London: Cristiano Ronaldo signing for Juventus last year was a shot in the arm for Serie A and bolstered the impression that the league is undergoing a renaissance, Italy and AC Milan legend Franco Baresi told AFP.
Baresi, widely considered to be one of the greatest ever defenders, said that Ronaldo's arrival in Serie A was a clear statement the Italian championship is once again attracting star names.
Baresi, who won the European Cup/Champions League three times in his 20 years at Milan, added that it was good for European football that Serie A is becoming a force again.
"Yes, there is a renaissance in Italian football, it is growing again," said the 58-year-old Baresi, after appearing at the Betting on Football conference at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge ground.
"There is significantly more interest and the arrival of some great footballers like Ronaldo.
"His signing is a very clear and positive signal. Italian football has always been at a high level but is growing again.
"Italian teams are doing well in Europe again, so it is on the up." In the last six seasons, either Napoli or Roma have finished second in Serie A, but Baresi believes that only the two Milan clubs can hope to end the Juventus dominance of which seems certain to stretch to an eighth straight title this season.
Napoli are again the closest challenger but are 15 points adrift. Inter and AC Milan are third and fourth respectively with Roma fifth.
"Juve have had an easy time in the last seven or eight years because Milan and Inter have gone through a difficult period with the changing of ownership," said Baresi, who captained Milan from the age of 22.
"But they are the only two teams with the history, the brand, the following and structure while the other two lack some of those elements."
'We have hope'
While Baresi played for Milan his older brother Giuseppe was an Inter stalwart. When they played each other and it was a "very emotional time" though their parents remained neutral.
He says he is impressed at how former Milan hardman midfielder Gennaro Gattuso is faring as coach of his former club.
"He went through a difficult time but he is doing a good job, he is doing very, very well," said Baresi.
"The whole team is going well together, all are very focussed in making it into the top four to qualify for the Champions League." Baresi experienced contrasting World Cup emotions, winning a medal in 1982 though he did not play a game, and missing the first penalty in a shootout loss to Brazil in 1994.
He says the resurgence in the league is having a knock-on effect on the national side.
Italy was a nation in shock when their team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals but Baresi has confidence in Roberto Mancini.
"Mancini has started a project and injected young players of high quality into the squad so we have hope," he said.
Baresi, who says Arrigo Sacchi was the greatest coach he played under due because he was an innovator, said that his favourite current defenders are Virgil van Dijk at Liverpool and Matthijs de Ligt of Ajax, though he is reluctant to compare them to players of his era.
"It is difficult to make comparisons," he said.
"I like van Dijk and de Ligt they are both very strong and very athletic.
"Liverpool have grown hugely as a team recently and a lot of that is thanks to van Dijk."