Back in the '90s, the start of any Serie A season was dominated by talk of La Sette Sorelle, the seven sisters. These clubs were all capable of winning the scudetto and the European trophies. This season the playing field seems more even in Italy than in any other league. Adam Digby wonders if a return to open competition is on the cards.
Back then the teams were Juventus, Milan, Inter, Parma, Lazio, Roma, and Fiorentina. All had their stars, all won trophies at home or abroad. Then like most leagues, the revenue generated by the Champions League distorted the picture and separated the sisters.
Juve, Fiorentina, and Parma have all tasted relegation, all the clubs except Milan, Inter, and Juve have had serious financial troubles. Serie A became, like England and Spain, a study in the haves and have nots. The top four became stagnant.
Today we look at Serie A as a broken shell, a league incapable of attracting—or holding onto—the top stars. Kaka and Ibrahimovic have both fled to La Liga, even the coaches have gone to Britain; Ancelotti following Capello, Zola, and Trapattoni.
Despite this, Serie A is shaping up to be Europe's most open and interesting league this season. Inter, runaway champions since Calciopoli in 2006, have sold their talisman, Ibrahimovic.
MIA in Europe, Zlatan has lit up Serie A with 57 goals in 88 league games for the Nerazzurri, often popping up with a vital goal to snatch victory, particularly against the smaller, more compact teams.
If Eto'o and Milito don't replace this habit instantly, Inter may struggle. Even Mourinho admits they lack creativity.
Milan have lost the equally influential Kaka, not to mention Maldini and the coach, Ancelotti. With owner Berlusconi loath to spend money the team is decidedly weaker than the one which stole third place on the last day of the season last term, but you can never rule out Silvio giving one of his "presents" before the window shuts.
Fiorentina ended the season in fourth place and have lost Felipe Melo, but the rest of the squad remains, with Prandelli leading them once again they will be at a similar level.
Roma are in a sorry state, seemingly in too much debt to find a buyer, the Sensi family are resigned to losing players to balance the books. Aquilani is reportedly the next departure.
Below these teams are clubs who may just lay waste to the established order, unfashionable clubs ready to climb the table, to snatch European places, and maybe even trophies from the more traditional giants.
Genoa had an outstanding '08-'09 season. Despite the losses of Milito and Thiago Motta to Inter, they have added Floccari, Moretti, and an outside bet for the top scorer's crown in Hernan Crespo. They have also swapped keepers with Palermo, adding Italy number two Marco Amelia between the posts.
Napoli have been the most active Italian club in the market, adding Italy internationals Quagliarella and De Sanctis, standout midfielder Luca Cigarini and a number of other players to a squad which kept pace for half a season, falling away drastically as the campaign ended.
Palermo are also an interesting study, outspoken new manager Walter Zenga has even called them scudetto contenders. They will look to improve on last year's seventh place finish, with a quickly maturing squad to chose from.
This brings us to Juventus, second place under Ranieri last time out, new coach Ciro Ferrara will be expected to bring some silverware to Turin. He's been given a vastly improved squad to achieve this aim, Diego, Melo, and Cannavaro all great additions.
All in all Serie A is much stronger, and very evenly poised going into the new season. A finely balanced league with some truly great players and clubs, a number of outsiders ready to gate-crash the established order.
It's football, as we used to know it.