Despite several prolific departures, Italian football thankfully retains its lustre, following the stellar transfer work enjoyed by her clubs.
The summer of 2012 seemed to start so well for Italian football. Onlookers and fans had finally witnessed traditional powerhouses Juventus shrug off the crippling effects of Calciopoli to return to winning ways at long last, pipping former-champions AC Milan to the Scudetto by a hair's breadth. A sensational showing by Cesare Prandelli's Italy national team that took the Azzurri all the way to the final of Euro 2012 followed, only seeming to additionally confirm one thing: Serie A was undergoing its belated, much-anticipated renaissance.
Disaster was swift to strike next, however. Only the greatest detractors in football would have forecasted what was to happen, when Calcio was violated to the very bone as the cash-rich overtures of Paris Saint-Germain extended into Serie A, poaching the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marco Verratti in order to fuel its own growth. Immediately back to square one for Italian football, it would have seemed; the Serie A summer transfer market was initially beginning to appear defined by who was to leave, rather than who arrived to further the revolution.
Nevertheless, some stellar work by several clubs determined to reverse the rut, strengthening themselves even as other weakened, saved the league from being the latest condemned to becoming a feeder system in the increasingly commercialised world of modern football. We take a look at six outstanding transfer campaigns of the summer that so helped capture the imagination of their respective fan sets to restore hope again, aiding decisively to boost the level of football spectators can look forward to in Serie A.
Enter Inter, fresh from a sixth placed league finish that seemed so starkly underwhelming compared to her unprecedented treble two years ago. Instating young coach Andrea Stramaccioni during the frantic closure to the last campaign, patron Massimo Moratti has lavished fresh investment upon the Nerazzurri this time around, prompting a near-revolution to get underway at Appiano Gentile.
Revival began with the clearing out of the Inter's old guard. After re-appointing Ivan Cordoba as the new team-manager, Brazilian trio Lucio, Julio Cesar and Douglas Maicon were shown the door in an effort to lower the squad's exorbitant wages and collective age. With the club able to count on a promising batch of youth that so recently won the inaugural NextGen Series - the competition that catapulted Stramaccioni to recognition in the first place - it would appear only a matter of time before veterans Walter Samuel and Dejan Stankovic et.al. are unseated in favour of wonderkids Rafaelle Di Gennaro, Daniel Bessa and Samuele Longo.
Finally able to build a side that bears his personal signature, Stramaccioni's first call of the day was to acquire the effervescent Rodrigo Palacio to usurp his team's previous over-reliance for goals on Diego Milito. It was to prove only a sign of things to come. To follow were dynamic wing-back Alvaro Pereira, penalty-safe keeper Samir Handanovic, bustling midfield lynchpin Walter Gargano and assertive stopper Matias Silvestre, all arriving to strengthen the backbone of the side which had languished so alarmingly since former boss Jose Mourinho's departure.
Not content with merely staving off interest from Anzhi Makhachkala in the mercurial Wesley Sneijder, who had at long-last shaken off the shackles of injury in entirety, Inter went one better, bolstering their creative options with coups to take Antonio Cassano to the blue half of San Siro, 'freeing' arch-rivals AC Milan of the want-away burden the 30-year-old had become. Factor in the return of a matured Philippe Coutinho from a loan spell at Primera Division team Espanyol, and Stramaccioni looks ready as can be to lead his outfit towards conquests afresh, after their stellar exploits in the summer Mercato.
The audacity of Fiorentina in strengthening their ranks sees them worthy of noteworthy mention. While Il Viola had been through several low points before in its history, the decline it suffered last season, when they slumped to 13th in the table after becoming embroiled in the relegation dogfight for a period, sparked major protests from fans, who demanded their club be returned to its rightful place. It appears fair to say the Della Valle brothers sat up and took notice, for after witnessing their market exploits this summer, no one is going to take their ambition into doubt at all.
Bringing promising manager Vincenzo Montella on board from Catania after doing away with the inept Delio Rossi, director Daniele Prade has wasted no time in strengthening the club for the upcoming term. Keeping talisman Stevan Jovetic undoubtedly has been the coup of the summer for the Florence-based club, with supporters licking their lips in anticipation as they look forward to seeing a competitive team built around their coveted attacking midfielder, who happens to also have chosen the ideal moment to come of age.
