Cristiano Ronaldo has dominated the headlines, and rightfully so, but the powers beyond Juventus have gone to great lengths to fill Italy's top flight with intrigue entering the new season.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Cristiano Ronaldo, CRISTIANO RONALDO!
There are stories in Serie A beyond the arrival of the former Real Madrid star, but they’re hard to hear beyond the noise that has surrounded Ronaldo’s arrival. It was the “transfer of the century” according to Gazetta dello Sport, while Juventus’s traditional preseason friendly against its B team in Villar Perosa, around 25 miles south of Turin, culminated in an emotional pitch invasion with 20 minutes remaining. It’s become traditional for the game to end with fans running into the pitch, but here the mood was different, with the focus clearly on Ronaldo, who, having scored the opening goal of the game after just eight minutes, dutifully posed for hundreds of selfies.
And of course Ronaldo’s arrival is a huge deal. For the first time in a decade a player who has a realistic claim to be the best in the world is playing in Serie A. It is a coup both for Juventus, which has enhanced its chances of winning the Champions League after two finals in the past four seasons, and it is a coup for Serie A, one that was perhaps needed after a World Cup summer that didn’t feature Italy for the first time since 1958.
But there has been plenty of other transfer activity in Serie A, a sense perhaps that the league, after a few years in the shadows, is back. But, as Roma captain Daniele De Rossi pointed out, while Juventus’s outlay is good for Serie A, it is most of all good for Juventus.
Ronaldo is not the only major signing made by the Bianconeri this summer. In, as well, have come Portuguese fullback Joao Cancelo from Valencia and winger Douglas Costa from Bayern Munich (after a loan spell). Add in the fact that Roma has lost Alisson to Liverpool and Napoli both Jorginho and its inspirational manager Maurizio Sarri to Chelsea and this begins to look, once again, like a Juventus procession as it hunts for its eighth straight league title.
But beneath the surface, there does seem to be something stirring in Serie A. It would be no great surprise if Napoli fell back this season as it becomes accustomed to life under Carlo Ancelotti, but it has brought in three players for more than $25 million in goalkeeper Alex Meret and midfielders Simone Verdi and Fabian Ruiz.
Roma, after its astonishing Champions League victory over Barcelona last season, has had a frantic summer in the market, as is the way with its sporting director, Monchi. It would have been even more frantic had Malcolm not been lured away by Barcelona at the 11th hour; however, the arrival of Steven N'Zonzi, Javier Pastore and Justin Kluivert, among 14 signings, speaks of an intriguing new direction even if Alisson and Radja Nainggolan have departed.
But it’s the two Milanese clubs that offer the greatest sense of revival. Inter’s midseason collapse left it needing two goals in the final 12 minutes of its final game of last season, against Lazio, to qualify for the Champions League and having secured its place in the group stage, the summer has been one of consolidation. Stefan De Vrij–who conceded the penalty that gave Inter its equalizer against Lazio–has arrived to strengthen the heart of the defense. Sime Vrsaljko, who played in the World Cup final with Croatia, is a remarkable loan addition at right back, while Nainggolan comes into midfield and Lautaro Martinez and Keita Balde (on loan) greatly increase the attacking options.
It didn’t take long for the optimism that had surrounded the takeover of AC Milan a year ago to deflate. As it turned out, owner Yonghong Li could not fulfill his commitments, leading to another takeover as Elliott Management stepped in. The return of Paolo Maldini to the club as head of strategic development, the appointment of Leonardo as technical director and the retention of Gennaro Gattuso as coach all give a sense of security, while the transfer business has been less eye-catching and probably wiser than last summer.
Gonzalo Higuain (on loan) and Mattia Caldara have arrived from Juventus in exchange for Leonardo Bonucci, who had moved the other way the previous summer, while Alen Halilovic brings his great potential on a free transfer from Hamburg and Tiemoue Bakayoko arrives on loan from Chelsea, looking to recapture the form that earned him the move from Monaco to Stamford Bridge in the first place.
Only Lazio of the big clubs seems to go into the season with a weaker squad than it did last season, and even it has brought in Joaquin Correa from Sevilla.
Juve should win the scudetto again, but behind that, there is at last a sense of Serie A beginning to assert itself once more.