Is Serie A the world’s dying league?

Serie A

Serie A used to be cool. It was the fashionable, hipster league. England was one of its main foreign advocates. The popularity in England was largely due to Channel Four showing live Italian football, on a show called Football Italia. The show was created mainly due to Paul Gascoigne’s move to Lazio, after the Geordie moved from Spurs for £5.5million. Indeed, the first match that Football Italia showed was Gascoigne’s Lazio drawing 3-3 away to Sampdoria on the 6th September 1992. What was a record number, three million people, tuned in! Gazzetta Football Italia, Channel Four’s Serie A highlights show, became the highest-rated Saturday morning program in Channel 4’s history. The record has since been broken.The figures of around 800,000 viewers a week in its first season, 1992-1993, are very impressive. It remains the most watched programme in the UK about a non-British football league.

PKT1408 - 52214 PAUL GASCOIGNE  Gazza at Lazio 1.93
Gazza was a huge Serie A attraction for English viewers

Football Italia stopped being broadcast on Channel Four after the 2001-2002 season. After brief spells with British Eurosport and Bravo, Channel Five won the rights for the newly branded Football Italiano. After just one season (2007-2008) the show was scrapped. The scrapping of the show signified that Italian football had lost its mojo. English people were no longer interested in the Serie A. Now the league is in an even worse state, with the best players leaving, huge debt and shocking scandals. Is the Serie A being overtaken by Ligue 1? Is it becoming the 5th ranked league in Europe? Back in the ’90s many would have said that Italy had the best league in the world, now that statement would be bordering on lunacy.

No longer threatening in Europe

One strong feature of Italian sides was the immense quality and superiority they usually had over their opponents. In Europe, Italian sides dominated. In the ’90s, Italian teams won the Champions League 3 times. They appeared in 7 of the 10 finals. AC Milan-Italy’s most dominant side in Europe-is second in overall winners, with 7 wins, 2 off Real Madrid’s 9. Yet an Italian side has not reached the Champions League semi-finals since Mourinho’s victorious Internazionale in the 2010-2011. Many would regard Mourinho’s side as very lucky to go that far. Rather like Chelsea’s victorious run the next season, a ‘park the bus’ tactic was employed, a term coined by the Special One himself.

Last season, the decline in the standard of Italian football was perfectly shown when Juventus met Bayern München in the Champions League quarter-finals. Juventus have won the league title for the past 2 years, playing in an utterly dominant fashion. Yet against Bayern, they were utterly outplayed and looked lack-lustre. Bayern won 4-0 on aggregate, but it could have been more. They achieved 56% possession of the football in Turin. This reflects the poor standard of Serie A. AC Milan went out in the round of 16, despite shocking the world by beating Barcelona 2-0 at home.

Juventus-v-Bayern-Munich-Pirlo
Bayern exposed the gulf in class between Serie A and the Bundesliga

The performances in the Europa League were abysmal for Italy. Udinese finished bottom of an admittedly tough Group A, but one would have expected them to finish above Swiss side Young Boys. Napoli scraped into the next round, finishing only 2 points above PSV Eindhoven. The Naples’ side were then embarrassed against Czechs Viktoria Plzeň, losing 5-0 on aggregate. Inter Milan, after comfortably qualifying, went out to Spurs in the round of 16, after a crazy tie. The final Italian side left in the tournament, Lazio, went out in the quarter finals. Lesser profile football nations Switzerland and Turkey had sides which went further than Italy.

The stars are leaving, mainly to Paris

One big attraction of Serie A was the huge wealth of talent the league used to contain. Some of the world’s best players used to play there. In the ’90s, Gascoigne was just one of the numerous Serie A talents which excited the world. Now though most of the top talent is not found in the Serie A, and the Serie A’s best players tend to leave for greener pastures.

Napoli have lost the duo which formed that exciting trio a few seasons ago. First Ezequiel Lavezzi left for PSG, in a relatively cheap £22,880,000 deal. More recently, Edinson Cavani joined Lavezzi in the French capital for a mega £56,320,000. Both these players are huge losses for Napoli, especially Cavani who helped power the Partenopei to 2nd in the Serie A, contributing 38 goals in 43 games. Now, the only remaining part of the trio is Marek Hamšík, who has also been linked with a move to PSG. The money is in Ligue 1, and this is where players will go.

thCA93OR2P
PSG’s latest ex-Serie A poster boy was again purchased for big money

The Napoli president announced that the club would have €124million to spend, in a question and answer session with fans, over twitter. Aurelio De Laurentiis has a reputation as a showman, so might be exaggerating. Napoli may struggle to attract big names anyway. Question marks also remain over whether Rafael Benítez will be willing to spend big, big money on a few players, instead of strengthening his entire squad with cheaper players. De Laurentiis has recently stated that Napoli are in negotiations with Gonzalo Higuían, and want to buy Leandro Damião; promising signs for Napoli fans.

