Serie A is arguably falling into the wilderness when compared with the Barclays Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga, which are considered the ‘Big Three Leagues’ in European football. Serie A has developed a reputation over the past few years for being a populated with ageing player with a slow playing tempo. As a result of this, players are able to play into the latter years of their career without having to worry about the speed and physicality of the Premier League for example. Players such as Patrice Evra, Ashley Cole and Nemaja Vidic have all made the switch from the Premier League this summer and have decided to embark on a new challenge.
There has been no picture boy signings within the Serie A this summer, with a seeming struggle to attract big names, while there is also the constant scrutiny surrounding keeping the top player, such as Aturo Vidal and Paul Pogba. Arturo Vidal’s future is one issue that needs to be cleared up soon rather than later for the sake of preserving the Italian League’s reputation as a major attraction within European football. Players such as Vidal, Pogba, Tevez, Higuain, Pirlo and Strootman are the stars of the league and therefore it is crucial that they remain in the league.
Other supposed stars of the league such as Balotelli, Tevez and Kaka may stand out in Serie A, however they were considered surplus to requirements at their former clubs, all of whom were are in the ‘Big Three Leagues’. It now appears that the Serie A has no choice but to deal with the cast offs from the other European sides. There was a time when players such as Cannavaro, Maldini, Zidane, Seedorf, Nesta, Davids, Nedved, Del Piero and Ronaldo were all in their prime and leading a host of stars within the Serie A league, however this is sadly no longer the case.
A big issue within the Italian league is that no club has the financial muscle to compete with the major English teams and their billionaire Arab/Russian/American owners, or the Spanish giants of Barcelona and Madrid and their seemingly limitless backed finances. It is hard to pinpoint a time when the Serie A started to decline, but the match fixing claims in 2006 certainly tarnished the leagues image. This controversy came only six days after the Italian national team lifted the most prestigious prize in world football, the World Cup.
Italian Football was crushed with the news that one of the biggest and oldest clubs within Serie A would be relegated for their part played in a match fixing scandal. Juventus were demoted to Serie B and given a whopping 30 point deduction, while additionally AC Milan, Lazio and Fiorentina were all penalised, but were allowed to remain in Serie A. At the time, Serie A had some of the finest players in World football playing within their ranks. The likes of Thuram, Nedved, Vieira, Trezeguet and Ibrahimovic were all part of the Juventus side which was cast into Serie B. Furthermore, there has been another match fixing scandal, with Juventus again the centre of attention. On this occasion, the manager Antonio Conte was deemed to have been involved and was subsequently slapped with a ten month touchline ban.
An Italian side has not lifted the Champions League since Inter Milan in 2010 and before that, arch rivals AC Milan in 2007. Since their respected victories, both sides have gone through a substantial transitional period which has seen them decline significantly. The current powerhouse of Italian football, Juventus, have won the Scuddeto at a canter in recent years, but they have not been able to replicate such form on the European front. Moreover, the problem isn’t limited to the national league. Italy’s performance in the recent World Cup was hardly enthralling and there seems to be a limited number of players coming through the youth ranks which have the quality to meet the criteria of the national team. Veterans such as Pirlo and Buffon are still heavily relied on and seen as an integral part of the side.
The Italian powerhouses will surely return because the likes of Juventus, Inter and Milan are too big and prestigious to be kept down forever; however a few issues need addressing before this becomes possible. The Italian authorities need to clear the Italian name and prevent corruption occurring again before an opportunity for Italian football to get back amongst the elite can be considered. Right now it’s hard to suggest otherwise that Serie A is the now only the fourth strongest league in Europe and could possibly even slip to fifth with the re-emergence of Ligue 1 in France. Serie A clearly trails the ‘Big Three Leagues’ in commercial terms, resulting in a drop in playing standards due to the lower calibre of players which the league can attract. Even though there were three Italian teams at this summer’s International Champions Cup, the Italian sides were never on the same marketing level as the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Real Madrid. English clubs are very successful at using the marketing strategy of the Premier League as a tool to get sponsors and lucrative deals from the markets of Asia, the United States of America and the Middle East which is something that Italian teams are currently unable to use with regards to Serie A.
Until Serie A is cleared and wealthy owners see Serie A teams as good projects to build on, the fans of the Italian domestic league may just have to sit tight and cope with the decline. However, for a country which is so passionate about football, it is going to be tough to accept that right now, they aren’t amongst the footballing elite.