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GRAHAME L. JONES / ON SOCCER

Inter Milan coach objects to preseason prediction

Jose Mourinho says Marcello Lippi lacked respect in saying that Juventus will win the Serie A in Italy this season.

August 23, 2009|GRAHAME L. JONES

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.

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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.

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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.

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grahame.jones@latimes.com

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