The times were not so long ago when the Italian championship was the strongest on the continent. And today, even if it sounds a bit far-fetched for many, it is part of the second echelon. And the big question is clear – what are the reasons for all this?
When Juventus signed Angel Di Maria this summer, club legend Gigi Buffon declared that “Getting Di Maria is like signing Maradona”. His words were meant to compliment the new signing, but in fact demonstrated the real state of Serie A, where a player of Di Maria’s stature is placed (more or less) next to Don Diego.
And yet – here are the facts about the state of Italian football.
A team from the Apennines has not won the Champions League since 2010 (when Mourinho surprisingly raised the Ears with Inter), and the national team failed to qualify for a second consecutive World Cup – against this background, the triumph of Euro 2020 certainly looks like an alien anomaly.
“Over the past 20 years almost all of them passed us. I’m not just talking about Milan, but about the Italian giants in general. As sad as it is for us, Serie A has become the Serie B of Europe”, sadly concluded the president of the “Rossoneri” Paolo Scaroni in an interview with “Gazetta dello Sport”.
The Milan giants are the current champions, but this summer they encountered huge difficulties in the transfer market due to the unattractiveness of the entire championship. Sven Botman chose Newcastle and Renato Sanchez left for Newcastle instead of arriving at the San Siro. Just ten years ago this would have been crazy, but now it is the sad reality.
Against this backdrop, Milan had to settle for bringing in 21-year-old De Quetelare from Bruges, who was greeted like a god. And yet we are talking about a player of the middle European class, who in almost every more serious club will rub the bench or will be rubbed for rent.
And here is the moment to emphasize something fundamental. Serie A has huge image problem, with its football product packaging. It is no coincidence that in England the money from television rights is 10 times more, and even a rookie in the Premier League takes more than the Calcio champion.
Here’s an example – the race for the title last season in Italy was extremely interesting, one of the most contested and exciting in Europe, but nevertheless it was not redeemed. It’s just that the product called Italian football is not listed and is not at the forefront of interest.
Last year, Spanish La Liga president Javier Tebas marveled:
“How is it possible that Italian football earns less money than Spanish football, since the country has a larger population and higher incomes?”.
And the answer is clear – multiple errors over a long period of time.
Asked about the decline of Italian football, Juventus president Andrea Agnelli blamed the COVID crisis, which saw the league suspended and then matches played in front of empty stands. But the truth is different and rooted much deeper.
“Serie A suffered and still suffers more than the other leading European leagues after The COVID shocks, because even before the pandemic he was in a bad state of health, according to Marco Yaria from Gazzetta dello Sport. – Serie A was going downhill, and the coronavirus simply accelerated this process, caused by management mistakes and the lack of a clear, long-term strategy.
Even before the crisis, all the money that entered the coffers of Italian clubs was absorbed in sports expenses, wages and transfers, without making the necessary investments in infrastructure and marketing, which would have allowed the championship to maintain its place in the elite of European football . Here are the numbers – in the 2018/19 season, the last full season before the COVID crisis, Serie A made a loss of nearly €300 million and the accumulated debt reached €2.5 billion. That is, the stupid financial policy was there even before the health crisis,” adds the popular Italian journalist.
To get to that summer of 2021, when Italian football is faced painfully with the harsh reality. In the space of one transfer window, Calcio lost their newly minted MVP (Romelu Lukaku), their best goalkeeper (Gigi Donnarumma), their best centre-back (Cristiano Romero), their right-back (Ashraf Hakimi) and their most famous player (Cristiano Ronaldo Ronaldo).
However, this turned out not to be the peak of the crisis, but simply another manifestation of it. Serie A realized something even more painful this summer. After not being able to keep its stars, Italian football already it cannot preserve even the talents from the middle echelon.
The great hope of the “squad”, Gianluca Scamacca, was the number 1 transfer target of Inter and Juventus, but instead of signing with the giants, he chose the offer of the eighth in England, West Ham. The star of the youth national team, Destiny Udoji, will move to Tottenham.
“What has changed compared to 20 years ago, when Italy had three teams in the top five of Deloitte’s ranking of the five richest clubs? We didn’t build stadiums, that’s the big problem – believes the former executive director of Milan and current of Monza Adriano Galliani – We have the ugliest stadiums in Europe and that affects revenue and TV rights because an ugly and empty stadium doesn’t sell on TV.
And we didn’t build stadiums because the bureaucracy stopped everyone, because the authorities insisted for a long time on the construction of an athletics track and because there are always thousands of obstacles, like with “San Siro”, for example. And while we wait, lost in red tape, the world moves on. Since 2013, three new stadiums have been built in London alone. We can take the best opera singers in the world, but if we then make them sing in a barracks instead of La Scala… that’s a huge difference,” said Galliani, who was the architect of that glorious turn-of-the-century Milan, crushing everything in its path.
And what is it the way out of the crisis?
Many in the Apennines believe that the key lies in the frozen (at least for now) European Super League project. It would have reduced the Italian giants to their counterparts from the continent and left them in the elite, but it would have killed the competition between them and the other teams in Serie A. Therefore, it is clear why Juventus boss Andrea Agnelli has not given up on the project and continues to defend it zealously.
Milan tried to set an example and suggested that other clubs follow their lead. Namely – don’t spend more than you can afford. Because that’s the harsh reality. The Italian giants have long been unable to compete with Real, Barcelona, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, PSG and Bayern for the best in the market, although they try and look even more ridiculous.
“In Italy, we are stuck in fights with each other, and we don’t see the big problem that is common to all clubs. Namely – the whole of football is lagging behind and the gap with the other leading leagues is seriously increasing. It has to be built common national strategy – both short-term and long-term. But you yourself understand that it is very difficult to get the leading clubs to sit at the same table, although they are perfectly aware of the problem,” adds Galliani.
Alas, his words reflect reality. And while Serie A has focused mostly on infighting, Italian football has none a chance to get back on top. Or at least in the foothills. And until then, alas, to everyone in the Apennines, Di Maria will really look like Maradona to them…