The Italian Serie A used to sit alongside La Liga and the Premier League as one of the finest leagues on the planet, but in recent years it has suffered a major fall from grace with big clubs failing to perform on the European, or in many cases even the domestic stage as well as enough scandals to make Roy Keane feel a bit soft.
Throughout the 90’s right up to the early 00’s Italian football was a showcase for the stars of world football, it was responsible for smashing the world record transfer more than once during that period and brought the likes of Jean Pierre Papin and (Fat) Ronado to Italy. 8 out out the 10 European Cup finals between 1990 and 1999 had an Italian representative, more than any other country can boast in a single decade.
Unfortunately since the turn of the millennium the Italians seem to have lost their way, the stars they bought in the 80’s and 90’s retired years ago, and the golden generation of homegrown talent are off to Australia or very much on their last legs. There are still some great players in Serie A, Paul Pogba is destined for stardom but wants to leave to further his career, and only came to Serie A as a Premier League reject. Gone are the days where the world’s best players dream of their glory days coming in Serie A, unfortunately the league is starting to look more and more like a breeding ground for young talent not too dissimilar from the top leagues in Portugal and Holland. Serie A has been overtaken by the Bundesliga and France’s Ligue 1 and, unfortunately with a lack of Russian billionaires and teams that can genuinely compete in the Champions League year in, year out I cannot see that changing any time soon.
Back in 2013 it was reported that Italian World Cup winner Alessandro Nesta was ‘pleasantly suprised’ at the signing of Carlos Tevez for Juventus. Tevez is one of the best footballers of his generation and the fact that Nesta, someone who played through some of Serie A’s best years has come to the realisation that Serie A is no longer a league that should be attracting the top names is worrying. Since the Italian match fixing scandal of 2006 it seems as though people have lost faith in Italy as a footballing country and it is since 2006 that the big name signings have been drying up, and the giants have been falling.
Parma, a team who will be remembered fondly by many greats of the 90’s as a place to start writing your own history is on the brink of extinction. Italian football is cash-strapped in an era dominated by free spending chairmen and loopholes in the financial fair play rules, teams do not own their outdated stadiums and are struggling to bring fans through the gates. Television rights are another huge issue affecting the league, in 1992 Manchester United vs Chelsea attracted 1 million viewers worldwide whereas Sampdoria vs Lazio gained 3 million, this kind of international appeal is something Serie A need back. 10 years ago you would still hear all the big Italian football gossip and would know the key players from the big teams; however now I find myself struggling to name any players at all from the leagues lesser sides and only a few names spring to mind from the bigger teams. These issues indicate a shrinking fan base, and a lessening interest in Serie A as a product.
The lack of cash coming into the league is reflected in Serie A’s inability to pay out the same wages other top teams can. Radamel Falcao is on £280,000 a week at Manchester United, Serie A’s top earner De Rossi is on £100,000 a week, not an amount he will struggle to buy groceries with by any stretch of the imagination but significantly less that many other players around the world make. The ability to command higher wages is Serie A just isn’t there anymore, take two of the world’s top youngsters Raheem Sterling and Paul Pogba. Sterling is holding out for well over £100,000 a week because he knows Liverpool have the money, and if they don’t cough up someone else will. Pogba on the other hand is earning far less than £100,000 a week but instead of pushing for more from Juventus, whom he know cannot afford it, he is hinting that he may move elsewhere.
It is nice to believe that loyalty is the driving force behind big decisions players make in their careers; however realistically most of these players treat the game as if it were any other job, and if someone offers to triple their wages they will move on in a flash. If clubs in Italy can find the sort of financial muscle required to compete in today’s ridiculous transfer market then there is no good reason that I can see for them not to climb back up to the pinnacle of club football in the future. Who wouldn’t want to live and play in Italy? It is a beautiful country and has a number of clubs with a wealth of history behind them. If you can ignore the match fixing scandals then it seems to me like the perfect place to fill up your trophy cabinet.
On the flip side there are some benefits to a league full of attractive clubs with no money, players still respect the stature of fallen giants such as AC and Inter Milan and as such these clubs will continue to find and develop the best talent the country has to offer. Historically Italy has consistently produced fantastic footballers and fortunately a lack of money does not have a huge affect on a child’s ability to play football and if these youngsters coming through are not having their path to the first team constantly blocked by big money signings they will develop faster and become better players, helping the national team in the long run, and hopefully providing a core to each club side from which they can build genuinely world class squads around once more.
It will be interesting to see what happens to Serie A over the next 10-15 years. A quick scan on Football Manager (a scouting resource legitimised by Manchester United legend David Moyes) reveals a wealth of young talent ready to break through, and if Italian clubs can keep them in Italy they may just have a chance to re-instate themselves as one of the major leagues.