Serie A preview 2011-2012, Part 2
An unwanted team? An unwanted man?
Back in Tuscany, Fiorentina are looking to make a fresh start.
Troubled times: Fiorentina fans have turned on coach Sinisa Mihajlovic. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
The club's owners are disillusioned, writing a letter to the mayor and the fans, asking if they should continue. Sinisa Mihajlovic is unpopular with a vast swathe of Fiorentina supporters who tried to get their coach to accept an offer from Inter when Leonardo left in July. Pantaleo Corvino, the club's director of sport, has, for the moment, lost the golden touch he once wielded, that led Fiorentina to discover talented players. Even Riccardo Montolivo, Viola’s gifted captain, expressed his desire not to sign a new contract and looked set to leave, prompting the club to strip him of his armband.
In mitigation, last season's ninth place finish was conditioned by a spate of injuries, the most crushing coming when Montenegrin playmaker, Stevan Jovetic, tore his knee ligaments. He's now back, Montolivo is still around, and Alberto Gilardino resisted the temptation to join goalkeeper Sebastien Frey at Genoa. Undoubtedly, Fiorentina will have a tough challenge at qualifying for Europe again.
Sunday's visitors to the Artemio Franchi, Bologna could be a surprise package, although the club's fans will be hoping that there will be less off-the-pitch distractions after the points-penalties levied for financial irregularities last season.
A bureaucratic cock-up in negotiating the co-ownership of Italy international goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano meant that rather than retain his services as planned, he was sent by accident to Inter. The club's tendency to end up with its foot in its mouth showed no sign of abating.
Then Bologna brought in the mercurial No. 10 Alessandro Diamanti, the relatively prolific striker Robert Acquafresca from Cagliari to flank their talismanic hit man Marco Di Vaio, and even managed to keep bright-young-thing Gaston Ramirez. Suddenly, it didn't look all that bad, and with one of Italy's most intelligent and up-and-coming coaches on the bench in Pier Paolo Bisoli, the future bodes well.
This Year’s Changes in Udine, Genoa
As for last season’s revelation, Udinese gave a good account of themselves in their Champions League qualifier against Arsenal; even if they didn't make it through to the group stages. Francesco Guidolin's side still played in the same swashbuckling way. While Alexis Sánchez, Gökhan Inler and Cristian Zapata are gone, part of the € 89 million they recouped for the trio has been invested wisely in the club.
There's Danilo, a slow yet sure center-back renowned for scoring in Brazil, and Gabriel Torje, the Romanian Lionel Messi, to look forward to watching link up with old stager Antonio Di Natale. They take the plane down to Lecce for their season opener and find a team in their own image, committed to sourcing new talent both on the bench with the appointment of Eusebio Di Francesco and on the pitch.
Loan ranger: Cristian Pasquato will be one to watch at Udinese this season. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
A lot of expectation surrounds Cristian Pasquato, the left-sided forward on loan from Juventus, whose free-kick taking ability has led to the inevitable comparisons with Del Piero, a phenomenon not helped by the fact that he was born and grew up in a town a stone's throw away from his idol's birthplace.
Elsewhere on the peninsula, Genoa's revolving door policy, which sees 11 players depart and another 11 arrive every season leaves heads spinning. Predicting what will happen at Marassi over the next nine months is an exercise in futility, but with Frey in goal, the perennial problem between the sticks should end. With a midfield composed of Juraj Kucka, Miguel Veloso and Kevin Constant, this core is potentially among the best in Serie A.
Marshaled by Alberto Malesani, a wily fox of a coach who deserves commendation for the minor miracle he worked at Bologna last season, Genoa look an outside bet to earn a Europa League place.
Happy Returns, But For How Long?
Atalanta, by contrast, arrive at Marassi already up against it after the FIGC decided to impose a six-point penalty on them and ban their totemic captain Cristiano Doni for three years and six months as punishment for their implication in the Last Bet scandal.
Stefano Colantuono has evoked the memory of Italy winning the World Cup in 2006 despite the scrutiny that came with the Calciopoli scandal. A better example to follow would be that of Reggina, who still managed to survive in Serie A the following season despite an 11-point penalty.
Argentinian fantasist Maxi Moralez, a star of Vélez Sársfield's Clausura championship win in June, is burdened with the responsibility of replacing Doni, Atalanta's all-time top scorer. Those are big boots to fill, but someone has to do it if the Bergamo outfit is to survive the campaign.
Fighting against relegation with Atalanta will be Novara, a refreshing club and an example of good management with a state-of-the-art training ground, a third generation artificial pitch and a level-headed businessman for an owner. Only the 17th team in the history of Italian football to win back-to-back promotions, Novara are a feel-good story, but their newly assembled strike force of Takayuki Morimoto, Pablo Granoche and Riccardo Meggiorini has scored just 25 goals in 190 Serie A appearances. It’s probably too little for comfort perhaps.
Emulating Sunday's hosts Chievo, a fairytale themselves in the 2001-02 season, has to be the aim of coach Attilio Tesser, a former captain of Udinese in the Zico era.
Back at the Bentegodi, Mimmo Di Carlo can't wait to put his short spell in charge of relegated Sampdoria behind him. Getting the best out of Alberto Paloschi, the player Pippo Inzaghi has named as his successor, will be among his objectives this season.
After stopping by the Flying Donkeys of Verona, it's worthwhile checking in on the Aeroplanino of Sicily. Vincenzo Montella's first competitive game in charge of Catania is at home to newly promoted Siena and is already anticipated as a proverbial relegation six-pointer, which is very premature.
With veteran defender Nicola Legrottaglie at the back, Sergio Almiron in the middle and Maxi Lopez up front, the Elefanti have a decent spine and should steer clear of trouble.
Siena, meanwhile, offer Giuseppe Sannino, the so-called Mourinho of the provinces, an overdue chance to test himself in the top flight. A manager in every sense of the word, who used to clean the toilets at some of the lower league clubs he coached, the 54-year-old brings humility and discipline to a team which has a sprinkling of class in the form of Gaetano D'Agostino in midfield and youthful exuberance in attack with Mattia Destro.