About 2 years ago I wrote a piece for the Italian department magazine about how Serie A was a dead league: players like Gervinho were going from Premier League rejects to outstanding stars in the Italian top division; Juventus were the only team that had anything to do with European competition beyond December, and even they were out by January; fans were leaving en-masse.
As we head into November things are looking up in Italy. Ownership issues seem to be being resolved, fans are returning and, most importantly, world class footballers are choosing to head to Serie A to ply their trade. The likes of Geoffrey Kondogbia, Carlos Bacca and Mario Mandzukic have all transferred from Spain or France to Italy over the summer and have gone from a very narrow field of potential title contenders to a very broad one. Before the season it was assumed that Juventus would run away with it again but things have been less than smooth in Turin and The Old Lady finds herself in 12th. The new arrivals have brought spark to their teams, have improved the general quality of player in the league and made it competitive again.
There is the genuine possibility of a different winner of the Serie A title this year as Roma currently lead the way from Napoli and Fiorentina. The top 8 includes the big names of Italian football that we have come to recognise: the above 3 plus AC Milan, Inter Milan and Lazio have stormed to the top and are going to fight it out not just for the title but also for the Champions League places too, something which Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri will be all too aware of as his side lose ground on the leading heavy-weights. 2 points separate the top 4 and Lazio are only one win behind those 4. Whilst there is much of the season to go of course, the initial signs are that the one horse league has gone and that the return of the Milan giants after 5 years since either made a major impact on a European scale is really starting to take off.
A lot of that has to do with the players that have been brought in. AC Milan have brought in three world class strikers with recent issues to overcome: Mario Balotelli, Carlos Bacca and Luiz Adriano have proven over time that they have the talent to lead their side back to the top of the league but need patience and chances. They haven't really been able to function together yet, hence the lower position of the Rossinieri. Lazio have a lower budget than the clubs they are competing with and so haven't brought in many new names, but they always seem to be there or there abouts at the end of the season and will want another shot at Champions League football next season after falling at the qualifying stages this year.
The real splash has been made in the blue half of Milan as the Nerazzuri have signed some players with league winning credentials and European experience and the results are stunning. Roberto Mancini has assembled a formidable squad and has got them to gel in a reasonably short time frame: Kondogbia has been joined by Stevan Jovetic, Joao Miranda, Adem Llajic, Ivan Perisic and Martin Montoya. There are Premier League winners, La Liga winners, Bunesliga and Serie A runners up and plenty of Champions League experience amongst those players and whilst some are only on loan there must be the intention of bringing them in permanently.
Whilst the challenging teams have strengthened their squads and management teams Juventus have hardly been quiet. Mandzukic replaced Carlos Tevez, Sami Khedira replaced Andrea Pirlo, Juan Cuadrado, Hernanes and Roberto Pereyra have been added to their attacking roster and Pablo Dybala joins Alvaro Morata in attack and the squad overall looks much stronger. There are stories in Italy that Allegri's rotation policy is hurting Juve's chances of pushing up the table but with so much talent available you can understand his issue. They will need to start picking up points soon though if they want to retain their title.
Lastly, Roma seem to have recovered from their dreadful mid-season collapse last season and currently lead the chasing pack by two points after only a single defeat in their opening 10 games. Their headline signing, Edin Dzeko, hasn't really fired yet with just the single goal from his first 8 games in the Italian capital. Antonio Rüdiger, a centre back who I highly rate, arrived from Bundesliga side VfB Stuttgart and Mohammed Salah is back in Serie A after an unsuccesful spell at Chelsea. The success of the side has been maintaining their side from last year and adding more talent around the effervescent club legends Francesco Totti and Danielle di Rossi.
Serie A looks like it could be back to the league that British fans fell in love with before the turn of the century (ironically enough, James Richardson is still presenting it!) with a competitive league, top quality players and exciting matches. The days of match fixing seem to be in the past, hopefully, and bankruptcies these days seem to be limited to Parma and their depressing collapse into a fourth division team. Outside the title race, Palermo are just as bonkers as ever and there are always minnows to cheer for: Sassuolo sit in 5th at the time of writing and are the underdog of choice for Serie A followers this season by the look of it!
I advise anyone that thinks that Serie A is a write off and waste of time to reconsider and watch some of the games; it is a league back on the march and heading back towards challenging in Europe again. There's more to Serie A than vines of Pogba's latest wonder strike and it is time to appreciate the rediscovered quality of one of Europe's top leagues.