In his first article for BPF, Damien has a look at why the limelight has been off the Italian League in recent years.
I have always been a fan of Italian football ever since I was young. One of the joys of my week would be to sit down and watch the live Italian game on Channel 4 and revel in the skills of the players on show, the Ronaldos, the Del Pieros and the Crespos.
Even before the names above were playing, Italy was seen as the place to find out how good you were as it’s where the best players played, Ian Rush gave this as one of the key reasons he decided to join Juventus over Barcelona for less money.
In the mid and late 90s Italy was seen as the best league in the world with the best players and even into the 00s Italian teams were always seen in latter stages of competitions and in some cases winning them, like Milan in 2007 and 2003 (against another Italian team, Juventus).
However since 2007 someone has seemed to have switched the spotlight off Italy and it now shines very brightly over Spain and England.
Many people would say that there isn’t the same amount of money in the Italian game as there once was or they don’t have the money of the Spanish or English, but if am not mistaken Inter Milan, AC Milan and AS Roma all have bigger stadiums than Liverpool, Arsenal and even Manchester United, so the money is there to be made.
People forget, because Italian fans don’t travel in massive numbers, that this is a football mad nation with claims to even have invented football and to say the money isn’t there to be made is a joke. On a recent visit to Rome there was more official Roma and Lazio merchandise than I have seen anywhere in England for a team.
Italy also has Sky Italia which offers the same kind of football packages that are available in the UK and Ireland so I’m lost to where this lack of money argument comes from.
So what else could be the reason for the sudden drop in standards of Italian clubs?
What seems to have been a running theme in Italy recently has been the big teams continuing to buy, selected and rely on players that probably wouldn’t have the energy levels to play in the English Premiership. For example Paolo Maldini is one of the best defenders to have ever played the game but Milan talked him out of retiring so he could play until he was 40, this is something I can’t really see happening in England or Spain.
Recently Italy’s under 21s made it to the semi final of the European Championships, anyone who watched the game will tell you that they bossed eventual champions Germany, and one of the undoubted stars of the team was Inter Milan’s “Super” Mario Balotelli. Any team in England would have a talent like this involved with the first team as much as possible, but in Italy there are rumours Balotelli wants out of Inter due to lack of first team chances and I don’t blame him, to have to sit on the bench and play second fiddle to Adriano would be frustrating.
After being knocked out of the Champions League two years in a row Jose Mourinho said that Inter need to be better prepared to play against high energy teams like the English, so in the past few weeks Inter have carried out one of the best pieces of business of the summer getting 40million plus Samuel Eto’o for Zlatan Ibrahimovic but then let themselves down by being linked with moves for Deco and Ricardo Carvalho players again that are seen as over the hill.
Something else that almost never happened before is Italian players moving to different countries, as before they believed they were in the best league in the world. Only this week Liverpool signed Alberto Aquilani, from AS Roma, who said that he was sad to leave Rome but felt that Liverpool was a chance he couldn’t turn down, but it was not too long ago that a Liverpool victory over Roma in the Uefa Cup was a massive surprise.
Maybe it’s not just the league itself maybe it’s an Italian mind set that age is better over youth. A case in point is happening right now at Chelsea.
Most people who watched Chelsea play last year saw that they had potential to be a great side but they had too many players getting close to or already at and over 30. So after Guus Hiddink departed and Carlo Ancelotti came in many people, me included, waited somewhat nervously to see who Chelsea would be link with and to my surprised it was Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf, who aren’t exactly under 21s.
For Italian football to get back to the top again massive changes have to be made, younger players have to be given a chance rather than buying Ronaldinho’s or other washed up players for big fees ahead of them. The talent is there in players like Pato, Giovinco, Balotelli they just need to be made feel that they are playing in the best possible place or they too might look for pastors new.
There’s and old saying in football that form is temporary and class is permanent, well I for one am hoping that some of that old school classic Italian class shines through soon, if only for the good of the game.