Is Italy’s Serie A the greatest league in the world?

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Written by Michael Hastings

Catennacio is dead… Let me take you on a brief tour of why you should allow Serie ‘A’ a slot in your weekly football viewing schedule.

Catennacio is dead… Let me take you on a brief tour of why you should allow Serie ‘A’ a slot in your weekly football viewing schedule. Ok so first off, I’ll explain the picture of the weather worn gentleman pictured above. That, my Calcio uneducated friends is the (comedy) legend that is Maurizio Zamparini. The first person that comes to mind when I hear countless comments that Italian football is dull.

He bought his first club Venezia in 1987, saving them from financial ruin, and within three years saw them promoted from the echelons of Serie C2 to Serie A. In almost Football Manager style he then sold the club to fund his takeover of Palermo. And this is where it gets interesting.

In 10 years as owner and Chairman of the club, he has gone through 13 different managers. Stefano Pioli was sacked without ever taking charge of a league game and two of Zamparini’s coaches, Delio Rossi and Francesco Guidolin have been recalled, only to be sacked again! He continually lambastes his coaches and players when he deems their performances below par, most famously threatening his players at a press conference that he would ‘eat their testicles’. He’s called Adrian Mutu a gypsy (not that bad, until you remember the lad is Romanian) and suggested that all referees be thrown in prison, and he wasn’t referring to Byron Moreno.

Not convincing you? Take the two recent fairytales of Italian football.

Napoli, a club that was a powerhouse of Italian football in the 80’s with Maradona. Aurelio De Laurentiis has taken them (in a more orthodox manner than Zamparini, it has to be said), from the bankruptcy of 2004 and refounding in Serie C1, to the brink of a quarter final spot in the Champions League in less than 8 years. It’s not so much the rise that should impress you, it’s the style of play with which they’ve done it. A modern 4-3-1-2 formation seamlessly changing to 3-5-2 when needed sees the team able to soak up pressure and counter to devastating effect. As Chelsea found out recently.

It’s anything but boring.

Chievo Verona are another example of how fluid, attacking play will reap rewards. The club is small. Not even the biggest in Verona, and yet they made history thanks to attacking play and a coach who gave his players belief.

Newly promoted to Serie A in 2001 for the first time in the clubs history, they surprised everybody when after 6 games they were top of the table. The wing play of Luciano (Google Luciano/Eriberto, for something else far from dull!), midfield creativity of Eugenio Corini and the goals of Bernardo Corradi led the team to an awe inspiring 5th place finish, followed the season after by 6th and the 2003/2004 season in 9th. All while attacking teams they stereotypically should have been parking the bus against.

More recently, the openness of the league campaign has become a factor in the entertainment provided. Whereas in Spain only one of two sides can win the league and England where it’s more typically one of three, the start of the 2011/2012 season saw no fewer than 4 realistic title contenders in Milan, Inter, Napoli and Juventus. This was swiftly added to by Udinese, who just so happened to move into the top 3 up until Christmas.They managed this by playing an expansive, attacking game focusing on the creativity of Giampiero Pinzi and clinical finishing of Toto Di Natale. Lazio have surprised too by being in contention for a top 3 finish. Their acquisition of Miroslav Klose and Brazilian playmaker Hernanes giving them an extra bite up front. While the league has become a two horse race for the title, the 3rd Champions League spot is at least a four way battle proving too close to call.

No? Still not budging? Some facts, if you will.

113 games played last season were won by a goal margin of 2 or greater. Better still, 158 games played last season were won by just the odd goal.

Does that mean it was a boring 1-0? Not likely, 955 goals were scored in total in Italy last year, falling not far short of the Premier League and La Liga.

Alleged match fixing, referees being given Rolex’s, press silences, romantic older stadia (that’s the best way to look at it) and colourful presidents, Italian football is like Italy itself, certainly one of a kind and easy to embrace.

Look past the ITV and Sky Sports defensive stereotypes of recent times (certainly quietened down by recent English clubs failure against Italian opposition in Europe) and Italy still holds a great amount of football entertainment.

And not just for enthusiasts of Catennacio.