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By ESPN Staff

Gimme a break

Serie A's winter break ought to be a good thing.

With the next round of matches not due until January 11-12 there are almost three full weeks without 'experts' going over and over the same slow-motion replays, fingering refs for barely discernable mistakes.

And there is no endless blabbering from defeated managers about the corrupt influence of northern or rich teams, whichever comes first and/or handy.

But then the transfer window opens and the spread of rumour about the comings and goings at each and every club is annoying enough already.

If you believe everything you read and hear about the 'calciomercato', Juventus will go into the second part of the season with a first team squad of 3,000, while Milan and Inter - poor chaps - will have to make do with about 2,500.

All this speculation has grown even more intense this year and - for the press - the first few days of dealings will be an explosion not unlike the opening of a champagne bottle.

As the Soccernet faithful will have read many times here, football comes third to 'talking about football transfers' and 'finding a scapegoat when you lose' in the rating of real Italian passions, and one can imagine the orgasmic delight of many fans when they open the papers or surf the Web and find out that some of the dealings have actually taken place.

  • Some clubs have given their players a few days off, rest which will be wiped out by double sessions once training resumes. Others, such as Milan and Juventus, have embarked on tours of the Middle East (at no taxpayers' expense, just like Tony Blair), which will help get the players retain their sharpness.

    All this should wipe out any 'we play too many matches' excuses - but expect managers to empty their cliche bags with this kind of talk as soon as one of their players drops to his knees when the Champions League and Serie A battles hot up.

    The San Siro stadium pitch is owned by the city council but has been turned over to a consortium for day-to-day care - not enough of it, apparently.

    Not for AC Milan though, as their ultra-modern Milan Lab has been testing and analyzing the players - their physical and psychological well-being and their performances - every other week.

    Apparenly this facility provides coach Carlo Ancelotti with the means to know who's going through a bad spell and who's not, even though he could tell that from watching them on the training ground.

    But advanced science has been giving him help - witness the few games Pippo Inzaghi missed right after his goalscoring exploits at the start of the season, before coming back in full shape. Only the second part of the season will tell if this extremely refined 'Lab approach' will have given them the edge over their rivals.

    That the break came with Milan and Inter as joint-leaders gave food for thought to many.

    While the anoraks have pointed out that the two Milan clubs had not been together at the top at Christmas since 1956, others have wondered which effect this will have on each team once hostilities resume on January 12.

    Milan go on a difficult trip to Bologna, who have a great home record, while Inter host Modena, who are now losing ground after their great start.

    Oddly enough, the pitch of the San Siro stadium (which is owned by the city council but has been turned over to a consortium for day-to-day care - not enough of it, apparently) might damage both teams' chances of winning the Scudetto.

    The turf, you see, is going through its annual crisis. Ever since the stadium was expanded and partially covered for the 1990 World Cup, the height of the stands has prevented it from getting enough light.

    New sods were laid down in November, and when Inter take the field on January 12 they will step upon another newer layer of grass.

    With so many matches being played in the stadium and the bad weather which has been plaguing northern Italy recently, the latter stages of the season will be played on a barely passable paddock.

    Even Inter president Massimo Moratti - in a interview to the daily Tuttosport - revealed they've been working on a plan for a new, Inter-owned stadium which would become a focus for Inter-mania, hosting offices and shops.

    In Turin, meanwhile, Juventus have been given complete control of white elephant Stadio Delle Alpi, one of the worst in Europe for fan sightlines and gameday atmosphere.

    And Torino have now received a 99-year lease of the old Stadio Comunale and ownership of the area of historic Stadio Filadelfia. They will develop both and will continue to rent the Delle Alpi from Juventus until 2006, when rebuilding work will have been completed and the Comunale will be ready to host the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics.

    A really innovative idea, a stadium owned by the team that plays there. British clubs, after all, only had it over a hundred years ago...

    But let's not get distracted from the matters that really count: did you know Wayne Rooney is joining AC Milan in a few days? Oh no, wait, it's Inter. Mmm, Juventus, perhaps. Unless it's Roma, of course.

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