What inspired me to write this post was an article, which I read on the Danish football site, www.bold.dk, earlier today. The article refers to statements from the AS Roma star Daniele De Rossi, who highlights the current position of Italian club football, which De Rossi associates with a ‘free fall’. He points to the fact that the Italian ‘Serie A’ is falling behind other European leagues, i.e. the English Premier League, the German Bundesliga, the Spanish Primera División/La Liga and perhaps even the French Ligue 1. De Rossi even mentions that he thinks that ‘Serie A’ is 10-20 years behind compared to the best leagues and that Italian club football battles with problem areas such as ‘run-down’ stadiums, corruption and a challenging financial situation. He underlines that Italian clubs and all related stakeholders must work hard to improve the club football culture, i.e. that also goes for the players.
I can agree on many aspects of his perspective. I was born in 1976 and as a passionate footballer, I grew up with the dominant role of the Italian ‘Serie A’ in the 1980s and 1990’s. At that point in the time, the Italian teams had a leading role in terms of setting the international football agenda. Italian teams accounted for a ‘benchmark of success’ at that time. In the time period ranging from the 1982/1983* to the 1997/1998 seasons, Italian teams were present in 12 of 16 Champions League/European Cup finals. I remember that some of the best football experiences at the time (especially in the late 1980s, early 1990s) was to watch the Milan-derbys, which featured AC Milan with the ‘three flying Dutchmen’ (van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard) and Inter Milan with the ‘German trio’ (Mathäus, Brehme, and Klinsmann). These super stars were among the biggest football idols of that time along with other players such as Diego Maradona, who took Argentina to the World Cup title in 1986 and his Italian club Napoli to the Italian title in the 1986/1987 season and to the UEFA Cup title in 1989. During the 1980s, strong players such as the the current UEFA President Michel Platini and Danish Michael Laudrup played for Juventus (fellow Danish international Preben Elkjær with Verona). My point is that the Italian ‘Serie A’ was a powerhouse at the time, which attracted the best players on the planet and featured some of the most successful teams at the time.
Now, reality is different! I totally agree with the fact that ‘Serie A’ must enhance its commercial focus. Spanish, English and German teams are in front of the Italian clubs in reference to Deloitte’s ‘money league’, which among other things measures ‘how good’ clubs are at generating revenues. In that regard, it plays a big role that many of the Italian football stadiums are not in ‘good fashion’ compared with the standard of stadiums in other leading European football leagues. I recall watching a couple of games at Milan’s San Siro Stadium a few years ago (Inter vs. Genoa and AC Milan vs. Fiorentina) and that was a ‘shocking’ experience compared to ‘the commercial and hospitality standards’ of the stadiums in other leagues, e.g. Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, England’s Wembley Stadium, Real Madrid’s Bernabeu Stadium, or the German stadiums, which were renovated for the 2006 World Cup.
Moreover, I definitely think that the impact of the financial crisis has hit the Italian clubs intensively. If ‘cash is king’ in business, it certainly makes a difference in the football world as well. In the past couple of years, Italian club football has been influenced by a situation where the best players have changed their positions on the Italian clubs in favour of clubs in England, Spain, or Germany. That was not the case in the 1980s and 1990s although AC Milan’s signing of Mario Balotelli and Juventus’ deal with Carlos Tevez marks a more positive path in terms of Italian clubs trying to appeal to star players. In that regard, it sends a signal that world-class players are still attracted to go to Italy although the money may not be as good as in England. From the perspective of the transfer market, the development in the Italian ‘Serie A’ has also been characterized by a development where some powerhouses, e.g. AC Milan, have experienced decreasing ‘incoming’ activities via the transfer market (especially if the indicator is market value of the additions to the roster, i.e. star players).
Italian club football has also been hurt by ‘corruption’, e.g. the indicent where Juventus coach Antonio Conte and various Italian players were caught and penalized due to match fixing allegations. Prior to that, Juventus learned a brutal lesson when the international distinguished club was penalized due to the Calciopoli scandal in 2006 along with other Italian clubs (AC Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina) – Juventus was relegated to ‘Serie B’ as a consequence and thus did not gain access to the ‘commercial money train’ in form of the UEFA Champions League in the 2006/2007 season for which the club had qualified as a result of the 2006 Italian title (which the club lost as part of the penalty).
In a response to the media after Juventus’ defeat to Bayern Munich in the 2012/2013 UEFA Champions League, Juventus coach Antonio Conte stated that “Bayern were simply stronger than us and we can only congratulate them. When you’re playing against one of the strongest teams in Europe it becomes difficult for everyone. But playing Bayern was a good opportunity to see where exactly we are compared to the big boys in Europe. Where are we, what’s missing and how do we remedy it? We have to look elsewhere, to Spain, to England and to Germany to see what lessons we can learn. But if you have the money, you can buy (players) and win. Otherwise, it takes a lot of patience. The way things are right now, I don’t see any Italian teams winning the Champions League for the next several years.” (Bleacher Report, April 11, 2013). Conte’s response clearly indicates that Italian club football is falling behind other European leagues in financial terms, which acts as an indicator for Italian club football because Juventus has brought itself back to a leading position in Italy. Juventus also sets the standard for ‘new tunes’ in Italian club football. The club opened a new 41,000-seat stadium in 2011. The new modern stadium is a good revenue source for Juventus, which traditionally has been associated with a high level of fan support in relation to Italian standards, and the new stadium meets a top football club’s demand for hospitality services, events, sustainability etc. The latter is one of the problematic areas for many other Italian clubs. Some of my business contacts at Wembley Stadium/the English FA (Wembley Stadium Consultancy), have consulted with Italian clubs to share the knowledge and experiences from one of the world’s most recognized venues (i.e. Wembley Stadium). This is another good indicator that Italian clubs can learn from the expertise related to commercial practices and operations linked to English stadiums and in this case Wembley Stadium. Some of the ‘run-down’ Italian stadiums have something to learn in terms of design, facilities, and operations in connection to venue management and all in all Italian club football has to close the gap to other European football leagues.
*The UEFA Champions League brand umbrella was established in 1992.
Bleacher Report, accessed today.
FIFA – World Football, accessed today.
SB Nation’s AC Milan blog (AC Milan Offside, an AC Milan community), accessed today.
Additional sources, which may inspire readers:
Transfermarkt, accessed today.
Wembley Stadium Consultancy – contact Mandy Shaw for services regarding the problem areas described above.