Failures in both major European club competitions, coupled with a Scudetto race that seemed over before it started, led many to call this a down year in the Serie A. Add in the media???s tendency to overreact to everything and people are questioning whether Serie A can ever return to the glory days when it was unquestionably the best league in the world. Still, even amidst the doom and gloom, the seeds for a successful renaissance were planted this past season.
Inter walked away with another Scudetto this year, easily, as both Milan and Juventus lacked the consistency to challenge for the title. There were no last game heroics needed this time around and Inter has now won three straight championships on the field. Still, most will remember them for another failure in the Champions League, especially with the dismal performance they put in against Manchester United. Inter has made it clear that their sole focus next year is winning the Champions League, and their offseason has made that clear. Milito, Lucio, and Motta are great pickups that address specific needs for the team. Milito will provide the goals when Ibrahimovic doesn???t, and Lucio adds much needed depth to the backline.
Juventus and Milan were both hurt by their uncanny ability to drop points against lower rung teams. Defensive inconsistency damaged both teams and their fortunes next year will be determined by whatever improvements new coaches and offseason acquisitions can bring to the defense. Milan has added Onyewu and Thiago Silva to a solid backline, but they still don???t have a goalkeeper. Juventus has one of the best goalkeepers in the world, but any team that enters a season with Fabio Cannavaro as a starting center back at this point in his career needs to worry.
The most entertaining battle in the league occurred for the final Champions League Spot between Genoa and Fiorentina. The teams finished tied for points and Fiorentina only squeaked through due to their head-to-head record against Genoa. The teams fought a highly entertaining late season match up that saw Genoa take a 3-0 lead into the 60th minute only to walk away with a draw due to an Adrian Mutu hattrick. Coupled with Fiorentina???s home win in the early part of the season send the Viola into the Champions League. Both teams will look to continue their recent runs of success despite some key losses next season.
Elsewhere in the league, Lazio won the Coppa Italia, knocking out Milan and Juventus along the way and beating Sampdoria on penalties in the final. Roma bottomed out, finishing in sixth place despite a team largely unchanged from the one that finished second to Inter last year.
Of the four Italian Champions League teams, Fiorentina failed to make it out of the group stages and was eliminated in their first round in the UEFA Cup. English clubs eliminated Roma, Juventus, and Inter in the first knockout round of the Champions League. Milan, having failed to qualify for the Champions League, set their sites on winning the UEFA Cup (the only significant trophy missing from their hardware cabinet) and failed miserably, losing out in the first knockout round to Werder Bremen. The other Italian clubs failed to take the UEFA Cup seriously, focusing instead on the domestic league, and fared accordingly. Only Udinese represented Italy in Europe this year with anything worthy of respect. They paid for it by failing to qualify for European football next year.
On the plus side for the league, several encouraging developments took place throughout the last season. First, new security measures introduced in the wake of several soccer related deaths have been largely successful and the Italian game was much more peaceful this past season. Second, clubs have awakened to the necessities of the modern game and are starting to invest in their own stadiums. Fiorentina and Juventus are leading the way here.
Third, the Serie A clubs announced they will break away from the FIGC to form their own league in 2010. The Serie A clubs will finally sell their domestic TV rights as a whole as opposedt o individually. This will significantly increase the amount of money available to Italian teams once it happened. The new league set up will be based on the English Premier League is expected to increase total revenue in Serie A by close to a hundred million pounds a year.
Finally and most importantly, known as a retirement league recently for the increasing age of its players, Serie A teams finally discovered the power of youth. Mario Balotelli and David Santon, both under 20, got significant playing time at Inter and helped the club win its title. Sebastien Giovinco, though somewhat limited in playing time, continued to prove he is a future star at Juventus. Giorgio Chiellini was perhaps the best defender in the league last year and he???s younger than 25. Stevan Jovetic impressed in the second half for Fiorentina when called upon to substitute for an injured Adrian Mutu. Marco Motta stepped up for Roma and earned consideration for the Azzurri. All around the mid-table clubs, youngsters such as Roberto Acquafresco, Fabio Santacroce, Ezequiel Lavezzi, and Federico Marchetti showed that the Italian league???s true strength may lie in some of its youngest players. And I haven???t even mentioned Alexander Pato or the potential return of Giuseppe Rossi yet.
For many reasons, the most recent Serie A campaign is one to forget. The future for Italian soccer, however, may be the brightest its been in years.