Italian League Lags Behind?
A lot has been said about Serie A’s decline over the past couple of years. Critics have claimed the English Premiership and Spain’s La Liga have become Europe’s best leagues leaving Serie A to challenge the Bundesliga for third spot.
Sadly, Serie A has witnessed a sharp decline in the past few years that cannot be attributed to the lack of financial means alone. The quality of the teams plying their trade in any league is influenced by funding, and, thus, monetary resources practically determine the level of play in various leagues.
Real Madrid is a leading example of how much money can do for a team in terms of the enthusiasm it can create through media attention, ticket and merchandise sales as well as income generated from the big names playing for the team. However, the original Los Galacticos served as a model of how excessive money can have undesirable consequences too such as overcrowding of stars on one roster and failure to translate the capture of big names into success on the pitch. With many of the world’s superstars, Los Blancos still only managed one trophy in Europe along with the La Liga title on one occasion despite having the likes of Zidane, Figo and Ronaldo on the roster. A club needs money to invest in outstanding players, but that alone cannot guarantee success. This season’s La Liga and English Premiership will demonstrate whether financial muscle can buy success with Real Madrid and Man City leading the lavish spending. The experience of the coach along with the strength of competitors, the atmosphere inside the stadium during home games and the schedule in Europe will all determine how successful these clubs will be.
Going back to comparing Serie A to La Liga and the English Premiership, it is important to point out that teams in both England and Spain have outpaced the Italian clubs when it comes to spending and profits due to the presence of billionaire owners & sponsors (such as Abramovich of Chelsea and Al Fahim of Man. City) and the consistent presence of fans during home games. Serie A has witnessed a decline in the past few years due to the lack of the financial support seen in other elite leagues and the poor average attendance during Serie A games in comparison with other major European leagues. The condition of the Italian stadia does not help either with many of them in dire need of renovation when compared with England’s and Spain’s newer and friendlier arenas. Also, most of the clubs in Serie A do not actually own the fields they play on (with the exception of Juve which will open its own stadium in a few years and recently both Inter and Roma laying the foundation for such ownership).
Serie A’s struggles were also magnified by Calciopoli (match-fixing scandal in 2006) which resulted in Juventus getting demoted and the club losing its main stars to Inter (Vieira, Ibrahimovic) or Spain (Cannavaro, Thuram, Zambrotta, Emerson). Milan was also punished as a result of this scandal so the club’s fortunes also deteriorated both on and off the field. Certainly the loss of Milan’s Kaka and Inter’s Ibrahimovic this year will serve as further notice to the decreasing spending power of Italian teams. The sale of such stars will likely translate into fewer tickets sold for both Milan and Inter. Big names sell season tickets, demand more media attention, require additional spending to buy their marketing rights, impose higher pricing for TV rights and so forth.
Serie A’s fall from the summit of European football might have been even worse had it not been for Italy’s triumph during WC 2006 in Germany. The fourth star on the Azzurri’s shirt means much more than being World Champions. It restored Italian pride along with the belief in Italian players and reinforced Serie A’s ability to survive despite the scandal. While it might appear that Serie A lost with Kaka’s departure, both Inter and Juventus did fairly well in the market to acquire the likes of Eto’o & Diego Milito as well as Diego and Cannavaro respectively.
Youngsters such as Giovinco, Santon, Motta, Criscito and Cigarini have all shown flashes of brilliance confirming that Italy has a bright future. These players simply require the right guidance, proper coaching, sufficient playing time and of course the faith of their trainers and clubs. Time will tell if the likes of Giovinco will be allowed to flourish since the Italian league’s intense environment has restricted talented players over the years while the English clubs have become renowned for snatching young Italian talent.
Serie A can re-emerge as the top league only if issues of stadium ownership, fan rioting and related violence, as well as the growth of young Italian talent are all properly dealt with to help promote a healthier, better funded and more prominent league. The lack of financial means can be addressed once some of the other pressing matters are fixed. It might be that La Liga has Barcelona and Real Madrid (and to a lesser extent Sevilla and Atletico Madrid) while the English Premiership has Liverpool, Man Utd, Chelsea and Arsenal, yet it is in Serie A during the past few years that we have witnessed teams besides Juve, Inter, Milan and Roma finish in the top four to make it to the European Champions League. This is a glaring testament that if all crucial factors are addressed then healthy competition can flourish in Serie A.