After a summer of famous goodbyes, Serie A restarts this weekend with a new generation of promising attackers ready to hunt down champions Juventus.
The exodus of veterans includes former world champions like Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso, and Gianluca Zambrotta and three-time UEFA Champions League winner Clarence Seedorf. Yet it is the departure from the stage of three strikers who scored 486 top-flight goals between them that represents the biggest change to Italy's footballing landscape: Alessandro Del Piero (188), Filippo Inzaghi (156) and Marco Di Vaio (142).
AS Roma's Mattia Destro, AC Milan's Stephan El Shaarawy and SSC Napoli's Lorenzo Insigne are ready to fill the void, and have sights set on a Juventus side that remained unbeaten en route to the 2011/12 Scudetto. They are favourites to retain the title, especially after bringing in Kwadwo Asamoah, Mauricio Isla (both Udinese Calcio), Lúcio (FC Internazionale Milano) and Paul Pogba (Manchester United FC), while Sebastian Giovinco returns from Parma FC.
If Juve have strengthened their hand, apparently their rivals have been weakened: last season's runners-up Milan have lost Zlatan Ibrahimović, Thiago Silva and Antonio Cassano this summer. Rossoneri fans have high hopes for El Shaarawy, however. "My dream is to play the [FIFA] World Cup in 2014," said the 19-year-old, known as the Little Pharaoh in a nod to his Egyptian father. "I'm young and have to continue working hard to prove my worth."
El Shaarawy made his senior international debut in Italy's 2-1 defeat by England last week alongside Destro, who is relishing the opportunity to work under attacking guru Zdeněk Zeman following his switch from AC Siena. "Zeman is my great opportunity and I will have to make the most of it," the 21-year-old said. "Strikers playing for his sides get many chances in every game and I hope to have a great season. I think I have already learnt a lot this summer through his advice. It will be up to me, obviously, but I'm sure I will score a lot under Zeman."
Insigne certainly did when he played under the Czech coach at Pescara Calcio, scoring 18 in their march to Serie A promotion. The diminutive forward is now back at Napoli and already a crowd favourite at the Stadio San Paolo, where the 21-year-old is likely to replace Ezequiel Lavezzi following his switch to Paris Saint-Germain FC.
"I have to get used to playing in front of such passionate fans," he said. "Coming back to my home town has been wonderful but football here is different to other places. That's why playing in Naples is so special." Many Napoli supporters raised eyebrows when Insigne said Del Piero was his idol, overlooking the most celebrated No10 in town; all will be forgiven should he imitate Diego Maradona and lead Napoli to Scudetto glory.
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