Venezia is club unlike any other, who under the ownership of celebrity American lawyer Joe Tacopina have enjoyed a meteoric rise. After 15 years outside of the top flight, and three bankruptcies, finally the good times seem to be beckoning for the club on the lagoon, as they are now only one rung below Serie A and top of the table under Coach Pippo Inzaghi.
The ascent of the club despite their tumultuous past has been well documented, however it helps shine a welcome light on one of Europe’s most entertaining, yet little talked about divisions.
Serie B can make a convincing case as the most underappreciated league in Europe. You have to go back seven years to find a champion of Italy outside of Turin, and in those six Juventus romps, there was only one genuinely sustained title race, with Milan back in 2011–12.
Whilst last year’s Roma and Napoli can consider themselves unlucky, the top eight in Serie A were separated by 31 points, compared to just 18 points in Serie B. Again in 2014-15 we find the same figure replicated in Serie B, but a massive 37 points between their Serie A counterparts. Only one of the unsuccessful play-off teams from that year managed to make it back the next season, emphasising the openness of a division whose champions SPAL stormed to back-to-back promotions. This speaks to a league that, unlike its big brother, is full of unpredictability.
Although debate currently rages in Italy over the quality of newly promoted sides SPAL and Hellas Verona, more than half the promoted sides from B to A in the last three years have managed to stay up, testifying that the competition does not come at the cost of quality when viewed with a long-term perspective.
Given the line-up of teams this season, it certainly makes a case for being the most captivating Italian division once again. In addition to Venezia, fallen giant Parma have completed a miraculous resurrection, joining smaller outfits Cremonese and Foggia in gaining promotion via the notoriously difficult Lega Pro route.
The always entertaining, though often more off the pitch, Palermo, and well run Empoli, joined the admittedly yo-yo Pescara in the descent from Serie A. These three relegated clubs have all made good starts to the season, alongside also-rans Frosinone, Serie B staples Avellino, and newcomers Venezia. Only four points separating the top 15 sides after 10 games, in what is an insanely tight division, with Venezia well-placed for a promotion push if they can add some attacking flair to their stingy defence.
A number of individuals integral to the last 20 years of calcio play a central role in the league too. The introverted mastermind behind 1990s miracle Foggia, Zdenek Zeman will be facing his former club as he heads up Pescara, hoping to add some flair and drama in equal measure to a team that far from enjoyed their dreadfully dismal attempts in Serie A last season. Everyone who has affection for calcio cannot help but be drawn to the romanticised figure of Zeman, the idea of whom entices people in like a messiah, but since he left Pescara first time round, the miracles have been in short supply.
Inzaghi would be the first to admit he perhaps took the Milan job too soon, but salvaging the club infected by ineptitude at that stage was seeming beyond the talents of most managers. It was he who won Tacopina over when taking the job, rather than the other way around, as a world class player was refreshingly willing to drop down the divisions, unlike many of his counterparts in England.
At Venezia, he has done a fine a job in winning the Lega Pro title last year with the clinical effectiveness he displayed in his pomp. Few players have had a bigger impact on Italian football since the turn of the millennium than Fabio Grosso. Highly praised for his work in the Juventus youth system, Bari have taken the plunge and appointed the scorer of that goal in that semi-final, though their start has been somewhat inauspicious thus far.
In little over 10 years since the victory, there are now two World Cup winners coaching in Serie B, earning respect from their peers in the process. This shows precisely why Serie B should hopefully be extremely entertaining once again, which is only for the good of calcio.
To summarise this novice’s guide to Serie B, it has big names in the dugouts, teams steeped in history, in what is an incredibly competitive league. Oh, and a team situated in the world’s most beautiful city. Go on, you know you want to.