most persistent challengers domestically last year were Roma, who under Claudio Ranieri built up a fabulous momentum. Another unbeaten run of 24 matches is hard to forecast, just as is Francesco Totti's fitness, or, in a new imponderable now hoisted on a club of volatile temperament, the enthusiasm and health of Adriano, the former Inter striker who has joined his fourth Serie A club from Brazil's Flamengo.

Milan have a new and bright head coach in Massimiliano Allegri, but fewer new faces on their veteran playing staff than their supporters desired. Some fans are already weary of tacking their hopes so heavily on an inconsistent Ronaldinho. Juventus, who finished seventh in the last table, have overhauled considerably, with Gigi del Neri in the coaching seat and a number of new players, mostly of a type tried and tested in Serie A. That is Juventus's priority now, because they are not in the Champions League, an absence they feel determined to correct by this time next year.

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