Yet another Serie A season has come and gone. So many great moments and big storylines provided throughout all of Italy. It is time for the 2016-2017 Serie A Awards.
Best Transfer – Dani Alves (Juventus)
Sure, there were several great transfers made this past summer and in the winter, but how could you compare any of those to a successful free transfer? That is why, Juventus signing Dani Alves for free from Barcelona over the summer wins the Best Transfer Award. The Brazilian fullback said he came to Juventus for a new challenge and adventure. Dani Alves got that new challenge, but it seemed to yield the same results as his time at Barcelona; winning titles. Dani Alves helped Juventus win the scudetto and Coppa Italia. He scored the opening goal of the Coppa Italia final against Lazio. Dani Alves, a born winner.
Most Likely to Get Relegated, But Didn’t – Crotone
Crotone earned promotion to Serie A last season for the first time in the club’s history. A tremendous job by the club from Calabria, however, no one had them staying up in Serie A this season. They were considered a “lock” to be relegated. Crotone started the season about as poorly as most expected, losing 8 out of their first 9 games, and not getting their first win until October 30th. As the season progressed and we headed into April, Crotone were dead to rights. They were on a one way ticket back to Serie B…..at least that’s what we thought. Once the calendar changed to April, something changed with Crotone. The club went on a remarkable, improbable run; winning 6 of the final 9 games, and only losing one of them. They had wins over Inter, Sampdoria, Udinese, and Lazio. Heading into the final round, Crotone were 1 point behind Empoli and needed a win and an Empoli loss to avoid relegation. Crotone had to play a strong Lazio side, Empoli played a weak Palermo side. The odds weren’t on Crotone’s side. But somehow, the little engine that could, Crotone, beat Lazio and Palermo managed to beat Empoli. The club has not one “big” name player, no players a casual Serie A fan would know. What Crotone did to stay up in Serie A is nothing short of amazing.
Breakout Player – Dries Mertens (Napoli)
Napoli sells Higuain to Juventus over the summer. Everyone in Naples starts to worry, how do you replace 36 league goals? The answer, a 5’5″ winger that is converted into a striker. No really, that’s how Napoli replaced Higuain’s goals. Well, that wasn’t Napoli’s plan going into the season. They signed Arek Milik from Ajax to be their new striker and everything started off great. Milik was scoring goals, Napoli were winning, it was going perfect. Then, in early October while on international duty, Milik got hurt and Napoli were left wondering what to do again. The genius that is Maurizio Sarri, slots Dries Mertens into the striker role, call him a false-nine. Ever since then, the Belgium international has not stopped scoring. Mertens has scored a career best 28 league goals, and 5 more in the Champions League. He had 8 multiple goal games this year, including the four he scored against Torino. Mertens said he doesn’t like being called a “false-nine” anymore, and to be fair, if you score 28 goals in Serie A, you shouldn’t be called that.
Most Entertaining Team – Napoli
Which team scored the most goals this season in Serie A? Yep, Napoli (94 goals). It wasn’t just the amount of goals they scored, Napoli played such entertaining and beautiful football, something that became known as “Sarri Football”. Napoli had four different players score at least 10 league goals, yes, you read that right. Mertens led the team with 28, Insigne had 18, Callejon with 14, and Hamsik had 12. All four scored a goal in the final game, these four have been outstanding all season. The team chemistry was tremendous and the play between the midfielders and forwards was a thing of beauty to watch. Their great style of play helped them lose only one game out of their last 27 this season (19 of them were wins), a remarkable run. Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Monaco’s attack got a lot of praise and attention this year, but Napoli’s style of play was just as poetic. #SarriFootball
Most Surprising Team – Atalanta
Who had the team from Bergamo qualifying for the Europa League? Anyone, anyone? Last year, Atalanta finished in 13th place, the year before that in 17th place. So logically they would have a great season and finish in 4th place, said no one. Gian Piero Gasperini was appointed as their new coach before the season started and was given a fairly young team to work with. That young Atalanta talented produced in a big way. Mattia Caldara, Roberto Gagliardini, Franck Kessie, and Andrea Conti all went from being unknown players to household names this season. Papu Gomez emerged as one of the stars in Serie A, both on and off the field. Atalanta became known as the “Giant Slayers”, given their success against Serie A’s big clubs. They beat Napoli twice, Roma, and Inter. At two different times this season, Atalanta had at least a 9-game unbeaten streak. They also had a 6-game winning streak earlier in the season. No one, and I mean no one had Atalanta finishing in 5th place this season.
