Serie A begins with a bang: Ronaldinho versus Mourinho

Euro Zone
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Ronaldinho against his old Barcelona team-mate Samuel Eto'o, a well organised Juventus against an Internazionale side going for their fifth successive Scudetto... and Jose Mourinho against the world – Italian football returns this weekend with the departures of Kaka and Zlatan Ibrahimovic having detracted something from the football but nothing from the soap opera.

Just where Milan will be in the table when David Beckham makes his expected return in January could depend largely on Ronaldinho. When he was dragged off a dancefloor in the early hours recently by angry Milan fans intent on sending him home to bed it was a sign of the inherent chaos at a club in decline.

A large part of the €65m (£56m) the club banked for Kaka has gone towards paying off debt. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, signed for €15m (£13m) from Real Madrid, will score goals from in and around the six-yard box but who will carve open stubborn defences and turn games on their head with a moment of magic?

Club owner Silvio Berlusconi says Ronaldinho is still the man. Milan coach Leonardo admitted ahead of tonight's opener away to Siena that he has his doubts, calling for a change of attitude. It could be a bumpy ride if Milan lose their opener and are then beaten in next week's derby with Inter, where Ronaldinho will be reacquainted with Eto'o.

The Cameroon forward's strike rate of 104 league goals in 136 games for Barça made the switch that saw him and around €40m (£35m) arrive at San Siro with Ibrahimovic going the other way look like the steal of the century.

Inter have also added midfield craft with Thiago Motta and goals in the shape of Diego Milito both signed from Genoa. They start their campaign tomorrow against Bari and begin the season as favourites, although at least one respected commentator believes Juventus will finish as champions.

Marcello Lippi, the Italy manager, backed Juve to end Inter's run of four leagues and his comments left Mourinho fuming that the national coach should remain neutral.

Juve, who kick off their season tomorrow against Chievo, have acquired Felipe Melo from Fiorentina to play at the base of their midfield diamond and fellow Brazilian Diego, signed from Werder Bremen, to play at the top of it.

They have taken Martin Caceres on-loan from Barcelona and welcomed back Fabio Cannavaro from Real Madrid in defence. They were third two years ago and second last year. Lippi believes they are well equipped to go one better. Mourinho will surely remind him next May if he turns out to be wrong.

Player of the week: Samuel Eto'o

*It shouldn't be too difficult to motivate Samuel Eto'o this season. The Cameroon striker who makes his Serie A debut for Internazionale tomorrow against Bari left Barcelona in the summer after the Spanish champions decided his record of 121 goals in 177 games was not reason enough to give him a new contract.

Two of those goals were scored in European Cup final victories and Eto'o will have the last laugh on Barcelona and Real Madrid, who rejected him earlier in his career, if he can make it to this season's Champions League final to be played in Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu next May.

If the knees hold out for another season and the African Nations Cup doesn't take too much out of him, Eto'o could form a deadly partnership with the prolific Diego Milito and wreak revenge on his old employers.

Everyone's talking about...

*Would Fabio Capello start the season by tipping Liverpool to win the league? Probably not. Would Sir Alex Ferguson be upset if he did? Probably yes. When the Italy manager, Marcello Lippi, was asked who he thought would win the title he tipped Juventus, coached by his national assistant, Ciro Ferrara.

A verbal savaging followed and a war of words between Lippi and the Internazionale manager, Jose Mourinho, will doubtless resurface.

It's a battle Mourinho will struggle to win because his adversary is one of the most popular men in Italian football. With Leonardo, 39, the new coach at Milan and Juventus gambling on Ferrara, 42, Mourinho, at 46, is no longer the bright young thing out to upset the status quo.

But that will not stop Mourinho deflecting pressure from his players by dominating many of the headlines.