Arriving in tandem with Jovetic refusing a transfer away to an European giant were a spate of signings that suggest sound thought went into structured methods of rebuilding a historic side in Serie A. Midfield general Borja Valero stands out as an acquisition that promises both quality and quantity in midfield, while his intended partner, David Pizarro, extends a unique sense of graft to how his team-mates operate, both in attack and in defence.
Gonzalo Rodriguez, Alberto Aquilani, Mathias Fernandez and Mounir El Hamdaoui complete the accomplished spate of signings, and while the loss of Matija Nastasic to the lures of Manchester City will hurt, Montella now boasts a side that can compete on level terms with all but Serie A's biggest guns. Anything less than qualification to European competition next term will be viewed as a blot on Montella's expanding CV, especially after the generous investment in support of his plans. Instead, bet on Fiorentina's renaissance to cause a few upsets in Serie A this season, as the club faithful prepare themselves for a bright future ahead.
The Juventus Stadium was graced by the presence of the Scudetto for the first time at the end of last season. It almost seemed that for a period, director Giuseppe Marotta was going to extend the length of supporters singing their team's praises, following up on their sporting success with a succession of potent signings. In came Udinese duo Kwado Asamoah and Mauricio Isla - so fundamental to helping the Zebrette achieve back-to-back Champions League qualification in previous season - alongside the return of kindred spirit Sebastian Giovinco as well as that of decorated veteran Lucio.
Could there be any possibility the club was missing anyone's presence from the list of prestigious additions? Unfortunately, yes; the 'top player' so promiscuously bandied about on the lips of Bianconeri fans and officials alike all summer. As former official Luciano Moggi labelled the futile search as 'unobtainable', the arrival of Arsenal man Nicklas Bendtner certainly will feel like an anti-climax to the bulk of the Old Lady faithful, as they are left wondering what might have been, had they managed to lure Robin van Persie or Stevan Jovetic to Turin.
Despite the no-show of a world-class striker, the club can take heart in a glass half-full, for they too set out with the aim of adding depth to an already functionable unit, and have managed that with aplomb. Apart from merely strengthening every department qualitatively and quantitatively in preparation for their return to the Champions League, they also succeeded in luring hot prospect Paul Pogba - heir apparent to the once irreplaceable Andrea Pirlo - from Manchester United to Serie A on a free transfer, in what could turn out to be one of the bargains of the summer.
Luca Marrone's transition from midfield to defence counts as practically a new signing for coach Antonio Conte, after the Azzurrini starlet previously had to be content sitting on the bench, in spite of his highly-rated potential. With many more, such as Gabriel Appelt and Ouasim Bouy soon to make their bid for a berth in the senior squad, and Manolo Gabbiadini as well as Ciro Immobile residing on the club's books, the future looks bright for Juventus once again, indeed following their summer business in preparation of making their presence felt on the continental stage to great effect.
Once criticised as being too dependent on a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva, the new season has witnessed AC Milan take on a wholly different approach, as club CEO Adriano Galliani begins to realise, quantity has a quality of its own. The relative thrift with which the San Siro side's transfer market was carried out upon, in spite of the reputed €200 million earned or saved by selling the afore-mentioned duo, might have had the club's fans incessantly on the board's back all summer long; that by no means should erode the merit of the new arrivals however, who have already began to offer glimpses of their worth.
Shrugging off an opening day defeat to Sampdoria, coach Massimiliano Allegri's men responded with a solid 3-1 win away to Bologna, courtesy of maligned signing Giampaolo Pazzini's hat-trick. While admittedly very much a fluke, the former Inter misfit's exploits signals the utility of the new-look Milan squad, who despite not being as overtly glamourous as it once might have been, still remains very functional in nature.
New faces Francesco Acerbi and Riccardo Montolivo put on unyielding performances as Pazzini's partners in crime on that night, while the ongoing international break will prove instrumental to bedding in the rest of the new arrivals, many who arrived towards the end of August. With the robust Nigel De Jong, immovable Cristian Zapata, underrated Bojan Krkic, and much sought-after youngster M'Baye Niang still yet to bed in fully, onlookers have thus far only been exposed to the tip of the iceberg, as hope and promise becomes restored at Milanello by the looks of it.
