Three finalists from Europe, but no champion. A fantastic season for Italian club football came to a painful finish as Roma, Fiorentina, and Internazionale all had chances to win their respective competitions but were unable to score the decisive goal. The tremendous emptiness of realizing that many athletes and coaches only have these opportunity once in their careers clashed with feelings of performance pride.
Does Serie A’s future look dismal as a result of their combined failure? Don’t act absurdly. Italy only advanced two clubs to the Champions League group stage three times in a row from 2014 to 2016 due to Napoli, Lazio, and Roma losing in the playoff round at a time when the fourth position had been lost due to a declining UEFA coefficient. Compare that to the three teams that made it to the quarterfinals this time.
Fabio Capello declared in a league advertisement this spring that “Calcio is back.” This year will be remembered in Italy as the year when the country’s top clubs asserted themselves once again on the international scene. Serie A may never regain the glory of the late 20th century, and all of Europe must acknowledge the overwhelming financial dominance of the Premier League.
Napoli set the tone even though they didn’t advance to the final because of their 4-1 thrashing of Liverpool in September, which served as a warning of what Luciano Spalletti was up to at Castel Volturno. They could have scored six goals before halftime, but they made up for it by beating Ajax in Amsterdam with that total.
They were eliminated from the Champions League thanks to Milan of Italy and Victor Osimhen’s unfortunate absence. Napoli had to settle for their first Serie A championship in 33 years.
— Official SSC Napoli (@en_sscnapoli) June 4, 2023
Few even gave them a chance to be a contender the previous summer. Following the summer departures of the team’s captain, Lorenzo Insigne, vice-captain, all-time leading scorer, Dries Mertens, and midfielder Fabián Ruiz, Napoli was in transition. The owner, Aurelio De Laurentiis, and several fans became the targets of demonstrations.
But by late February, Napoli had essentially locked up the Scudetto. Prior to the winter World Cup, they lost four points out of a possible 45, but they won the next eight games in a row after losing the first game back against Inter.
Napoli were mesmerizing and ruthless. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s rechristening as “Kvaradona” seemed ludicrous at first; it was an attempt to make a new signing feel welcome and prevent fans from mispronouncing his last name. But in amid the slaloming runs and backheel assists, fans began to think that Diego Maradona may actually return.
This wasn’t a one man show, though. Osimhen finished as Serie A’s leading scorer despite avoiding the disastrous injuries of the previous two seasons. Giacomo Raspadori and Giovanni Simeone filled in for him even though he did miss games. In the middle of the field, André-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Piotr Zielinski, and Stanislav Lobotka worked in perfect harmony. At center-back, Kim Min-jae made sure Koulibaly wasn’t overlooked.
Or did this mark the beginning of an era? Several of those players will be the subject of inquiries from Europe’s wealthiest clubs now that Spalletti has already left. Juventus is interested in hiring Cristiano Giuntoli, the sporting director who was instrumental in putting this team together. However, De Laurentiis has always been a cunning negotiator and has vowed that no matter what happens, the team will be “in good hands.”
They can anticipate tougher competition. In the spring, Napoli’s performance did ultimately deteriorate, but it was irrelevant because no one else could have possibly kept up. Inter lost 12 Serie A games despite outstanding performances in every cup tournament, including winning the Coppa Italia and Supercoppa and pushing Manchester City to the limit in the Champions League final. Without Juventus’s 10 points deduction, Milan, the reigning champions, would not have made the top four at all.
An exciting Serie A season was significantly marred by the disorganized sporting justice system. The Bianconeri and several other clubs were initially cleared of wrongdoing after an investigation into the abuse of plusvalenze ‘capital gains’ in April. However, a separate investigation by public prosecutors in Turin uncovered new information that caused the Football Federation to reopen the case against them and ultimately impose 15 points penalty in January.
After the prosecutor in charge of their case requested nine, that number seemed to appear out of nowhere. The decision was challenged before the Italian Olympic Committee, which postponed the decision and remanded the matter to the appeals court for the federation. That body didn’t decide on a new 10 points deduction until May 22.
Juventus Football Club takes note of what was decided by the FIGC Court of Appeal and reserves the right to read the reasons to evaluate a possible appeal to the Guarantee Board at CONI. What was established by the fifth instance of judgment in this matter, which began more than…
— JuventusFC 🇬🇧🇺🇸 (@juventusfcen) May 22, 2023
Regardless of the legal merits of the situation, Juventus and every other team that faced them in the standings found these back and forth decisions to be a nightmare. Two games from the end, José Mourinho referred to it as a “joke” that he didn’t know where his Roma team stood.
The Giallorossi ultimately came in sixth place and lost the Europa League final game on penalties. Their neighbors Lazio took the decision to put Serie A first rather than continental success, and they were rewarded as they advanced all the way to second. Since winning the league 23 years prior, it was their best performance.
