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Steve Mitchell On August - 17 - 2011

Minority Report - Lega Calcio Summer Special Part I

Back in May life was good at the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia in Bergamo. Atalanta had accomplished their mission of making an immediate return to the Italian top-flight by winning the Serie Bwin championship, coach Stefano Colantuono committed his  future to the club and the players were looking forward to a well earned summer vacation.

But just a few weeks into the summer recess,  the Nerazzurri were in crisis as legendary midfielder Cristiano Doni and defender Thomas Manfredini became embroiled in the betting scandal that has rocked Italian football culminating in  substantial  bans for both players and a six point deduction for the Bergamo club

Atalanta’s legal representatives immediately announced their intention to appeal the decision and put out a press release on their website explaining how “disappointed we are with the penalties handed out“  but the likelihood is that they now face the prospect of starting the new campaign cast adrift at the foot of the Serie A table before a ball has even been kicked.

Colantuono has continued to focus on the job of constructing a squad good enough to compete in the top-flight and with just under two weeks to go before the end of the transfer window, has strengthened his side by bringing in Argentinean striker Maximiliano Moralez from Velez Sarsfield and defender Andrea Masiello from Bari.  Former Sampdoria defender Stefano Lucchini has also arrived but perhaps the most eye catching transfer of the summer for the Nerazzurri has been the capture of young Italian striker Manolo Gabbiadini from Cittadella. The 19-year-old front man had a exceptional Toulon Tournament with Ciro Ferrara’s Under 21 squad in June and the youngster looks to have a bright future ahead of him.

Colantuono will also welcome back a familiar face to Bergamo ahead of the big kick-off as midfielder Ezequiel Schelotto returns from his loan spells at Cesena and Catania  as the Nerazzurri embark on their first serious contest of the season - a home TIM Cup tie against Gubbio on Sunday.

In Sardinia, its all change at the helm as former Cesena tactician Massimo Ficcadenti takes over the hot seat vacated by Roberto Donadoni last weekend. The timing of the dismissal of the former Azzurri coach was strange to say the least with  club president Massimo Cellino living up to the notion that all Italian football club presidents are bonkers, dismissing his coach after a pre-season friendly against Arzachena on Sunday evening.

Ficcadenti could not hide his delight at his official unveiling on Tuesday afternoon. Wearing a garish club polo shirt he promised fans that the team would “win by playing attractive football” stating that “we will aim to obtain more than just salvation“. Certainly, if he adopts the 4-3-3 formation that kept his Cesena team in the top-flight last season, fans of the Rossoblu could be in for a pleasant surprise.

Ficcadenti will certainly be looking to freshen the team up ahead of the big kick-off but will also be desperate to hang on to the teams crown jewels, Belgian midfielder Rajda Naingolan and Italian play-maker Andrea Cossu -  the new tactician has had experience coaching both players at Piacenza and Verona respectively. The islanders have a tough opening to the new campaign kicking off at home to Milan before a trip to the capital to face Roma. Fans will hope that Ficcadenti’s team can hit the ground running.

It was the success story of 2010-11, Novara completing their remarkable rise from Lega Pro to Serie A in successive seasons to return to the top-flight of Italian football after an absence of 55 years. Now coach Attilio Tesser will look to continue the fairy-tale by keeping his team in Serie A for longer than 12 months.

The club from Piedmont do have an ace up their sleeves however, the Stadio Silvio Piola’s artificial playing surface giving them a definite edge over the rest of the division and with a hostile reception for visiting teams guaranteed, Tesser’s side will look to maximise their home advantage.

But it would be harsh to concentrate solely on the playing surface being their only hope for survival. Tesser has worked diligently over the summer in the transfer market adding Japanese striker Morimoto to his squad along with Brazilian hit man Jeda, who arrives from Lecce. Argentinian defender Hernan Dellafiore also arrives from Cesena.  Midfielder Alex Pinardi will look to continue his wonderful form of last season and on match-day one the tifosi can show their appreciation of former striker Pablo Gonzalez, the player whose goals were a major factor in the clubs meteoric rise from Lega Pro to Serie A,  as he makes a swift return to the Silvio Piola with his new employers Palermo.

The third newly promoted side, Siena, will mark their Serie A return with an opening day home derby against Fiorentina as new coach Giuseppe Sannino embarks on his first season managing a top-flight club. When Antonio Conte swapped the black & white of Tuscany for the black & white of Turin, many eyebrows were raised with the appointment of the 54-year-old whose managerial experience has been limited to lower league Italian football.

What many people failed to realise was that Sannino almost took Varese into the top-flight last season, narrowly losing out in play-off semi-final against Padova whilst playing some scintillating football. The Robur have been one of the peninsula’s most active clubs in the summer already adding 14 new faces to the squad in an attempt to consolidate their position in Serie A - the most eye catching being midfielder Gaetano D’Agostino from Fiorentina and striker Matteo Destro from Genoa. Other notable arrivals are midfielder Daniele Mannini from Sampdoria and defender Matteo Contini, who returns to the peninsula from Real Zaragoza.

There is real optimism in this beautiful city ahead of the new campaign with the club already reporting season ticket sales in the region of 6000 ( not bad for a stadium with a capacity of only 15000) and for the coming season, they are offering discounts for young supporters as well as senior citizens in an attempt to create a family atmosphere inside the Artemio Franchi. When you compare this against their big city rivals in Florence, who have already reported a drop of 60% in their season ticket sales from last season, the balance of power in Tuscany might just be on the verge of taking a surprise twist.

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