In spite of their failed efforts in resigning Kaka - who would have depressingly represented the club turning to its past to solve its current problems in any case - as well as failing to pry Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa from Montpellier's grip, Galliani's stalwart attempts to plug the unpluggable ensures the Rossoneri enter the season as best prepared as can be. Able to count on the services of teenage talent such as Mattia De Sciglio, Stephan El Shaarawy and Rodrigo Ely (gaining first-team experience on loan at Reggina), the future looks optimistic, or at least not so down in doldrums, for the former Serie A champions.
After helplessly watching talisman Ezequiel Lavezzi depart for Ligue 1 when his €30 million release clause had been activated by Paris Saint-Germain, Napoli patron Aurelio De Laurentiis was determined to still yet deliver on his promised plans to ensure his club would continue building on their resurgence towards becoming a global name, with the Partenopei's transfer work this summer suggesting as much, remaining thrifty, yet shrewd and effective.
Who needed Lavezzi, for returning to his parent club from his loan stint out with Serie A new boys Pescara was teen prodigy Lorenzo Insigne. Thrown in at the deep end after coming under Zdenek Zeman's hand in Serie B last season, the 21-year-old wonderkid has landed feet first, with his early performances under the shadow of Vesuvius having already led to comparisons with former club legends Diego Maradona and Gianfranco Zola.
Quite apart from ensuring a touch of fantasy does not desert his frontline nevertheless, one of coach Walter Mazzari's most pressing requests must have been to strengthen the depth of his squad after seeing injuries and suspensions deplete his playing personnel last term. Yet again, his employers have not disappointed here either. In came Brazilian prospect Bruno Uvini, the travelled Valon Behrami, authoritative centre-back Alessandro Gamberini and Giandomenico Mesto's ceaseless reserves of energy, handing Mazzari an undisputed boost as Napoli aim to come good on all three fronts in the campaign to follow.
Despite seeing hardman Walter Gargano depart for want of playing time and eventually missing out on transfer target Alvaro Perreira - both ended up at rivals Inter - top marks must be awarded to the ambitious outfit for retaining the services of stars Edinson Cavani and Marek Hamsik, as well as getting so much work done on so small a budget with regards to acquisitions. Now fully accustomed to regularly targeting silverware after their promotion to Serie A just back in 2007, tip Napoli to shake up the balance of power that lies across Italian and European football very soon, as memories of Maradona's exploits rekindle themselves.
For a side led by the spectacular Zdenek Zeman, a few spectacular signings were naturally also in order. Funded by Mickey Mouse money, directors Walter Sabatini and Franco Baldini made the most of American investment to secure the Czech maestro, who was returning to the club after his spell in charge during the '90s, a side that could deliver on new owner, Fenway Sports Group's, expansion plans.
After losing Fabio Borini to their American-acquired counterparts at Liverpool, the money was swiftly reinvested in Mattia Destro, one of the names figuring prominently on pundits' and supporters' minds alike, following his 12-goal haul at mid-table Siena the previous campaign. Strong, intelligent, and packing a ferocious shot in accompaniment to a solid turn of pace, expect the 21-year-old to prosper under Zeman's guidance as he teams up with his new coach's star pupil, Francesco Totti. To begin with, the return of 'Zemanlandia' promises plenty of attacking intent, not the supposedly aimless possession Spanish predecessor Luis Enrique was lambasted for.
Supplying the striking options with ammunition will fall on the shoulders of Panagiotis Tachtsidis and Michael Bradly, after either enjoyed breakthrough spells in the city of Verona with Hellas and Chievo respectively. Supplementing the over-burdened but stalwart Daniele De Rossi in his midfield duties, these acquisitions will provide the solid base upon which their attack-minded colleagues will revel in their forays further forward, as Zeman looks set to unleash his outrightly offensive 4-3-3 on the rest of Serie A from the outset.
The failure to sign one additional centre-back as cover could cause the downfall of the new coach however; as with all things Zeman, his undoing tends to lie with the defence. Nevertheless, trust Leandro Castan and Federico Balzaretti to add that step up to the quality Nicolas Burdisso already brings in the rearguard, as Roma strut their stuff to the desires of their master in preaching how football rightfully ought to be played far and wide across the peninsula.