Ciro Immobile scored only 12 goals, which was his lowest total since joining the team in 2016 and only his second time posting a finish under 20 goals. This makes the accomplishment all the more remarkable. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Felipe Anderson, and Mattia Zaccagni were some of the people Maurizio Sarri relied on. Having thus far declined to renew a contract that expires in 2024, the first of those might not be back.
In the upcoming months, there will be time for transfer discussions. This is the time to reflect on Fiorentina’s long season in which they played a club record 60 games en route to the Coppa Italia and Europa Conference League finals. Another high point in a campaign with so many was their bold, front footed style.
Monza made their Serie A debut during this campaign, taking out a number of illustrious foes along the road, notably victories at home and away against Juventus when Raffaele Palladino was elevated to first team manager in September. A season that saw Verona defeat Spezia in the first relegation playoff in the league in 18 years.
A lot of people lost their lives that year. Just a few weeks after Sinisa Mihajlovic went away in January, Gianluca Vialli also did. Despite having a more nuanced legacy, Silvio Berlusconi, who passed away on Monday, had an undeniable influence on football as the owner of Milan and, more recently, Monza.
Vialli gave his best piece of advice for having a happy life. “Laugh often, help others.” Let’s start the annual awards in that vein.
Goal of the season
- Cristiano Biraghi benefited from everyone else’s indifference, but scoring from your own half practically assures you a spot on this list. Teun Koopmeiners, in contrast, performed it from the technical area’s edge.
- The annual coast-to-coast donation from Theo Hernández. Lazio is this year’s victim.
- Paulo Dybala was the lone player on a Roma team that frequently made putting the ball in the net appear difficult.
- Sampdoria finished the Serie A season with 24 goals. This statement from Abdelhamid Sabiri was at least memorable.
- Sampdoria finished the Serie A season with 24 goals. This statement from Abdelhamid Sabiri was at least memorable.
- Only Lorenzo Colombo is aware of how he launches his shot with this much force from a standing start.
- When Kvaratskhelia took a pass from Osimhen, there was only one Atalanta player standing between him and the net. He was surrounded by seven opponents by the time he buried the ball past Juan Musso, but none of them could stop him.
- Against Roma in January, the roles were flipped; Kvaratskhelia delivered the cross, and Osimhen took two touches without ever letting the ball touch the ground before slamming a volley past Rui Patrcio.
Best goal scored by accident
In April, Antonio Candreva was forthright enough to explain that his goal against Inter was actually a poorly executed cross. What a mishit cross, though.
Best first touch
It was incredibly wonderful to watch Stephan El Shaarawy casually lift the ball over Verona goalkeeper Lorenzo Montip and score into an empty net.
Overhead kick section Awards is required
We appreciate Mattia Destro’s efforts in making up for the season’s little shortage of these items.
Biggest party pooper ever
As long as Inter could obtain a result against Lazio first, Napoli successfully requested that their home game against Salernitana be postponed with two days’ notice so that they would have the chance to win the title in front of their supporters. The Nerazzurri played their part by winning 3-1 to set the stage for Naples’ ultimate party.
Boulaye Dia of Salernitana, however, had other plans, and his equalizing goal at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona in the 84th minute forced Napoli to postpone the celebrations for a little while longer. His goal served as a powerful reminder to never take any opponent much less a local rival for granted. It came after nutmegging Osimhen and defeating Kvaratskhelia.
Player of the season
This year’s category is difficult. Strong arguments might be made for either Dybala or Rafael Leo, two players whose presence arguably made the largest difference to their clubs’ attacking potential, if we were to use the same terminology as Serie A and rename this the “Most Valuable Player” award.
🔙 15 August 2022: the day Italy discovered the man who would become @SerieA_EN Player of the Season!
— Official SSC Napoli (@en_sscnapoli) June 3, 2023
Personally, however, I find it difficult to ignore the two top players on a Napoli squad that finished 16 points ahead of the nearest rival. Kvaratskhelia received the official award, and I could definitely support that because he led Serie A in assists, chipped in 12 of his own goals, and regularly dazzled the crowd with his vision and dribbling. However, the Georgian’s performance did decline at the end of the campaign, as he made no goal contributions after April.
Had his adversaries begun to recognize him, or was this just exhaustion? That’s a query for the following season. Osimhen, however, upheld his high standards all the way to the end, taking first place with 26 goals. His incredible body control, athletic prowess, and jaw droppingly proficient finishing with both feet and head might not have yet garnered him the respect he rightfully deserves on a global scale.
Team of the season
Giovanni Di Lorenzo (Napoli), Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio), Stanislav Lobotka (Napoli), Federico Dimarco (Inter); Mattia Zaccagni (Lazio), Victor Osimhen (Napoli), Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (Napoli); Kim Min-jae (Napoli), Francesco Acerbi (Inter), Chris Smalling (Roma).
I haven’t always taken the same method, but this is an attempt to put together a team that might work; as a result, I was unable to find a position for Leo, who plays on the same wing as Kvara.