Biggest Storyline – Francesco Totti Retires
Several big storylines from this season. Juventus winning a 6th consecutive scudetti, Berlusconi selling Milan, Inter’s collapse, Crotone’s magical run; but how could you pick anything other than a legend leaving the game. This season was Francesco Totti’s final season. The Roma legend leaves the game after 25 years with his hometown club. There was controversy throughout the season between Spalletti and Totti, but in the end, Totti will be remembered for all he gave to the city of Rome. When you think of Rome, you think of the Coliseum, Fountain of Trevi, and Francesco Totti.
Yes, he won only one scudetto in his career, and could have won more had he joined another club. To Totti, staying at Roma and becoming a symbol there was more important. Two years ago Totti said the following:
“Any regrets about not leaving Roma? No. I might have had the chance to win much more with other clubs, but I am proud of what I’ve done with this jersey. No victory with another jersey would have given me the same emotions and satisfactions that this one has given me as captain.”
Anytime you say goodbye to a legend, you have mixed feelings. You feel sad about him leaving and never being able to see him play again, but you also feel good, thinking back about all the great moments they provided. The Roma fans serenaded Totti in his final game and the stands were filled with tears; tears of joy and tears of sadness. Francesco Totti wasn’t just a Roma legend, he is also an Italian legend. Totti was a part of Italy’s 2006 World Cup winning squad. He was a true gladiator and the Olimpico was his coliseum.
So many great memories. Grazie Il Capitano!
Coach of the Year – Maurizio Sarri
Sure, I could have picked Max Allegri, he did win the scudetto. Napoli’s great season should not go without the proper praise and a lot of that goes to their coach Maurizio Sarri. The Neapolitan coach had to overcome the loss of Higuain and figure out a way to replace 36 goals. He figured that out pretty easy by inserting Dries Mertens. Mertens went from a super-sub to a superstar under Maurizio Sarri. Mertens and Insigne set new personal bests for most goals scored in a single season, Hamsik tied his career high. Sarri helped bring along some of Napoli’s young talented midfielders; Diawara, Zielinski, Rog, and helped Jorginho reach new heights. The Partenopei led Serie A in goals with 94 and set a club record for most points in a Serie A season (86). Napoli played such beautiful football under Sarri, while still getting great results. At various points throughout the season, Sarri was linked to Juventus and Inter. Seems like they may agree that Sarri deserves Coach of the Year.
Player of the Year – Edin Dzeko (Roma)
So many good players to pick from for Player of the Year. Ultimately, it was hard to choose against Roma’s striker Edin Dzeko. The Bosnian led Serie A in scoring with 29 goals to win the Capocannoniere, and had 7 assists. Dzeko also scored another 8 goals in the Europa League. This guy consistently scored goals for Roma, as their only striker option. Spalletti alluded to how important and valuable Dzeko was to Roma many times throughout the season. Dzeko only scored 8 goals last season, in what was his first season in Serie A. Most Roma fans wanted him out, but Spalletti stuck with him and the striker paid him back in a big way. Dzeko’s 29 league goals was a career high for him in a single season. He played a key part in guiding Roma to a second place finish, edging out Napoli.
*Full disclosure: If Napoli had finished in 2nd, I would have picked Mertens as player of the year and put Dzeko as breakout player.
Team of the Year – Juventus
Did you really expect it to be anyone other than Juventus? The Bianconeri finished the Serie A season by winning a record 6th consecutive scudetti. Juventus once again entered the season with a target on their back, but this time it was an even bigger target. They signed Pjanic from Roma and Higuain from Napoli, weakening their two top competitors, while making themselves stronger. Anything less than a scudetto would have been a complete failure. Juventus were able to have this success, while making a run to the Champions League final. Juventus got the job done with their trademark stingy defense, conceding the fewest goals in Serie A. They were the third best scoring team in the league, with Higuain scoring the lion share of the goals. For the third straight year, Juventus has won both the scudetto and Coppa Italia; a record.
Agree or disagree with my choices? Let me know on Twitter: @ItalianoCalcio