For nearly 10 years, Serie A has been viewed as a dull, unexciting league dominated by defensive play, old players and corruption. And when both teams from Milan stopped being competitive in Europe, many decided to just stop paying attention to Italian football altogether.
It was a shame, really, because even at its lowest point, Italian football had plenty to offer fans. The ascension of Juventus from the shame of scandal-forced relegation to a superpower in the league. The rise of Napoli from mediocrity back to being a team of note. Fiorentina becoming something more than a perennial also-ran. Roma and Francesco Totti finding new life. Add all of that to the traditional strangeness that populates Italian matchdays -- a factor that means that anything and everything can happen in a given match -- and there was plenty of interesting football that people just weren't watching.
But it's not as though Italy's negative reputation was unearned. A lot of Italian teams did play defensive, dour football. A lot of teams did cheat and do things they shouldn't have. Inter Milan and AC Milan are Italy's two most popular teams outside the peninsula by miles, but because they stopped being relevant or interesting for a few years, many people had no reason to watch Serie A anymore. Add all that to Italy's longtime financial woes during a time when cash is king in football, and it was no surprise that the status and quality of Serie A fell from it's once-great heights.
Then last season happened, and Italian clubs came awfully close to ruling the roost in European play. Juventus were a game away from winning a historic treble before losing to Barcelona in the Champions League final, and won some incredible matches along the way. Napoli and Fiorentina both reached the Europa League semifinals. Maybe Italian teams were actually getting good again!
Well, probably not. This season's Serie A campaign has started with three of last season's top four teams spinning their wheels in frustration, most especially four-time defending champs Juventus, who have lost three matches through their first six in the league, the same total they lost all of last year. But at the same time, Inter are on the rise again. Fiorentina are right there with them. Even Milan have had some moments of glory this season.
But that's not the reason you should give Serie A another chance. The real reason is the outright insanity. Serie A is weirder than ever.
Gone are the dull, low-scoring matches. Serie A had a reputation for lots of 0-0 draws, but so far this season, there's been just one through six rounds of play, and there's been plenty of crazy action and plenty of scoring in the place of those defensive showcases. This past weekend had seven matches with at least three goals, bettered only by the Premier League's nine. The Bundesliga and La Liga, oft hailed as bastions of action? Only five matches apiece with at least three goals, and La Liga had a pair of goal-less games to add to it.
Oh, you don't want action? You want weird Serie A? How about Juventus finding new and interesting ways to drop points, including handing Frosinone their first ever Serie A point in stoppage time with a goal scored by a Juventus supporter who sits with their ultras? Maybe you like seeing lots of red cards? Serie A has 23 of them already, with Genoa leading the pack with three players sent off in their first six matches. Or how about the ultimate sign of Serie A's turnaround with Chievo Verona, long holding a reputation as a nearly unwatchable, ultra-defensive team, suddenly turning into an attacking powerhouse, including a 4-0 pasting of Lazio?
No matter how you slice it, Serie A has been far more active, far more chaotic and far more fun this season than it's been in a long time. Maybe it's been better, maybe it hasn't been. It's probably too early to say whether Italian football is "back" or not in terms of quality, but if you want pure fun, lots of chaos, and an endless supply of follia -- "insanity" -- then look no further than Serie A.