2011-2012 is shaping up to be a stellar season on the Italian peninsula after several years of placidity in the wake of Calciopoli. Milan finally broke the Inter-dominance of recent times by winning the Scudetto last year, and interesting mercato strategies should allow Milan to compete for trophies once again. In fact, nearly every club is pursuing a unique strategy in this offseason, perhaps most evidently demonstrated in the opposite approaches taken by the two capital sides.
Lazio, after narrowly missing out on a Champions’ League spot last season, have decided to reinforce with experience and age. Goalkeeper Fernando Muslera has been shipped off to an emerging Galatasaray as Edy Reja’s side look to Italy’s number one for much of World Cup 2010, Federico Marchetti, to lead the defense. New attacking duo Miroslav Klose and Djibril Cisse have been in stellar form in preseason friendlies and will look to add goals up front for the side whose top goalscorer last season was attacking midfielder Hernanes. All three signings will be given the responsibility to add maturity to the side- especially the strikers, who could form a deadly attacking quartet along with the aforementioned Brazilian and Mauro Zarate.
Crosstown rivals AS Roma have instead pursued the opposite gamble- a strict investment in youth. Gone are Alexander Doni, John Arne Riise, and Philippe Mexes; in their places have arrived Jose Angel, Loic Nego, and Gabriele Heinze to reinforce a leaky backline. Erik Lamela and Bojan Kirkic have been drafted in to lower the average age of the Roman attack, which may well have lost influential striker Mirko Vucinic by the publication date of this article. Marco Borriello’s permanent signing as well as Heinze’s one year deal stand out as exceptions to the youth rule. Luis Enrique’s side will look to emulate a Barcelona-esque model in Serie A in order to reach success, and will thus need the new young signings to learn well from trophied stalwarts such as Francesco Totti and Simone Perrotta to fulfill the Spaniard’s vision.
Outside of the capital, two other top sides look to have made great strides forward during the offseason. League winners Milan have added smartly to their side, drafting in defenders Philippe Mexes and Taye Taiwo as well as youngster Stephan El Shaarawy in order to march towards European success as well as ensuring that a domestic repeat will be possible. They have also bought in the mercurial talents of Alberto Aquilani, who will be looking to impress after a few disappointing seasons in the wilderness.
It may be Juventus, however, who have impressed the most this summer. A creaky backline should well have been remedied with the addition of two of Serie A’s finest fullbacks in the past few seasons, Reto Ziegler and Stephan Lichtsteiner. Antonio Conte’s side has also taken in Andrea Pirlo on a free transfer as well as making the lethal attacking duo of Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Matri permanent fixtures. Finally, Arturo Vidal’s signing from Bayer Leverkusen could be the best of the summer should the versatile midfielder acclimate quickly to the tactical side.
The rest of the Champions’ League sides have made notable progress, as well. Gian Piero Gasperini’s Inter have shored up incrementally, signing impressive Japanese fullback Yuto Nagamoto on a permanent basis and snatching up the promising Argentine Ricky Alvarez. The former has impressed in preseason friendlies and could be key to the unorthodox formation that Gasperini is widely expected to use: a 3-4-3 or a derivation thereof. Finally, the acquisition of Emiliano Viviano means that Inter have a goalie who can challenge Julio Cesar for the number one spot for the first time in years; however he has sustained a severe knee injury and looks to be out of action for about six months. Napoli’s worst kept secret of the summer, signing Udinese’s Gokhan Inler, may turn out to be revelatory for the club. Inler’s presence in the midfield may make the already formidable attacking trio of Marek Hamsik, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani (signed permanently from Palermo) all the more effective. Mario Santana, Marco Donadel, and Daniele Mannini headline the other moves that Walter Mazzarri’s side have made to add depth to the squad ahead of a testing Champions’ League campaign.
Finally, Udinese’s offseason has been somewhat of a question mark. The side have lost quite a few big name players, including Inler, Cristian Zapata, and most crucially Alexis Sanchez, without having done much as of yet to replace them. The money from the Chilean’s Barcelona move may yet be put to good use in reinforcements, but as of yet, the side’s strategy looks to be the same as ever: turn unknown promising youngsters into expensive talents. Thus each of Serie A’s top clubs have made strides towards strengthening this offseason. The other teams have been quite busy as well: Eran Zahavi to Palermo, Adrian Mutu at Cesena, and Gaetano D’Agostino’s Siena move, just to name a few. With so much transfer action and only three available slots for the following season in the Champions’ League, Italy will certainly be a place that any football fan will want to keep a close eye on.
Julian di Martinis is a Calcio correspondent and writer for goal.com and serieaweekly