After a summer of scandal and austerity, the action in Italy kicks off this weekend. Juventus are clear favourites but could Zdenek Zeman's Roma challenge for the scudetto?
Match-fixing scandals, Zlatan Ibrahimovic leaving the country and a man on a hunger strike chaining himself to the gates of the national football federation's headquarters. Only in Italy could all of the above stories unfold over a single summer, yet still leave observers with a distinct feeling of deja vu.
It is, after all, just a year since Giuseppe Signori and Cristiano Doni were suspended for their involvement in match-fixing, identified under the same ongoing investigations which have now led to the Juventus manager Antonio Conte being handed a 10-month touchline ban.
Likewise, when the suspended Verona defender Emanuele Pesoli attached himself to the metal railings outside the FIGC's offices in Rome this summer, he was only copying an example set 12 months previously by the veteran manager Renzo Ulivieri.
You would have to go back two more years for Ibrahimovic's last grand departure from Serie A, though he did serve up a colourful refresher course in November with the release of his autobiography .
Just as in the summer of 2009, he is probably not the greatest talent to leave the division in this transfer window. Although Ibra led the league with 28 goals last season, the perception is that losing Thiago Silva will hurt Milan even more. Just because there is precedent, of course, does not mean that these events should be downplayed.
Outside perceptions of Italian football have unquestionably been damaged by the scandals of recent years, dating back to Calciopoli and beyond. While certainly not the sole factor – or even perhaps the leading one – they have also played some role in falling attendance figures across the peninsula as fans lose faith in both the credibility of the spectacle and the even-handedness of the authorities who govern it.
Likewise, Milan's decision to sell Ibrahimovic and Silva to Paris St-Germain – after at one point having appeared to walk away from the deal – reflected a belated acceptance of a painful economic reality. Despite boasting the largest revenue of any Italian club through the 2010-11 season, the Rossoneri had racked up losses of almost €70m (£55m) in each of the last two years. To have any hope of meeting Uefa's Financial Fair Play requirements, measures had to be taken.
"We will save €150m over the next two years," noted the club's owner, Silvio Berlusconi, but at what cost to the club's prestige – and indeed that of the league, given that the Rossoneri will be one of just three Italian Champions League representatives? The group of supporters who hosted a "funeral" for the club outside its offices in Via Turati were not merely protesting against the departures of Silva and Ibra, but the failure to adequately replenish a squad which had already lost Clarence Seedorf, Alessandro Nesta, Mark van Bommel, Pippo Inzaghi, Gennaro Gattuso and Gianluca Zambrotta this summer.
Even in signing Giampaolo Pazzini from Internazionale this week, Milan agreed to give up Antonio Cassano – a player who was their leading provider of assists last season despite playing just 16 games. In return they get a poacher who scored five times in the entire league campaign. Much will rest on Pazzini's ability to recapture the understanding he once enjoyed with Riccardo Montolivo during their time together at Fiorentina and in the Atalanta youth set-up.
Milan's rivals might not be going through quite such a period of austerity, but it has been a low-key summer elsewhere, too. Inter – apparently unfazed by their own substantial year-on-year losses – have made astute additions, picking up the goalkeeper Samir Handanovic from Udinese, defender Matias Silvestre from Palermo, midfielders Walter Gargano from Napoli and Gaby Mudingayi from Bologna, plus the forward Rodrigo Palacio from Genoa, yet could not compete with PSG when it came to their interest in Napoli's Ezequiel Lavezzi .
Nor did the Argentinian's former employers spend big to replace him – the Partenopei instead converting Goran Pandev and Eduardo Vargas's loan deals into permanent ones, while also bringing their own promising young forward, Lorenzo Insigne, back into the fold after a couple of productive years spent being farmed out to lower-league clubs.
Roma, meanwhile, were able to land the highly touted Mattia Destro from Siena, but only after selling Fabio Borini to Liverpool.
The Giallorossi's greatest asset might not be any new player but instead their manager, Zdenek Zeman, returning to the club 13 years after being sacked amid rumours that he had become a "political" inconvenience.
