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Soccer-Coaching carousel makes for unpredictable Serie A season

ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s Euro 2020 triumph is still fresh in the memory, but the mood ahead of the new Serie A season is mixed after a summer characterised by high-profile departures rather than big-name signings.

The list of players to have left the league includes 2020-21 Player of the Season Romelu Lukaku, Defender of the Year Cristian Romero, Euro 2020 Player of the Tournament Gianluigi Donnarumma and flying wing back Achraf Hakimi.

However, widespread changes to the coaching line-up offer plenty of reasons for excitement ahead of a campaign that is hard to call.

USUAL SUSPECTS

Simone Inzaghi has been tasked with leading Inter Milan’s title defence after a tumultuous close season for the club which included Antonio Conte walking out amid frustrations at cost-cutting plans.

The 45-year-old former Lazio coach is seen as a natural successor to Conte, but his task has been made harder by the sales of Lukaku and Hakimi, who contributed a combined 31 goals and 20 assists last season.

The loss of three key pieces of Inter’s title-winning side has left many tipping Juventus to reclaim the title, now that six-time Serie A winner Massimiliano Allegri is back at the helm.

“Juve are always favourites, this year even more so,” former Juventus manager Marcello Lippi said. “They did not win last season, so they are hungry and determined to get their own back.”

Juve have regressed since Allegri’s 2019 departure, though, and only squeezed into the Champions League places on the final day of last season under rookie coach Andrea Pirlo.

How well Inzaghi controls a difficult situation at his new club, and the ease with which Allegri settles back in at Juventus, could well decide the title.

CAPITAL CLASH

The only top-seven sides to keep their coaches in place, AC Milan with Stefano Pioli and Atalanta with Gian Piero Gasperini, may well benefit from stability after finishing second and third respectively last season.

“If Milan can take a step forward with the internalisation of their game plan, no objective is out of reach,” said former Rossoneri coach Arrigo Sacchi.

Twelve of the 20 Serie A clubs changed coach ahead of the new campaign, but arguably the most intriguing appointments were in the capital.

Jose Mourinho joined AS Roma, marking his return to Italy 11 years after leading Inter to an unprecedented treble, and the Portuguese is determined to succeed in a country where he is still held in high regard.

Across the city, Lazio appointed Maurizio Sarri and the clash in styles – and personalities – of the two Roman coaches promises to provide high drama on Rome Derby day.

Another familiar face, Luciano Spalletti, is back with Napoli, while the man he succeeded, Gennaro Gattuso, lasted 22 days in charge of Fiorentina before leaving and being replaced by highly-rated former Spezia boss Vincenzo Italiano.

NEW FACES

Two of Italy’s most beautiful locations, Venice and the Amalfi Coast, will host Serie A football again this season after a long break.

Venezia are set for their first top-flight campaign in 20 years, while Salernitana, based in Salerno, are back in the big time for the first time since 1998-99. Yo-yo club Empoli are the third new team in the division.

While the profile of players leaving the league has trumped those coming in, some intriguing deals have been struck.

Inter signed Dutch Euro 2020 star Denzel Dumfries and veteran striker Edin Dzeko to replace Hakimi and Lukaku, while former Milan playmaker Hakan Calhanoglu adds quality to the midfield.

Roma added Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio and Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham, while Mike Maignan is tasked with replacing Donnarumma at Milan and Olivier Giroud was brought in, also from Chelsea, to bolster Pioli’s attack.

With another two weeks to go until the window closes, the number of notable new additions is likely to rise further ahead of what promises to be a fascinating campaign.

PARIS (Reuters) -Lionel Messi said on Wednesday he wanted to power Paris St Germain to their first Champions League trophy, putting the tearful farewell he bade to Barcelona behind him after signing a two-year contract with the deep-pocketed French soccer powerhouse.

Messi joined the star-studded PSG as a free agent after Barcelona, where he begun and always imagined he would play out his career, acknowledged last week they could no longer afford him.

Thousands of PSG fans thronged the side’s Parc des Princes stadium, daring to believe their team would now deliver the Champions League having hoovered up domestic titles since free-spending owners Qatar Sports Investment European arrived in 2011 but always fallen short of European soccer’s top prize.

Messi said he was hungry to add more Champions League titles to the four he won with Barcelona.

“That’s why I am here (to win trophies). It’s an ambitious club,” Messi told a news conference.

After years of failing to get beyond the quarter-finals, PSG finally reached the final in 2020, but lost to Bayern Munich, while last season they went out in the semi-finals.

“My dream is to win another Champions League, and I think this is the ideal place to be to do that,” added Messi, who in a nod to his first squad number in senior football at Barcelona will wear the No. 30 jersey at PSG.

The Argentine conceded he did not know when he would make his debut, having not played since winning the Copa America with his country last month.

“I’m coming back from holiday. I need a bit of a pre-season to get myself going,” he said.

FAIR PLAY RULES

Messi will join former Barca team mate Neymar in Paris.

The Brazilian left Catalonia for the French capital in a world record 222 million euro ($259.94 million) deal in 2017, but never hid his desire to link up with his close friend once again on the pitch.

They will now line up with French Word Cup-winner Kylian Mbappe in a potent front-three attack.

“To play with the likes of Neymar and Mbappe is insane,” Messi continued.

France’s top soccer league has always been perceived as the poorer cousin to top flight leagues in neighbouring England, Germany, Spain and Italy.

PSG’s Qatari money is enabling PSG to compete at their level, though much of the rest of the league is way adrift in terms of resources. In unusual comments praising a club’s transfer dealings, Ligue 1 President Vincent Labrune celebrated Messi’s signing as a big win for French soccer.

“The arrival of Messi will bolster the attractiveness and visibility of our championship across continents,” Labrune said in a statement. He thanked the club’s owners for creating what he called one of sport’s biggest franchises globally.

However, some commentators have asked how PSG could afford to sign Messi within the Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations of European soccer’s governing body, UEFA.

UEFA’s FFP rules are designed to prevent clubs spending more than they earn. Spain’s La Liga’s own FFP rules are more stringent than UEFA’s, with each club given a salary cap they must adhere to.

“We’re always attentive to Financial Fair Play. It’s the first thing we check with the commercial, financial and legal people before signing someone,” PSG chairman and CEO Nasser Al-Khelaifi told the same news conference.

“MAGICIAN”

Messi held up his new shirt to thousands of fans outside the stadium, waving shyly as they beat drums, released smoke flares and chanted his name.

Local fan Nelson Dross, 17, told Reuters: “Why do I love him? Because he makes us dream. He’s a magician, a genius.”

Messi wept on Sunday as he told Barcelona fans he was leaving his childhood club.

“I’ll always be thankful to Barca and their fans. I went there as a boy, and we had some good and bad times,” he said on Wednesday.

Asked how he would feel if the time came to square up against his old club, he replied: “It would be nice on the one hand to face them in the Champions League, especially with fans, but on the other strange to go back to my home in another team’s shirt – but that’s football.”

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