PSG also brought the high-profile AC Milan pair; of Zlatan Ibrahimović and Thiago Silva. Ibrahimović commanded a fee of £18,480,000, with Silva costing them a massive £36,960,000. AC Milan hasn’t really invested that money back into the squad.  Their net transfer spend was -£35,068,000 for the 2012-2013 season, despite buying Mario Balotelli.

The buying of Serie A players by PSG is not just isolated to AC Milan and Napoli. PSG’s first marquee arrival under the Qatari Investment Authority was attacking midfielder Javier Pastore, from Palermo for £36,960,000. Goalkeeper Salvator Sirigu was also brought from Palermo for £3,432,000. Jérémy Ménez was brought for £7,040,000 from Roma, Mohamed Sissoko for £6,160,000 from Juventus, Thiago Motta for £10,120,000 from Inter and Marco Veratti for £10,560,000 from Pescara. (Transfer figures according to http://www.transfermarkt.co.uk)

Without big stars, people, especially outsiders, will not watch the Italian league.

Why are the stars leaving?

While most players would say that leaving Italy was due to the excitement of a new project, the main reason for them departing is money. Italy is in a terrible financial state, football included. Teams now have to sell before they buy players.

Clubs like PSG can offer better wages and, as the Serie A’s quality continues decreasing, a better league and team. There isn’t really a way out for the Serie A, unless some club starts paying crazy money for big players.

Alessandro-Nesta-Montreal-Impact
Montreal Impact veteran Nesta acknowledges that his ex-league is struggling

AC Milan legend, Alessandro Nesta , told the BBC’s World Football programme: “There’s no money in Italy at the moment and the best players go to play in other leagues – Spain, England, Germany. Italy’s going down.”  He forgot France!

Scandals are making the Serie A look terrible worldwide

The worldwide image of the Serie A is terrible. Corruption in Italy is a massive issue. The documentary “Girlfriend in a Coma” shows this much better than I could. Here is the producers’ blog: http://girlfriendinacoma.eu/.

Match fixing has certainly ruined the previously glossy image of Italian football. The 2006 Italian match-fixing scandal saw Juventus get stripped of their league title for that season. The scandal involved most of the Serie A and Serie B teams. Calciopoli, as it is known in Italy, has caused the league to lose a lot of credibility.

FC Juventus v Malaga CF - Pre-Season Friendly
Conte is one of many to be embroiled in match-fixing controversies

2011 saw a further match-fixing scandal, which saw points deductions and arrests for the guilty parties. Later, in 2012, Juventus manager Antonio Conte was hit with a 10 month ban from football and a £157,000. His assistant Angelo Alessio was also banned for 8 months, with former Bari defender Nicola Belmonte serving a six-month suspension. The bans and fines related to Conte’s previous reign at Siena, with Conte failing to report details of 2 fixed matches. Leonardo Bonucci, Simone Pepe, Marco Di Vaio, Salvatore Masiello, Daniele Padelli and Giuseppe Vives were acquitted of the charges against them.

Amongst other scandals, the latest one related to finances, happening earlier this year. The Italian financial police raided Serie A clubs’ offices, in a nationwide government crackdown on tax evasion. Amongst others- AC Milan, Juventus, Lazio and Internazionale-had their financial records searched. The investigation continues, but if clubs are found guilty they could be hit with fines, point’s deductions, and further action from FIFA. Arrests will also be made.

The future

The scandals have caused the world to view Italian football with a large degree of cynicism. The Serie A is now being treated as untrustworthy. The quality of the league dropping will mean that European performances will keep on decreasing. This will decrease viewing figures, decreasing money. The financial situation in Italy, one of the worst in Europe, also means that attendances will drop. It is a vicious cycle for Italy, a country which desperately needs some money and no corruption.

With the rise of Ligue 1, the Serie A may drop to 5th in the league rankings. It’s sad for Italian football fans, but everything works in cycles. For example, Preston North End used to be one of the world’s best clubs. They now languish in League One. Serie A will one day rise again, but replicating the popular days of the 1990s is a long way off.

Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Final - Bayern Munich v Inter Milan - Santiago Bernabeu
It might be a long time until another Italian side lifts Europe’s top honour

(For more information on Ligue 1’s wealth, see: https://mattysfootythoughts.wordpress.com/2013/05/18/psg-and-monaco-monopolise-ligue-1/).

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