Coach objects to preseason prediction

Want a prediction? Here's one: Juventus will win the Serie A title in Italy this season.

Who says? Well, I do, but so does Marcello Lippi, Italy's World Cup-winning coach of 2006 and the man who has hopes of taking the Azzurri all the way again in 2010.

Lippi, needless to say, has better credibility, but that did not stop Jose Mourinho, the coach of four-time defending champion Inter Milan from lashing out at him.

"Even if in his mind he wants this, I think just saying it is a lack of respect," Mourinho said on Inter's in-house television channel.

Later, he let fly again.

"Would Fabio Capello in England have responded with the name of a team to the same question?" he asked on Inter's website. "Or Vicente del Bosque in Spain?

"No, I think they are too intelligent to do it.

"I don't want to lose any more time responding because I am working every day for the team. I don't pass my time waiting for a game every now and then."

In other words, in Mourinho's opinion, Lippi is a) disrespectful; b) not too smart and c) virtually unemployed.

Ah, yes, it is easy to tell the Serie A season is upon us. Tempers are rising. Slights are seen or imagined. Insults are being hurled.

The whole drama that is AC Milan versus Inter Milan versus Juventus versus the world, and featuring a truly colorful cast of minor characters, is up and running once again.

Mourinho will be heard from all season. So will new coaches Leonardo at AC Milan and Ciro Ferrara at Juventus.

Lippi, peering down from his national team throne in the clouds, can dismiss it all with the wave of a hand.

"It was simply a prediction," he told Gazzetta dello Sport, "one of a thousand hypotheses that are made before the start of the championship."

In other words, go away, little man.


Six decisive games

Aug. 29 -- Inter Milan at AC Milan.

Dec. 6 -- Inter Milan at Juventus.

Jan. 10 -- AC Milan at Juventus.

Jan. 24 -- AC Milan at Inter Milan.

April 18 -- Juventus at Inter Milan.

May 16 -- Juventus at AC Milan.


It's there in black and white

Why Juventus?

Because the Bianconeri has significantly strengthened the team that finished second last season. Ferrara has added top-flight players by bringing in Brazilian midfielders Diego from Werder Bremen for $35 million and Felipe Melo from Fiorentina for $29 million, along with 2006 World Cup-winning defender Fabio Cannavaro from Real Madrid.

Meanwhile, Inter has lost its most prolific striker by trading Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Barcelona and getting Samuel Eto'o in return.

Some might see this as almost a wash, but Eto'o is coming to a team that might well have grown complacent, one that lacks the hunger and motivation necessary to keep on winning.

The acquisition of Brazilian international defender Lucio from Bayern Munich is a good one, but Brazil's captain is likely to be more focused on winning the World Cup in South Africa than the Scudetto in Italy. The addition of Argentine striker Diego Milito and Brazilian midfielder Thiago Motta will have done more to weaken their former team, Genoa, than to strengthen the Nerazzurri.

Certainly, Mourinho's squad will be in the race to the finish, but it is difficult to see Portugal's favorite son taking the team first across the line.

As for AC Milan, the recent burbling of team owner Silvio Berlusconi does not suggest good things are in store for the Rossoneri.

"The market is closed," Berlusconi said last week in rejecting any new signings. "Milan must find the desire to win in the great players we have."

Berlusconi has also called for a salary cap in Serie A and across Europe, claiming that players' wages are "outside reality" and "unacceptable."

The idea has been brushed aside by UEFA, European soccer's governing body, which said a cap "is practically impossible from a legal point of view."

Milan, third last season, has been hurt by the relocation of Coach Carlo Ancelotti to Chelsea, the retirement of iconic defender Paolo Maldini and the sale of playmaker Kaka to Real Madrid for $95 million. The current AC Milan team is strong, but clearly not on a par with the European Champions League-winning sides of 2003 and 2007.

The acquisition of Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar from Real Madrid for $21 million will not offset what has been lost. Nor is it certain that American defender Oguchi Onyewu is the short-term answer to a sometimes porous defense.

There is always David Beckham to ride to the rescue, of course. The Galaxy player fully expects to be rejoining AC Milan come January, and with Beckham, Andrea Pirlo, Massimo Ambrossini, Gennaro Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf alternating in the midfield, at least AC Milan will be entertaining to watch.

But entertainment does not equate to success, and by January, Berlusconi, like it or not, might have to dip into his pocketbook and spend some more of that money he received by selling Kaka.




The top 10 at a glance

AC Milan -- Opened the Serie A season on Saturday on the road against Siena, where two goals by Brazilian forward Alexandre Pato earned it a 2-1 victory in new Coach Leonardo's first game in charge. Both goals were set up by some inventive play by fellow Brazilian Ronaldinho.

Arsenal -- Shut out Celtic of Scotland, 2-0, in Glasgow in the first leg of a European Champions League qualifying series. Manager Arsene Wenger said Mexican international Carlos Vela "was injected and came back injured" from the Aug. 12 World Cup qualifier against the U.S. and will be sidelined for a month.

Barcelona -- Signed 22-year-old winger Pedro to a five-year contract that includes a staggering $106-million buyout clause. Defeated Athletic Bilbao, 2-1, on the road in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup, with the second leg at Nou Camp today. Reported revenues of $543 million for the year ending in June 2009.

Bayern Munich -- Was outplayed and upset, 2-1, at newly promoted FSV Mainz on Saturday after Munich's first two games of the Bundesliga season ended in ties. New Coach Louis Van Gaal is off to a poor start. The last time Bayern failed to win any of its first three matches was in 1966.

Chelsea -- Acquired Serbian midfielder Nemanja Matic, 21, and signed him to a four-year contract only 10 days after Coach Carlo Ancelotti had said the club would not sign anyone else. Sent Peruvian striker Claudio Pizarro to join Werder Bremen permanently after a loan spell with the Bundesliga team.

Inter Milan -- Opens the Serie A season at home today against Bari, which this week announced that it had been purchased by American businessman Timothy Barton. Inter has not lost a season opener since 2000, when Reggina won and Inter immediately fired then-coach Marcello Lippi.

Juventus -- Opens at home today against Chievo Verona. If Juventus wins, it will be the club's 50th opening-day victory, improving its mark to 50-5-23. It will also break the streak that has seen the club fail to win its opener in years ending in 9 since 1969. Juventus was tied in 1979, 1989 and 1999.

Liverpool -- Bounced back from a 2-1 season-opening loss at Tottenham Hotspur by thrashing Stoke City, 4-0, at Anfield. Acquired Greek international defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos, 30, from AEK Athens. Saw defenders Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger sidelined because of a cracked jaw and back surgery, respectively.

Manchester United -- Lost to newly promoted Burnley for the first time in 41 years but rebounded Saturday by trouncing Wigan, 5-0. Wayne Rooney scored his 100th goal for United and Michael Owen got his first. England international defender Rio Ferdinand will be out for another month with a thigh strain.

Real Madrid -- Sent veteran Spanish international defender Miguel Salgado, 33, to Blackburn Rovers on a free transfer and sold forward Alvaro Negredo, 23, to Sevilla for $21million. Thrashed Borussia Dortmund, 5-0, in Germany.

-- Grahame L. Jones

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