Inter dominance continues
Inter Milan continue to rule Serie A after picking up their fourth consecutive title at a canter, finishing the campaign ten points clear of closest rivals Juventus and AC Milan. FIFA.com takes a closer look at the season gone by in the Italian top flight.
Roberto Mancini's replacement by Jose Mourinho at the Inter helm in summer 2008 was not marked by a loosening of the Nerazzurri's grip on Serie A, with the new coach presiding over the club's 17th league title. The Milanese giants ended the campaign ten points clear, had the trophy secured with two matchdays still to play, with 70 goals scored boasted the division's joint-best attack alongside rivals AC, had the division's best defensive record (32 goals conceded), were unbeaten at home and lost just four games overall. What is more, the 4-3 win over Atalanta on the final day included a brace from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, taking the Swedish star to the top of the scorers' charts with 25 league goals.
Those who had hoped for the self-confident Mourinho to slip up were therefore disappointed, given the Portuguese strategist's swift discovery of a winning formula on Italian soil. "I was completely in love with Chelsea and I never thought I'd be able to get the same feeling for a club in just one year, but Inter work well and quickly," said the Special One, who intends to build on the solid and effective unit from his first season in charge. "(I'm aiming to create) a team that is better adapted to my mentality and way of working, that's to say a squad of 16 or 17 top-class players and seven or eight high-quality youngsters."
Trailing in Inter's wake were two fellow Serie A superpowers in the shape of Juventus and AC Milan. Juve, for their part, owe a debt of gratitude to two golden oldies: 34-year-old Alessandro del Piero and 36-year-old Pavel Nedved. A tally of 13 league goals and six UEFA Champions League strikes is proof that the finishing, vision and set-piece artistry of Del Piero remain intact while Nedved has retired after eight exemplary campaigns in Turin. Leading the Vecchia Signora in the latter stages of the campaign was another Juve legend, 42-year-old Ciro Ferrara, who was appointed to replace Claudio Ranieri on 18 May 2009. The former defender, who hung up his boots in 2005, successfully guided Juve home in second and to an automatic Champions League berth, and has been rewarded with a contract extension.
Milan, absent from the elite European competition this season, had for long stretches of the campaign looked in danger of missing out again. However, the Lombardy outfit's run of seven wins in a row between matchdays 27 and 34, inspired largely by Brazilian duo Kaka and Alexandre Pato and the ever-reliable Pippo Inzaghi, kept them in the upper reaches of the table. The Rossoneri's form then dropped once more and meant their final match at Fiorentina became a virtual play-off for the final automatic Champions League spot.
Again Kaka and Pato came to the rescue, firing second-half goals to sink the Viola 2-0 and consign them to the preliminary round. Despite this result, Carlo Ancelotti has left the club by mutual agreement after eight seasons at the helm and will be replaced by relative novice Leonardo. By handing the reins to a 39-year-old with no top-flight coaching experience, the Milan directors may be hoping to copy the effect Barcelona supremo Josep Guardiola had in his first season...
Just missing out on a Champions League berth were Genoa, who finished fifth following a tremendous season by 24-goal Argentinian front-man Diego Milito. Joining the Genoese in the UEFA Europa League are sixth-placed AS Roma, who paid dearly for the frequent injury absences of Francesco Totti, and Italian Cup winners Lazio.
Down at the bottom of the table, Torino, Reggina and Lecce all drop into Serie B and will be replaced by Bari, Parma and one of play-off hopefuls Livorno, Brescia, Empoli and Grosseto.
The final day of the season was also the last waltz of some of European football's brightest stars from the last two decades. With his father Cesare looking on, 40-year-old defender Paolo Maldini finally stepped away from football after 25 seasons in the AC Milan which featured 26 trophies including five European Cups/Champions Leagues. When asked who has had most impact on his career, Maldini immediately named his predecessor as Rossoneri captain, Franco Baresi.
"(He was) an example that I tried to follow," said Maldini of the former Milan libero, whose No6 shirt was retired by the club in his honour. "And it's not only because we played in a similar position but also for the way he carried out his role as captain, particularly in a dressing room that held so many players with strong characters."
And for Portuguese football icon Luis Figo, now 36, Inter's match against Atalanta was the last act of a professional career that included 127 caps and 32 goals for his country between 1991 and 2006, four Spanish La Liga titles, four Serie A crowns, the 2002 Champions League and Toyota Intercontinental Cup, and the 2001 FIFA World Player award.