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Tuning in to 'As the Serie A turns'

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A note to the mildly delusional posse of Serie A fanatics who clog up my inbox each week with colorfully prosed assertions that the Italian league is the finest in the world: I still don't agree with you.

However, as this season wears on and the English Premier League gives us its usual dose of rugged intensity and La Liga follows suit with its customary technical brilliance, I find myself increasingly drawn to Serie A.

The overall standard of play in Italy has dipped significantly over the past few years, with the world's elite players generally heading to the higher-profile pastures of England or Spain if given the choice. Italian clubs also have struggled in Europe in recent times, with only one Champions League quarterfinal appearance in the past two years.

Yet Serie A is becoming an ever-increasing soap opera with unthinkably dramatic story lines adding spice and color to what might have been an otherwise bland campaign.

Take this weekend, for example.

So Juventus – the Old Lady of Italian soccer – completed a desperate week in which it got itself dumped out of the Champions League by getting beaten 3-1 at Bari. Head coach Ciro Ferrara is on the verge of being fired and the Juve fans are considering mass demonstrations. But that barely makes the main news bulletin on Italy's top sports station.

Why? Because madness is erupting elsewhere.

First, we have the dramatic footage of a soccer celebrity with blood streaming down his face after being smacked in the mouth. But hang on, it's not a player. It's AC Milan president and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was assaulted by a protester at a political rally.

Fisticuffs are in fashion in the city of catwalks, apparently. That other captain of Milanese society, Inter boss Jose Mourinho, was also involved in a scuffle over the weekend.

Mourinho, whose behavior has been increasingly volatile of late, reportedly shoved a journalist who got in his way following Inter's draw with Atalanta, and a melee ensued. Mourinho has often complained his team doesn't get a fair shake in the media, and this is unlikely to do his chances of positive coverage much good.

The past few years in Serie A have brought match-fixing shame, fan riots and dwindling attendances as Italy's love affair with its national sport began to turn sour. The aftermath of the despair and scandal seems to have brought rather heady and fractious times, with a constant stream of news that, while not necessarily good, is always entertaining.

It's great, isn't it? I'll still get my fix of technical mastery from La Liga and fierce physicality from the EPL. But if I feel like ditching Jack Bauer on "24" and finding some real drama, then Serie A is fast becoming my first port of call.

Weekend Best XI

1. Get him an Advil

One of Real Madrid head coach Manuel Pellegrini's worst nightmares became reality during Saturday's 3-2 victory over Valencia. Key central defender Pepe, the cornerstone of the Galacticos' backline, suffered knee ligament damage that will keep him out for the rest of the season and probably the World Cup with Portugal.

2. Get him a beer

Maynor Figueroa produced one of the most spectacular goals you could ever wish to see in Wigan's 2-2 draw at Stoke. After Wigan was awarded a free kick just inside its own half, the Honduras left back stepped up and drilled a flat thunderbolt 60 yards and over the head of unsuspecting goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen. You've probably seen video of David Beckham's amazing effort against Wimbledon in 1996. This one was better.

3. Get him some earplugs

Tottenham left back Benoit Assou-Ekotto faces police sanctions as well as a ban from soccer after a remarkable incident in which he allegedly tried to grab a fan by the throat. Witnesses claimed Assou-Ekotto reacted furiously to verbal criticism from the fan following the club's home defeat to Wolves on Saturday and had to be pulled away by assistant coach Joe Jordan.

4. Keep an eye on …

The Club World Cup. Why, I hear you ask? This much-derided competition certainly doesn't carry the feel of a proper club world championship, but it should still provide an interesting showdown in the final where, barring a major upset in the semifinals, Barcelona will face Copa Libertadores winner Estudiantes of Argentina.

5. Catch a flight to …

Leverkusen. Check out the BayArena and watch the German Bundesliga leader Bayer Leverkusen take on in-form Borussia Moenchengladbach and U.S. international Michael Bradley. And if there's time, Morsbroich Castle is well worth a look.

6. Useless and completely made-up statistic of the week

22 – The number of pig-related jokes made within earshot of Craig Bellamy after the Manchester City striker returned to training following a case of swine flu.

7. Fond farewell

Aldo de Nigris paid the perfect tribute to his brother Antonio by scoring the critical goal to help Monterrey clinch its first Mexican league title since 2003. Antonio de Nigris died of a heart attack last month in Greece, where he was playing for Larissa.

8. Get ready to say hello to …

Raul. Respected Spanish newspaper El Mundo Deportivo believes the Real Madrid striker will turn up in Major League Soccer in 2010, forsaking the final year of his contract at the Bernabeu. A replacement for Landon Donovan in Los Angeles, perhaps?

9. Get ready to say goodbye to …

Kei Kamara. The Kansas City Wizards striker is on trial with Le Havre of the French league and is poised to leave MLS.

10. Get excited about …

Banfield. The Argentinean club won the first championship in its 113-year history on Sunday, sparking wild scenes of celebration near Buenos Aires. Banfield almost missed out after losing to Boca Juniors on the final day and had to rely on Newell's Old Boys also slipping up.

11. Why it's good to be a soccer player

Check out Deborah Pirlo, wife of AC Milan and Italy midfielder Andrea Pirlo.