It seems a long time ago that Serie A was the dominant league in European and world football.
Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, football fans would look to Italy at this time of year for the most exciting stories.
Mega-money buys and top managers coming and going – often between the biggest clubs in the country – was the norm.
(L-R) Alessandro Del Piero and Gabriel Batistuta were Serie A posterboys in the 90s and 00s
Between 1990 and 2004, seven different teams won the Scudetto – Napoli, Sampdoria, Milan, Juventus, Lazio, Roma and Inter – with Fiorentina and Parma both challenging at the top too.
In short: Serie A was the most exciting league in the world, on and off the pitch.
But the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal and subsequent relegation of Juventus sent Serie A into reverse.
It came at a time, in 2006, when the Premier League was reaching its peak having been on the rise since its inception in 1992. Also in 2006, Barcelona would land the first of four Champions Leagues in the space of nine years.
In the 13 years since, a new hierarchy has emerged in European football, with Spain and England producing nine Champions League finalists each and Italy some way behind them on four.
Next season though, it appears at least one of the Milan giants are finally ready to challenge Juventus again after eight straight titles as Serie A enters a renaissance period.
Here’s what to look out for this summer…
Cristiano Ronaldo won the Scudetto and Coppa Italia double in his first season with Juventus
ALL CHANGE IN THE DUGOUT
Perhaps the single biggest factor in Serie A suddenly looking exciting again this summer is the departure of Massimiliano Allegri from Juventus.
In his five seasons in Turin, Allegri won five titles at a canter. He is a brilliant manager but his presence didn’t make for a brilliant league.
Maurizio Sarri will replace him after compensation was agreed with Chelsea and while he has enjoyed relative success playing attractive football at Stamford Bridge and with Napoli, he has never won a league title.
Maurizio Sarri lifts the Europa League last month in what could be his final act as Chelsea boss
Inter’s new boss Antonio Conte, in contrast, has won four league titles – three with Juventus – in his managerial career and will fancy his chances against Sarri, the man who replaced him at Chelsea.
Elsewhere, AC Milan look set to appoint Sampdoria manager Marco Giampaolo to replace Gennaro Gattuso.
One man who will have an eyebrow raised at the goings on will be another former Chelsea manager, Carlo Ancelotti, who guided Napoli to a clear second last season and will take a steady ship into the new season.
Carlo Ancelotti guided Napoli to a second-placed finish in Serie A last season
BIG MONEY MOVES
Italian clubs were not afraid of buying and selling to each other in the halcyon days of the 90s and it appears nothing has changed on that front.
Juventus are keen to sign bad boy Mauro Icardi from Inter but the Nerazzurri want fellow Argentinian forward Paulo Dybala in exchange in what would be an incredible swap deal.
Inter will look to partner Dybala with Romelu Lukaku, who Conte is keen to bring in from Manchester United, while they are also looking at a deal to bring Mateo Kovacic back to the club from Real Madrid.
Juve have already brought in Aaron Ramsey on big wages from Arsenal and want a new centre back to complement ageing warhorses Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci with Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly and Ajax’s Matthis de Ligt on their radar.
Milan’s new sporting director Paolo Maldini is waiting to appoint a new manager to confirm any new signings but the club are interested in Premier League duo Dejan Lovren and Lucas Torreira.
Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi had a season to forget and is wanted by Juventus
CONTE GUNNING FOR JUVE
While Milan hope to challenge Juve next season, they have a 24-point gap to make up, have no Champions League football to offer new arrivals and with no manager or new signings made, their project is behind schedule.
We mustn’t forget Napoli, who have finished second in three of the last four seasons, but in truth they look more likely to finish third than first with Conte in at Inter.
Conte is raring to go after a year out and will be determined to show he is a better manager than Sarri and Ancelotti by winning the title.
More known for adding defensive steel than attacking flair, he will have to buck that trend and get Inter scoring. They only conceded three more than Juve (33) last season but scored a paltry 57 goals – hence the interest in Lukaku and Dybala.
Antonio Conte (left) is unveiled as Inter Milan’s new manager last month
WHO CAN CHALLENGE RONALDO’S CROWN?
For all the dugout change, it’s the players on the pitch that put bums on seats and there is no greater example than Juve superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, who had a modest domestic season by his ridiculous standards, scoring 21 times in 31 games.
With Icardi in and out of Inter’s team due to off-field problems, they have lacked a superstar to guide them to the title – could Dybala be that man? Over at Milan, 23-yeard-old striker Krzysztof Piatek is the most exciting name on the books currently and they will be looking to build the team around him. Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens will drive Napoli’s title challenge.
As things stand, Juve are still by far the best team in Serie A and Ronaldo comfortably its best player. But that could all change very soon.
Paulo Dybala (right) is looking to step out of the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo
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