Hopefully we will never have another year like 2020. It has thrown all kinds of adversity at us over its eventful 12 months and yet - somehow or another - even in the midst of a global pandemic the football show went on in a series of odd instalments.
It is not easy to draw any conclusions over such a disjointed time for Calcio but here we go anyway with a slapdash summary of the good and bad things we witnessed in Italian football.
Milan's revival -Hands up who thought Stefano Pioli was the man to turn around the good ship Rossoneri? If you did, you certainly kept a low profile on his appointment to the job which was greeted with an underwhelming whimper in most quarters. And yet, slowly but surely, he has helped to rebuild a giant in danger of crumbling into the city's canal network. Sure, the hiring of Zlatan Ibrahimovic has helped, as any of his predecessors would probably point out. Nonetheless, he has done the simple things well, given Milan an identity and produced the best form of any Serie A side in the calendar year. Will it last? Who knows? But it has already endured much longer than many sceptics predicted and the club deserves credit for that.
Ronaldo and Immobile's goals -If one thing has remained constant in these unusual times it has been Cristiano and Ciro's ability to find the back of the net. It is no surprise, really, as they have been doing it for some time now. but their strike rate has been up at levels we used to think were consigned to the history books. The Juve man is globally revered for his abilities and has looked a class above most defenders he has had to deal with domestically. His Lazio counterpart seems to struggle more for recognition - but just keeps answering his critics with goal after goal after goal.
Atalanta in Europe - It might easily have been Inter getting this accolade after reaching a continental final, but they blew their reputation big style with an early - and avoidable - Champions League exit. Instead, it is the little boys from Bergamo who deserve the plaudits for making their mark with a brand of football that has earned them recognition outside of Italy. Yes, there have been significant setbacks, but that has not changed their philosophy one jot. They just get back up and go for it again and no wonder they are often a highlight of any European goals show. They will be looking to upset more big reputations next year.
Football without fans -If we had known what was around the corner, we would surely have savoured those last games more. The thought of rubbing shoulders with thousands of others at a big match now seems a distant memory. It was a huge delight to see football come back in any form, but its silent version is a pale imitation of the one with a backing track of a roaring crowd. Any early thoughts that hearing the coaches' cries or the players' chat would make up for that atmosphere have quickly evaporated. They have tried their best with background noise, graphics and any number of other inventions but it is simply not the same experience for anyone involved.
Soft penalties -Anybody who believed VAR would cure Italy of its love of a spot kick was sorely mistaken. Instead, if anything, we have seen them multiply as replays from multiple angles provide even more opportunity to intervene. Not every contact is a foul but in Serie A it would seem that this has not been fully appreciated. Simulators everywhere have almost been given an added incentive to practice their art while battering the ball against an opponent's arm has become a skill in itself. There have been signs, towards the end of the year, that it might be calming down, but it was a constant, and tiresome, theme for much of 2020. And I say that regardless of the side on the receiving end.
Heroes gone -If we thought the year could not get any worse it delivered a double hammer blow to Calcio in its final months. First we lost Diego Maradona, then Paolo Rossi - two very different legends of the game. The little Argentinian will be forever revered in Naples for delivering two Scudetti and wrestling power away from the northern giants. He was, quite simply, the best footballer many of us have ever seen with a colorful tale to tell away from the pitch too. Pablito was a quieter kind of guy but his explosive impact in the summer of 1982 will never be forgotten by millions of Italians. Out of nowhere, he ignited and delivered a World Cup the nation had been waiting on for more than 40 years. May they both rest in peace.
A WISH FOR 2021
We never fully appreciated, perhaps, just how nice boring and normal could be. If next year gives us anything, it would be nice if it was a return to that. If supporters could get back through the gates of grounds to cheer, jeer, whistle and applaud that would be the greatest gift imaginable. It is all very well to watch multi-millionaires strut their stuff in silent theatres via satellite but quite another experience to witness the action live - at any level. A slow return for fans in the months to come would be wonderful and a signal of hope in the springtime. Then - why not? - we could all dream of being in the crowd to watch Roberto Mancini's Italy lift the European Nations trophy next summer.