It hasn’t been a good summer for Serie A.
Despite Italy winning Euro 2020 in formidable style and the country’s finest athletes bringing home 10 gold medals from the Tokyo Olympics (40 medals in total), Serie A has taken body shot after body shot for the last couple of months.
The league has lost a lot of marquee talent: Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi, Cristian Romero, Rodrigo De Paul and Romelu Lukaku have all departed since the conclusion of last season. The league also lost its best manager in Antonio Conte, who saw the writing on Inter’s wall and decided to leave the shrinking ship.
And the damage is not over yet. Fiorentina’s Dusan Vlahovic could be the next big loss, with it being reported that Manchester City and Atletico Madrid are circling the young Serb, who had his breakout season in 2020/21, scoring 21 goals in Serie A in what was a massively underperforming Viola side.
With less than two weeks remaining of the transfer window, the exodus of talent could well continue until the minute it closes. There’s simply a lack of money at the highest echelons of the Italian game.
Many of Serie A’s newest coaches are having to make do with what they already have, but there have been some new arrivals of note: Tammy Abraham swapping one capital for another in his €40 million ($46.7m) move to Roma; Olivier Giroud joining Milan to make the Rossoneri less Zlatan Ibrahimovic-dependent in front of goal; Dutch full back Denzel Dumfries, who impressed at Euro 2020, joining Inter as a replacement for Hakimi.
The biggest move within Italy has been Manuel Locatelli’s long-muted move to Juventus finally going through, after Juve finally offered a realistic offer to Sassuolo after weeks of lowballing the Neroverdi with ridiculous proposals.
Yet the biggest theme ahead of the new season has been the carousel of new coaches among the top clubs. Juve, Inter, Lazio, Napoli and Roma all made changes over the summer, with Max Allegri, Luciano Spalletti, Maurizio Sarri and Jose Mourinho all returning to Italy after extended sabbaticals, and in the case of Mourinho, an 11-year absence.
This is where the excitement will be in the league this season: seeing how Mourinho does at Roma; how long Spalletti will remain on good terms with combustible club president Aurelio De Laurentiis; can Sarri work his magic once more after mixed spells at Chelsea and Juve; will Simone Inzaghi make the leap in quality as boss of Inter, and how will the reunited Allegri and Cristiano Ronaldo get along at Juve?
The lack of new signings, and the departure of key players, has levelled the playing field to a large extent. The talent drain has made Serie A a more balanced, competitive league. For the first time in well over a decade, there is no real clear favourite to win the Scudetto, even though all eyes will focus on The Old Lady regaining her crown following the return of Allegri.
Whilst the quality of the league has diminished, there’s the potential for the league to have its most open title race in years, perhaps for the first time since the halcyon days of the sette sorelle in the late ‘90s. There really isn’t much separating the top four at present, with Milan and Atalanta having the slight advantage in retaining Stefano Pioli and Gian Piero Gasperini as coaches.
There are arguably five teams who could win the title, and with Mourinho and Sarri now parked in the Eternal City, fireworks will be guaranteed all season long.
Don’t expect Italian sides to go far in Europe in 2021/22, because the prospects look grim. This is especially true for the four sides competing in the Champions League, although Juve are arguably best placed to make somewhat of a deep run.
Yet after years of witnessing Juve’s Scudetto procession and Inter’s stroll to the title last season, the unpredictability factor has returned to the Serie A title scene, and that is something to savour.