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Racism, jubilant Juventus and misery in Milan

20 Dec 2013 12:21:30

Racism, jubilant Juventus and misery in Milan

Italy's Serie A may be lacking the allure of some of Europe's top leagues, but 2013 was not devoid of the drama 'calcio' has offered fans of the beautiful game for many years.

As Milan giants AC and Inter endured rollercoaster campaigns, Juventus triumphed in the league for the second successive season and Italy secured their 18th World Cup qualification, for the 2014 edition in Brazil.

Lazio won the Italian Cup prior to the summer but on the cusp of 2014 it is city rivals Roma who are back in the running for a first league title since 2001.

The year, however, could not have started in bleaker fashion for a league known to have a long and complicated history with the issue of racism.

Subjected to racist chants during a friendly match away to lower league side Pro Patria, then-Milan forward Kevin-Prince Boateng took a defiant stand by walking off the pitch and prompting his entire team to follow suit.

Boateng's move was unprecedented and reverberated around the world, highlighting the problems other black players faced on an all too regular basis.

The German-born Ghanaian went on to meet with FIFA president Sepp Blatter and highlighted the problem faced by players at the United Nations in Geneva.

"Racism doesn't go away. If we don't confront it, it will spread," Boateng told delegates.

"We cannot allow racism to spread right in front of our eyes. Football stadiums and many other places are full of young people. If we don't dry up the swamp, many of them who are still healthy today will catch one of the most dangerous viruses of our time."

Boateng was not the only black player to suffer such abuse in 2013. Fellow Ghanaian Kwadwo Asamoah and Juventus club-mate Paul Pogba were among several in Serie A to fall victim to the scourge.

While Boateng went on to be transferred to German Bunesliga side Schalke 04, Pogba and Asamoah went on to celebrate a second successive, and 28th overall, Serie A title at the end of the 2013 season.

Following a three-year absence, Juventus also returned to the group stages of the Champions League and qualified for the knockout phase before being humbled by eventual winners Bayern Munich.

There will be no repeat for the Bianconeri this season following Juventus's elimination at the hands of Group B rivals Galatasaray in snow-hit Istanbul.

Months before the Old Lady was sent packing from this season's competition, Conte offered a stark assessment of the financial challenges facing the once mighty Italian clubs compared to richer rivals.

"If you have the money, you can buy (players) and win. Otherwise, it takes a lot of patience," said Conte following Bayern's 4-0 aggregate win in last season's quarter-finals.

"The way things are right now, I don't see any Italian teams winning the Champions League for the next several years."

Inter remain Italy's last winners of the Champions League, achieving a memorable treble in 2010 under Jose Mourinho.

But the Nerazzurri, as well as city rivals Milan -- who have conquered Europe seven times -- finished ninth in Serie A and out of Europe before seeing their fortunes turn around, at least in theory.

Former Napoli handler Walter Mazzarri has taken over from sacked coach Andrea Stramaccioni and the club has recently been taken over by Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir.

Despite Inter sitting among Serie A's top five prior to Christmas, in keeping with the comparative crisis in Italy and its top football league, Thohir was quick to spell out his strategy for the future.

"We will buy players, but we're going to be careful with our spending," said Thohir, the first Asian to own a Serie A club.

"Our objective is financial restructuring, creating a club which is in sound financial health, as agreed with Moratti."

Despite former Italy president Silvio Berlusconi still owning Inter's city rivals Milan, the Rossoneri have flattered to deceive despite adding Brazilian forward Kaka to a squad list already boasting Italy striker Balotelli.

Following Juventus and Napoli's recent group-stage exit from the Champions League, Milan are, ironically, Italy's sole representative in the knockout phase of the competition while struggling to keep pace on the domestic front.

Ahead of their final match of the year, against Inter in the derby, Milan sit mid-table but 24 points adrift of leaders Juventus and with a 16-point deficit to Napoli who occupy the first Champions League qualifying spot.


AFP

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