Manager of the season
There are many deserving contenders in this additional category. Sarri’s accomplishments at Lazio should not be understated, and Palladino has emerged as a player to keep an eye on thanks to his quick success at Monza. Vincenzo Italiano took over a Fiorentina team that had been fighting against relegation and led them to back to back top half finishes as well as two cup finals this season. This is likely the best two years span of any Serie A manager.
✨ Luciano Spalletti has been named @SerieA_EN Coach of the Year!
— Official SSC Napoli (@en_sscnapoli) June 2, 2023
But in the year when Spalletti finally won the Serie A championship that he so rightfully deserved, how can I ignore him? His use of Francesco Totti as a false nine in Roma’s 4-6-0 in the late 2000s inspired a rebirth for that position. Despite this, his only league victories came with Zenit St. Petersburg in Russia. He had already made a lasting impression on European football.
Spalletti discovered the secret to winning a Scudetto in the season he turned 64. It is even more remarkable that it was accomplished in Naples, where many people had the opinion that it was impossible to succeed without Maradona.
Game of the season
Again, there are a ton of options. After losing to Inter, Napoli’s 5-1 thrashing of Juventus in January was a brilliant display of re-asserting their dominance, though the 1-0 victory in the rematch, which exorcised the ghosts of a title lost five years before, nearly felt even more powerful. After Giacomo Raspadori’s injury time victory, Piotr Zielinski collapsed to the ground, lying spread eagled. This act served as a visual reminder of the process leading up to it.
The 3-3 tie between Juventus and Atalanta in January, which featured some terrible defending but also some fantastic goals, wins our award for pure helter skelter craziness.
The worst corner
Although this actually occurred during the preseason, I don’t care—I just want to remember this Dybala masterpiece.
The most dangerous surname
When Ademola Lookman mimed a pair of binoculars after scoring for Atalanta against Udinese, he genuinely believed he was just having fun. Daniele Doveri, the referee, persuaded himself that this constituted some sort of dissent and gave the player a booking as a result.
The most regrettable undress
After pulling off his shirt to celebrate an injury time victory for Juventus over Salernitana in September, Arkadiusz Milik was given a second yellow card. However, VAR eventually ruled that Milik’s goal was offside and disallowed the victory. Even worse, it was the wrong choice. Antonio Candreva, who was tricking everyone, was strangely missed by the camera perspective.
Ivan Juric, the manager of Torino, giving instructions on how to stop Kvaratskhelia “You just have to hope that it’s not his day and make the sign of the cross.”
Unlikeliest Tik Tok star
Federico Baschirotto is the Lecce defender and bodybuilder who gained fame on TikTok despite not having his own account and being the kind of modest person who would rather spend his free time helping his parents on the farm. His muscle flexing celebrations garnered millions of views and a cult following. There was no prospect of getting away without serving a little punishment when he agreed to appear at a school assembly in February.
Best football philosophy
Some onlookers are still having trouble understanding Sarri even after eight years of coaching some of Europe’s greatest teams, including Napoli, Chelsea, Juventus, and Lazio. One writer asked him to define “Sarrismo” (also known as ‘Sarriball’ in English), the Sarri philosophy, in October. The manager answered, “I wouldn’t know what to tell you, perhaps my wife could describe him as a cranky and a little bit of a dickhead.”
Sure, it was disappointing that none of the three Italian teams reached the European championship, but remember the Esposito brothers as well. Salvatore, the oldest, started for Spezia in their relegation playoff match against Verona; Sebastiano, the middle child, did the same for Bari in their Serie B promotion match against Cagliari, and Francesco, the youngest, came off the bench for Italy’s Under-20 team in their World Cup final match against Uruguay. This past Sunday had the potential to be a cause for celebration. Instead, all three of them were victorious.
Things that Go Around and Come Around Timberlake Award
A youthful Massimiliano Allegri scored the goal that launched Pescara to a storied 5-1 victory over Juventus in May 1993. The Bianconeri did not give up that many goals in a Serie A game again until this past January, when the team was taken to Napoli by the current manager, Allegri, and lost by the same tally.
Most creative appointment
Salernitana, who were sixteenth in the standings and still smarting after an 8-2 loss to Atalanta in January, decided that it was time to fire their failing manager, Davide Nicola. Two days later, they picked one of Serie A’s top relegation escape artists the one and only Davide Nicola to succeed him. Nicola had previously saved Genoa, Torino, and Salernitana from the drop in back to back seasons. It was successful, but only inadvertently because Paulo Sousa replaced him in February after he was fired once more.
Sarri said, “As Fantozzi, a famous Italian movie character from the 1970s, cursed with unending bad luck would say, this is crazy bullshit,” in response to a reporter’s suggestion that Lazio might benefit from going into “ritiro” the traditional training retreat frequently used by Italian managers when things aren’t going so well as their form faltered in April. Perugia would have participated in the Champions League for 15 consecutive years if the ritiro had been effective.