The 2010-11 season in Italy’s premier league was one that provided the much needed element of freshness in Italian football. The season ended the dark memories of the latter half of the previous decade putting a culmination to Internazionale’s dominance in the domestic scene and opened the floodgates for the other usual big players to resurrect their fortunes and get their acts together to translate into highest success. Despite Juventus and Roma – two of the biggest teams in the country – falling from bad to worse as the season progressed, a couple of relatively lesser teams like Udinese and Napoli emerged into the top bracket of the league grabbing the Italian spots to feature into Europe’s most elite competition for the following season. Champions AC Milan re-established their national supremacy after a dearth of any major title since 2007 and are now being reckoned as one of Europe’s most formidable units for the years to come with an apt amalgamation of experience and age in the first choice squad.
Out of a string of conclusory remarks from the previous season, one of the key facts that unearths is Italy still remains a place where experience is deemed of greater importance than energy; where skills precede speed to reserve a place in the team and where tactical grasp and a profound understanding of footballing acumen is weighed far superior to physical attributes and athletic credentials of a player. As history would pass a testament, it is experience that has always marked the difference between the champions and the challengers and therefore despite stark criticism from the pundits all around the globe, players in their mid and late thirties do reserve a starting place in what is tactically the most complex of the leagues around Europe. The reviews and reports of last season would therefore not fail to acknowledge the influence the likes of Gattuso, Totti, Del Piero and Zanetti had over the developments in the season despite the stardom majorly hogged by their younger counterparts like Pato, Cavani, Sanchez and Hamsik.
As the new season approaches afresh, there is a list of what to expect from Italy’s top flight league football and as the tide already appears to have changed for the better, it would be interesting to learn whether the ‘been-there-done-that’ generation of players are able to carry forward their longevity and manage to have their say in defining the nature of the competition it transpires to be. TheHardTackle aims to list down five veterans in Serie A, who are prospected to command a great influence over the proceedings in the league version for the 2011-12 season.
1. Alessandro Del Piero (Juventus)
The Juventus skipper may finally be donning the famous black & white shirt for one last season before finally calling it a day once and for all. Under the erstwhile legend Antonio Conte, who is apparently appointed as the head coach taking the baton from Gigi Del Neri, Juventus are on a mission to recuperate all that is lost over the last few years. The club has invested decently on new signings in all major areas and the latest acquisition in the attacking department has been that of Montenegrin starlet Mirko Vucinic, whose services were sought after by more than one clubs across Europe.
This may effectively subjugate Del Piero’s presence in Conte’s scheme of things as Juventus boast of two more impressive strikers in Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Matri. Il Pinturicchio may hence fall down in the pecking order but it’s been some time now since his role has been reduced to being that of an impact player, who can incept few moments of brilliance out of nothing with his unparalleled, surreal skill set. As the primary goal of the club remains to grab the elusive European spot back, the squad requires engineering an innovative approach defying the stereotyped tactics and methodologies.
Alex can prove to be one of the giant motivating factors in the process as presently there is no bigger iconic presence in the club’s ranks and his presence in the dressing room can prove to be more than inspiring to the likes of Krasic and Chiellini who are on their ways to attaining a cult status in the black & white colours. Alex may still prove to be a vital cog in the wheel should Conte plan to deploy him off the prima punta in the role of a withdrawn forward. From the looks of it, Del Piero may still have a lot to offer that may strengthen the team overall but it remains to be seen how frequently does he feature on the field in what could arguably be the season that determines the final point in a resplendent career.
2. Francesco Totti (AS Roma)
The talismanic forward of the side representing the capital city would have probably scripted a different story for himself in terms of trophies and accolades, had he chosen to move to financially stronger clubs in Europe at a time when he was regarded one of the best in the world, if not the best. However, Totti chose to remain loyal to the club he always dreamt of playing for as a child and has hence quite understandably become one of the greatest Giallorosso ever.
It’s been close to five years now since Totti is rather irritatingly involved into a never-ending love affair with his spell of injuries and has failed to rediscover himself to the highest of his potential. The Roman skipper had an excellent time on-field during the 2009-10 season but failed to set the stage ablaze in the following season. With an eye to build a squad for the future and reclaiming the European spots immediately, the new American owners are likely to be investing considerably on reconstructing the major areas of concern.
The newly appointed manager Luis Enrique is expected to inculcate the Spanish system in the Italian capital and it is yet a matter of speculation whether he considers including Totti in his long-term plans. The signing of Barcelona’s academy sensation Bojan Krkic makes a statement of intent from the club owners and is an indication of things to come at the club under the Spanish manager.
