There used to be times when Italy was considered the European capital of football. The best in business plied their trade in Italian clubs, which in turn enhanced the strength of the League to a ridiculously high pedestal. The surreal skills of the Brazilians, complemented by the resolute discipline and magical movements of the Italians offered a visual delight speaking the least, for everyone preferring the game to be won through a tactical edge rather than on pure physical supremacy.
But, like all great things, the Italian football too tasted the shades of the other end of the spectrum and has over the years fallen from one level to another. In the present scene, should things fail to improve considerably, one shall hardly be surprised if European giants from the other regions start taking the teams from the peninsula as pushovers.
The moment of reckoning has finally arrived when Serie A – actually does not – kick off this weekend, as Fiorentina and newly promoted outfit Siena lock horns in what could possibly be reduced to being an uninteresting clash. The administrative unrest that has been prevalent in Italy’s premier league for some time now has reached a point that disallows the schedule to be met this Saturday as the Players’ Association is observing a strike and thus halting the commencement of the new season.
The club administrative bodies and the players’ association have reportedly failed to reach to an agreement over the two amendments that the clubs want to introduce in the contract. The players’ association is adamant to observe a collective strike, if the contract is not signed unanimously by all the twenty clubs before the scheduled commencement of the League. Currently, eighteen of the twenty clubs have refused to oblige the players’ demands with Cagliari and Siena being the only two exceptions.
Despite all sorts of legal complexities and uncertainties making it to the headlines, Serie A has to deal with the larger agenda that is to re-establish a legacy and reclaim a stature of being Europe’s most fancied league – two areas where the English and Spanish counterparts have substantially leapfrogged the Italians. Gone are the days when Derby Della Madonnina used to be the most awaited clash of the season across Europe and when names like Pavel Nedved and Edgar Davids used to don the famous Bianconerri shirt. The fact that a player of Simone Pepe’s merit is part of Juventus’ primary setup and that Milan’s much hyped Mr X turns out to be Alberto Aquilani of all people speaks volumes for the levels the league has been reduced to.
UEFA’s ruliing of dismissing Italy a fourth spot to compete in the Champions League was merely stating the obvious as it was only a matter of time for Germany to overtake Serie A in the race. The misery in Europe continues right at the onset of the new season as Udinese and Roma have both been denied a chance to play in Europe having failed to win their qualifying round fixtures for Champions League and Europa League respectively.
Amidst all sorts of convoluted circumstances, where everybody fails to anticipate how soon the issues should be resolved for players to unravel their skills on the field, there are quite a few important propositions the League as a whole has to deal with this season. The ever-decreasing interest for Italian football – both from the local as well as global crowd – is a pretty alarming sign for the financial sustenance of the League.
Clubs do pay a hefty sum of money to the local municipalities for the rental services of the stadiums they hire, which effectively means the ticket sales are not escalating the profits in the owners’ balance sheets as effectively as it does in England. The empty seats in the home stadiums of the lesser teams only elaborate the sorry state of affairs in the country. Italy is not in the best of the economic health and in order to lure people to turn back to the stadiums, factors like infrastructure, hospitality and security must improve drastically.
Most importantly, the English have successfully marketed their game in the last decade, which endorses brutal physicality doing the talking on the field and where speed and ruthlessness are deemed above skill and flair. As a result, the Italian game that is much more tactically complex in nature has been started to being considered of lesser quality and of reduced competence. In order to garner back the eye-balls of the 80’s and 90’s therefore, the Allegris, the Contes and the Gasperinis of today’s Milan, Juventus and Inter may well have to let go off their traditional mannerisms of playing football and one shouldn’t be shocked to learn an indication of change in the footballing ideals in Italy from this generation of managers – in order to survive in the longer run, Italy may have to adapt to the modernization some day and this could, in all likelihood, be the ice-breaking year.
Big Names – Big Departures
In the past three years, Serie A has attracted some of the finest names in world football to amaze fans with their unnatural set of trickery. The likes of Wesley Sneijder, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho, Pato, Thiago Silva, Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini among others represent the top clubs in Italy but the larger problem that looms over Serie A is the difficulty to hold on to these players. The League has already lost two of the finest young talents to France and Spain in Javier Pastore and Alexis Sanchez respectively.
Both the young lads played a fundamentally important role in letting Palermo and Udinese emerge as the alternate powers in Italy but unfortunately both have chosen to move away seeking greener pastures. Samuel Eto’o parting with Inter for anonymous Russian club poises a big question mark on the interest level that the League can generate for a player to stay put. One wonders whether Eto’o would have even considered one such move leaving the likes of Real Madrid or Chelsea.
Sneijder too appears to have made up his mind on leaving the blue half of Milan to add few English feathers in his hat. The preservation of the best talents hence, has become one of the most conspicuous points in question for the League and has thus far not been handled with the required levels of proficiency. In order to make Italy a preferred destination for the finest players across, the League first needs to ensure the best available players do not keep departing at this rate. The signings of Bojan Krkic and Eric Lamela by AS Roma confirm Serie A hasn’t yet completely lost its sheen in terms of excitement and quality and the current season shoulders the greatest responsibility to reclaim the League’s esteem.
Where Are The Celebrated Managers?
The biggest conundrum surrounding the present conditions of Serie A is the dearth of shrewd, astute and experienced managers, who have been there and done that before at the highest stage. Unfortunately, none of the managers has a worthy experience of managing a big club like Milan, Inter or Juventus but the situation is probably out of options rather than choice. A manager, who can read the game across geographical borders, analyze it and device a plan to counter the foreign teams is the one who is likely to succeed at the continental level.
The League does not boast of a single Champions League winning manager presently and it’s an irony to learn the likes of Carlo Ancelotti, Giovanni Trapattoni, Luciano Spalletti and Marcelo Lippi are not exactly relishing the idea of making a managerial comeback in Italy. The administrative hardships and the presidential insanity have reached to a point where managers do not feel protected enough to take their gambles and this is very much exemplified by presidents like Maurizio Zamparini.
Serie A 2011-12: The Time Is Now
The adversities in Italian football henceforth, are quite deep rooted than that meets the eye and a few good signings here and there shall not serve the broader purpose of administering the League in the smoothest possible manner. Few ground level changes are the primary need of the hour in a quest to make the League globally appealing and good looking. It is high time Serie A shunned the pretense of sticking to the laurels of the past to shape a resurgent future for the generations to follow.
The previous season successfully displayed some signs of a positive change especially in the brand of football that was exhibited and in the renaissance-esque emergence of teams like Napoli and Udinese in the top bracket. The 2011-12 season therefore, is contextually ever so important to determine the path the Italian League shall tread in the years to come and that whether it copes up with what is necessitated to be reckoned as a global brand in football.