Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. There are times when Serie A can make you throw your hands up in despair - even if you are not a gesticulating Italian - and feel like turning your back on the game for good. But then, as if from nowhere, they come up with the plot lines that even the best box set in the business would kill for and you’re hooked for one more season. For me, anyway, it is an offer I just can’t ever quite manage to refuse.
On the surface, some might say, what is there to get so excited about? The Scudetto story has been a monochrome affair in Juventus’ black and white for nearly a decade now. The referees dish out penalties that are softer than gelato in the summer sun. And conspiracy theories spring up all over the place with the tiresome tenacity of garden weeds between the cracks in your patio. Only a mother, perhaps, could love this eccentric son.
However, those willing to pull back the blinds and peek into the Calcio kitchen will find some tasty fare on the stove. The stories simmering away on the gas rings of the game give off an aroma that is irresistible if you give it a chance. Take a seat, fill your glass, tuck in your napkin and prepare for another slap-up serving of soccer that would make your Nonna proud.
Without rivals on the domestic front for so long, Juventus have decided to spice things up by going all-in on another new Coach to try to deliver their Holy Grail - the Champions League. If Ancelotti-like eyebrows were raised last year when Maurizio Sarri was appointed, they just about disappeared clean off our foreheads when Andrea Pirlo was announced. If his management career is half as brilliant as his playing one, then the Bianconeri are in for a genuine treat. Only time will tell if we, unlike the man himself, will be impressed.
And then we have the tempestuous love affair between Antonio Conte and Inter, where the toys appear to be permanently strewn around this particular pram. The tortured partnership eventually agreed to stay together for the good of the team, but it seems a relationship that definitely needs a few more sessions of counselling. The only thing, perhaps, that could truly paper over the cracks would be to deliver a trophy - not impossible with the cast he has assembled.
On the other side of Milan, things seemed much less tense this summer with Zlatan Ibrahimovic staying, Sandro Tonali arriving and Stefano Pioli firmly in place. It is the kind of stability the Rossoneri have been crying out for and might just provide them with the sort of platform they need to have a campaign worthy of their history. Mind you, it would probably only take a few bad results to see that feelgood factor evaporate under the floodlights at San Siro.
Further south we have more questions than answers. Can Lazio recover the form they had before lockdown? Will his critics ever recognise the quality of Ciro Immobile? And who will win the battle of the Inzaghi boys when Benevento come to town? If Juve slow down a little and Inter implode, might the Biancocelesti be the ones to benefit? Only the next episode of the great Serie A drama will provide the responses we crave.
We have Atalanta looking to repeat an amazing season, Napoli seeking to return to the very upper echelons of the table under Rino Gattuso and Roma starting another era under new owners. There are Genoa derbies, Franck Ribery’s ongoing adventures at Fiorentina and - forgive me a little parochial Scottish smile - Aaron Hickey landing at Bologna. Add to that swashbuckling Sassuolo, a Toro team dreaming of resurgence and the intriguing new face of Spezia and there is plenty to look forward to. Apologies to the teams omitted, I still love you all.
There’s a beauty in Serie A’s return in a world still full of uncertainty. With a fixture book and pen in hand, we can map out the months ahead in the knowledge that there will rarely be a dull moment. Volcanic presidents will blow their tops, VAR decisions will be examined with a level of intricacy that even a lepidopterist would envy and there might be some half-decent goals along the way. We didn’t get Leo Messi, sadly, but there should still be plenty to keep us entertained.
There is still something special about an Italian footballing Sunday afternoon - even if it now stretches over most of the weekend. I have no idea how this 2020-21 vintage will taste, but I’m still looking forward to giving it a try. I suspect it will be intense, surprising and ultimately enjoyable, like so many of its predecessors. So, folks, let’s pull the cork on another bottle and savour whatever it may bring.
Giancarlo Rinaldi is the author of a number of books about Italian football. You can find out more about them here.
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