Italy football shakeup offers hope to Juve's rivals
Milan (AFP) –
The shakeup in Italian football promised by Roberto Mancini following the Azzurri's World Cup flop has offered hope to Juventus's rivals that it could impact the Serie A next season.
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri met with club bosses on Monday to discuss his future contract and potential summer signings after claiming a fourth league and Cup doubles in as many years in Turin.
Napoli challenged Juventus for much of the season but the Turin giants again came out on top by a four-point margin to extend their dominance for a seventh consecutive season.
The 2017-2018 Serie A season was overshadowed by the drama playing out within a national side in tatters after their shock failure to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades.
Goalkeeping legend Gianluigi Buffon, defender Andrea Barzagli and midfielder Daniele De Rossi ?- three players who helped Italy to a fourth World Cup in 2006 ?- announced they were retiring after a 1-0 aggregate loss to Sweden in a playoff last November.
Six months later Mancini, who left Zenit Saint Petersburg to take the job, was appointed national coach promising a "rebirth" in the national side, and to restore pride in the demoralised Azzurri.
It leads to hope of a shakeup in the league for next season with no Buffon in goal for the first time in 24 years.
Nice striker Mario Balotelli, who has been recalled and will play for the first time since Italy's humiliating group-stage exit at 2014 World Cup, has said he would like to return to play club football in Italy this summer.
Five players from Serie A outsiders have been given a first call-up, including Torino's Daniele Baselli, Crotone's Rolando Mandragora, Sassuolo striker Domenico Berardi and Atalanta defender Mattia Caldara.
Along with defenders Alessio Romagnoli and Daniele Rugani, midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini and strikers Federico Chiesa and Federico Bernardeschi are among the promising youngsters who are expected to put Italy back on the road to victory.
Lazio's Ciro Immobile finished joint top of the Serie A scorers with 29 goals.
- 'Change in mentality' -
For Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri the Serie A challenge could end this year with his future in doubt, but Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco insists he wants to build on a season where his side finished third, albeit 18 points behind Juventus, and reached the Champions League semi-finals.
Juventus were eliminated by Real Madrid in the quarter-finals.
"We need to do lots of work and build on what we've done. Juventus have won a great deal and not just with Massimiliano Allegri," said Di Francesco, who believes that Juventus's rivals lack ambition.
"They have a mentality whereby winning becomes a habit. Roma have always been just slightly behind over the past few years.
"I don't believe in teams that plump for one competition and that's it.
"If we want to become a top side, we must always be competitive, rotating the squad where necessary and building on the change in mentality we've seen in everyone at Trigoria.
"It's not easy to find the right remedy. I think Juventus set an example in the way they handle less-important games, with the same approach."
Allegri's first season in charge in 2014-2015 saw Juventus finish 17 points ahead of second-placed Roma, the following season Napoli were runners-up nine points adrift. The past two seasons the difference has been just four points on Roma and Napoli respectively.
"When I arrived, the team had finished 24 points off the top. Now, we are four points behind," said Sarri. "We have not reached the target, but the journey has been fantastic."
Three-time European champions Inter Milan will return to the Champions League - they were the last Italian team to win it in 2010.
"Qualifying for the Champions League obviously brings with it enthusiasm and economic advantages," said Inter sporting director Piero Ausilio.
© 2018 AFP