Italian football makes a return, even if some its stars have gone AWOL

Debates about having a footballing Christmas break have been amalgamating over here in Blighty since time began. But the problem with having a three week break over the festive period is that some players might swan off to warmer climes, and possibly not return.

And that's the case with two of AS Roma's most tumultuous South Americans. Both Adriano and David Pizarro failed to report back to training after Christmas, the former citing a slight knee twinge; the latter, an expired passport.

There's no doubt that Adriano has been happy to kick back in the Eternal City for the past six months. His complete lack of anything resembling fitness has seen him become a laughing stock in Italy - being given the Bidone d'Oro award (golden dustbin), for the season's worst player, a record third time - and all this from a player that only a few years ago, looked to all intents and purposes, a world-beater (especially if you played PES 6).

However, in the last game before the winter break at AC Milan, he proved that an overweight striker can cause a defence some problems: using his giant frame to hold up the ball, and falling over in the box any time the breath of a defender was felt. It was only his second start for Roma in what has been a torrid six months for the rotund forward. Having signed a three-year contract back in June, it looks like Adriano better squeeze himself into those snug airline seats, and get back to Rome to spend the next six months eating ice-cream on the bench.

David Pizarro, on the other hand, may not be so lucky. He's fallen out of favour completely with Roma's manager Claudio Ranieri, and may be banished to spend the rest of his days with former boss Luciano Spaletti at Zenith St. Petersburg.

Another Samba Star who's also failed to return to the peninsula is Ronaldinho. He took full advantage of AC Milan's all-expense paid trip to Dubai, before jetting off to Brazil to mull over tempting offers from Flamengo, Gremio and, ummm, Blackburn. Sandy beaches, blazing sun, and not having to wear a wooly hat again are never too far from Dinho's mind. So it's not particularily difficult to see where his future lies.

Still, without him, Milan managed to beat Cagliari in their first game back after the winter break; winning 1-0 with a late goal from debutant Rodney Strasser.

That goal kept Milan five points clear at the top of the league, and 13 points clear of rivals Internazionale. The new man in charge of the Nerazzuri is the ever-charming Leonardo who, after Rafa Benitez was shown the door, entered Inter's training ground at Appiano Gentile like a returning war-hero. And his first game at the helm couldn't have gone any better: 3-1 winners over the eternally-exciting Napoli.

After that loss at the San Siro, Napoli still cling onto 3rd spot in the Serie A table, just one point above Roma who beat Catania 4-2 in a thriller at the Stadio Olimpico; Marco Borriello and Mirko Vucinic with the goals for the Gallorossi.

What with Palermo winning again, and Lazio gaining a hard-earned point away to big-spenders Genoa, this seasons' Serie A title race looks like going down to the wire.


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