A year before his firing, he had raised speculation of doping at Juventus with his pointed comments to the magazine Espresso about the "muscular explosion" of that team's players. In the inquiry that followed, the Juventus club doctor Riccardo Agricola was initially found guilty of administering banned substances and given a suspended 22-month prison sentence, but was then cleared on appeal.
Zeman is no less outspoken these days – already he has waded into the debate over Juventus's Serie A titles, suggesting that they should consider themselves lucky to still have 28 – and also no less committed to high-tempo attacking football.
En route to promotion from Serie B last season, his Pescara team scored 90 goals – 27 more than any other team in the division. He has made no secret of his belief that this Roma team can challenge for the Scudetto.
Juventus, though, start as clear favourites. Their shirts for the 2012-13 campaign might carry Jeep as the sponsor, but after signing Mauricio Isla, Kwadwo Asamoah and Paul Pogba this summer, as well as securing the return of Sebastian Giovinco from Parma, the Bianconeri are beginning to look more like a steamroller.
Where their rivals have tightened the purse strings, Juventus – boosted by the revenue from their new stadium – are still expected to add at least one more quality centre-forward, and have been linked strongly with Fernando Llorente.
The one question mark, clearly, is how they will cope without Conte. The manager, initially found guilty of two counts of failing to report at attempted fix, was cleared of one of those charges this week, yet still had his 10-month ban upheld. He will continue his appeal to the higher courts, but is presently set to miss at least the start of the new season.
During his ban, the manager will still be permitted to continue training his team through the week, but during games will be unable to communicate with his players or the bench, his place on the touchline instead being filled by an assistant, Massimo Carrera. Even if the former Juventus and Italy manager Marcello Lippi is right that 90% of a manager's job is done during the week, the remaining 10% could prove critical in close matches.
Italy's third Champions League representative, Udinese, will be relying on their manager Francesco Guidolin, as well as the 34-year-old Antonio Di Natale, to perform miracles once more following the departures of Handanovic, Isla and Asamoah. Even having lost such players, the Friuliani still appear in better shape than Lazio, whose new manager Vladimir Petkovic has already felt the atmosphere in the stands tip towards mutinous following a series of poor pre-season performances.
As usual, there has been plenty of turnover among clubs' managers and along with Petkovic and Zeman, others taking up new posts include Vincenzo Montella at Fiorentina, Rolando Maran at Catania, Serse Cosmi at Siena and Giuseppe Sannino at Palermo. Of the newly promoted clubs, only Torino have retained the manager who led them into the top flight – Giampaolo Ventura. Ciro Ferrara replaces Beppe Iachini at Sampdoria, while Giovanni Stroppa attempts to fill Zeman's shoes at Pescara.
The season is likely to be an uphill struggle for each of the promoted sides, but none more so than Pescara, who have lost not only Zeman but also a number of key players including Insigne and Ciro Immobile – who scored a combined 46 goals on loan last year but have now returned to Napoli and Genoa respectively. Standing in their favour is the fact that each of Samp, Torino, Siena and Atalanta will start the season with points deductions as a result of the match-fixing investigations.
Then again, as Atalanta proved last season by nearly finishing in the top half of the table despite a six-point penalty, as Juventus showed in going unbeaten in their first season under Conte, and as Udinese seem to keep on demonstrating every year under Guidolin, these things do not always go as they are supposed to. Even for Milan and Inter, the introduction this year of a partially synthetic pitch at San Siro creates an additional layer of unpredictability.
Experience tells us that there will be scandal, tantrums and long, simmering controversies that bring out the very worst in their protagonists. Already this month we have seen the pre-season Super Cup – played in Beijing in a bid to boost the league's international appeal – descend into farce as the Napoli owner Aurelio De Laurentiis instructed his team not to attend the medal ceremony in protest at decisions against them during a 4-2 extra-time defeat.
But perhaps Euro 2012 has also reminded the world of the quality Italian football continues to produce. With young players such as Destro, Insigne, Immobile, Pogba and Luis Muriel getting their chance, there will plenty of entertainment to go around in Serie A. With any luck, some of it will unfold on the pitch, rather than off it.