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Duo holds key to Italian pride

ROME, July 15 – It may seem unlikely but a Brazilian and a Swede hold the key to Italy's Serie A's sense of self-esteem and well-being.FELIPE_MELOItalian football, on a high with the 2006 world title, has been getting used to knocks in recent years and they have been aplenty, both on and off the pitch.

Not so long ago, Serie A was the strongest league in Europe; now it is almost a secondary league.

But while results on the pitch took a downturn, the lure of Serie A did not — until now.

Which is why Brazil midfielder Felipe Melo and Sweden forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic could salvage the country’s collective pride.

Melo is reportedly a target for Arsenal while Ibrahimovic has been coveted by Chelsea.

"I am aware that Chelsea want to sign me and, of course, it is very flattering. They are one of the biggest teams in Europe and the Premier League is one of the best leagues in the world," said Ibrahimovic.

"Money is not the most important thing. I will base my decision on what’s good for me, what suits me. It is about asking: will I still be able to be special in the league that I am going to, to the team that I am going to?

"Are my qualities right for the Premier League or not?"

There are other players who could be mentioned such as Sevilla’s Brazil striker Luis Fabiano, but it is Fiorentina’s Melo and Inter Milan’s Ibrahimovic more than anyone else who could help shunt Italy back towards the top of the world football tree.

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Melo is also wanted by Juventus while Inter want desperately to hold onto Ibrahimovic.

With AC Milan having lost their best player Kaka to Real Madrid, and with no Italian team having reached even the last eight of the Champions League last season, Italian football is on the verge of a crisis of confidence.

Serie A teams can no longer compete financially with the moneybags in Spain and England and on last year’s evidence, they’re not able to do so on the pitch either.

Fiorentina crashed out of the Champions League group stages while Inter, Milan and Juve all lost to English opposition in the next round.

Now, if Arsenal were to beat Juve to Melo’s signature and if Chelsea can force Inter into selling Ibrahimovic, Italy would find itself in the unenviable position of becoming a virtual feeder league for England and Spain.

Kaka has already gone and alongside the Swede, he was rumoured to be one of the top two earners in Italy.

He was Milan’s undoubted star and Ibrahimovic’s position at Inter is identical. For two of the country’s three biggest clubs to lose their best player in the same transfer window would be a devastating blow.

ZLATANMilan have just scooped 67 million euros from Real for Kaka but claim they can’t afford to splash out more than 14 million euros of that to bring Luis Fabiano from Spain.

It is all a far cry from the days when Napoli could sign Diego Maradona from Barcelona in 1984.

Or when the greatest talent in England, Paul Gascoigne, left Tottenham to join mid-table Lazio in 1992.

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Back in those days, Italy was dominant in Europe. From 1989 to 1998 nine out of 10 Champions League finals featured an Italian team and the country virtually owned the UEFA Cup.

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