Roma certainly lack quality forwards and the departure of Mirko Vucinic certainly raises the levels of responsibilities on Totti’s shoulders to conjure up goals at the right moments. Unless the club decides to sign one more forward, Totti must feature into the first-choice eleven and should start from his customary position of Centre Forward. While retirement is still quite a far predicate, it is high time Totti reclaimed himself and take the world for another roller coaster ride with his abilities to leave everyone spellbound. Should he fail to leave an immediate impact on the team’s result charts, there is a good chance Luis Enrique may look for younger, faster and more agile alternatives, as the season progresses, disregarding the stature the icon player beholds in the Giallorossi circles.
3. Alessandro Nesta (AC Milan)
Undoubtedly, one of the greatest defenders ever to have graced the game, Nesta has successfully led the Milanese defence post the retirement of club’s cult hero Paolo Maldini. The veteran Centre Back played an integral role in managing Milan’s best defensive record in the league last season with which the Rossoneri claimed the 18th league title in the club’s history.
At the very onset of the new season, Milan have made the intentions clear of finding grooming Nesta’s long-term replacement hiring the services of French defender Phillipe Mexes from the capital side AS Roma. Thiago Silva, who is arguably the best Centre Back on the planet today is progressing leaps and bounds working alongside Nesta and has greatly benefited learning from the experience of the Italian. As the new season brings about bigger challenges for Max Allegri’s men, Nesta must elevate his own standards to another level to raise the bar for each of his disciples to follow. In the likes of Mexes and Yepes, Allegri does have more than able options to substitute the former Lazio skipper as and when the need arises to rest him.
Allegri is expected to script some harsh policies for the season which may delimit the number of games Nesta starts for Milan but that may serve the greater purpose in preserving his best for the biggest of the occasions. Nesta still boasts of unbeatable positional sense and a highly pragmatic approach to the art of defending but at 35, may be slightly vulnerable against the quickest of offenses both in Italy and in Europe.
Rumours over him hanging his boots have been doing rounds for almost one complete season now and it increasingly looks like he may choose to call it a day after successfully mentoring the new crop of players to take the baton from him.
4. Javier Zanetti (Internazionale)
The ageless and timeless wonder from the land of Argentina, who has led the Italian giants Internazionale for over a decade and has never let his age have any say in determining the impact he has delivered on the field. Il Capitano, as he is fondly referred to in the Inter circles, still demonstrates his versatility by fitting into both the defensive as well as midfield layers on the pitch. Weeks before the new season begins, Zanetti will turn 38 and may well choose to actualize the day of parting with the club at any moment while he is still playing to the best of his abilities.
Zanetti was one of the key components in the days of Mourinho saga at Inter during the 2009-10 season, as he made the Left Back position his own in a defensive setup that remained rock solid throughout the period of one year time. However, he could not establish even a remotely close authority over the way things shaped up for Inter during the following season. Under the new managerial patterns, Zanetti was preferred to line-up in the middle of the park but with the age showing some signs of his pace being slowed down, he was not the ideal option to destabilize the oppositions by breaking up their play. This quite drastically reduced his influence over the general nature of Inter’s game and considering the ease with which Inter were time and again marginalized by the oppositions, Zanetti’s presence in the starting blueprint may be contemplated.
Gian Piero Gasperini, the new head coach at Inter, has been a staunch practitioner of his customary 3-4-3 setup where midfielders operate further up the pitch invading time and again into the opponents’ half. On the other hand, the Full Back’s role is easily eliminated as all the three defenders tend to draw a narrow shape at the back. Should these tactics of the freshly appointed manager bring about immediate results, it may further question Zanetti’s significance in the starting eleven, as this is not exactly the formation he would relish being part of. In quite major likelihood, the Inter fans all around the globe may be watching their captain beloved for one last season in the capacity of a player. Given his love and affection for the club, the Argentine may choose to remain associated with the administrative activities, much like Luis Figo did.
5. Marco Di Vaio (Bologna)
Though his association with the Bolognese club has been of a relatively shorter period, Di Vaio has already done enough for the Rossoblu to be considered as a legend for the club. Over the course of past three seasons since their promotion to the top most league in the country, Di Vaio has been a very strong driving force for Bologna to remain afloat in the League and not slipping down to the lesser leagues in Italy’s football structure.
Slowly, steadily but surely age is catching up with the Bologna captain and despite statistics from his last season’s exploit suggesting otherwise, there is every reason to believe he may prefer to finish it on a high rather than engaging into a turmoil and being forced to take his feet off the pedal. In the present scenario, Bologna rely a little too heavily on Di Vaio to find the back of the net but things are likely to change as the club has successfully landed up Genoa’s Robert Acquafresca in a loan deal to take the burden partially off Di Vaio’s shoulders.
Should the ex-Cagliari coach Pierpaolo Bisoli consider introducing a major overhaul at the club – although he is not exactly at the luxury of doing so – it would be interesting to see how he accommodates the skipper into both his short and long term plans. Plainly from the opinions that the stats share, Di Vaio has played arguably his best football for Bologna and would possibly find it tempting to retire a Rossoblu at the end of another industrious season.