Serie A’s Slip from the Summit

The summer of 2021 has been magical for Italian Football. Gli Azzurri swept aside the competition at the Euros with their vibrant brand of attacking football. Twenty-two of their 26 man squad played in Serie A. From the outside, it would seem like the Italian league was thriving, right? A closer inspection, however, would reveal otherwise.

Over the summer, the Serie A endured what can only be described as a horrific transfer window. They lost their MVP; Romelu Lukaku, their top goalscorer; Cristiano Ronaldo, and Goalkeeper and Defender of the Season; Gigi Donnarumma and Cristian Romero, respectively. To top it all off, they also bid farewell to Achraf Hakimi, Rodrigo de Paul, and Scudetto winner Antonio Conte. These weren’t just the best players in Italy; some of them were the best players in the world.

The biggest names to depart Serie A this summer.
Image credits: Goal

To witness the loss of a plethora of stars was devastating for Serie A. A league that once dominated the world in the late 1990s and early 2000s has been reduced to helplessly succumbing to hungry foreign clubs poaching their top talents. The Serie A has been declining for over a decade now; this summer, however, seemed like the final indication that change was beckoning. The league is struggling to compete financially, and a myriad of other factors have led them to fall far behind other top European leagues.

The Calciopoli

Perhaps overlooked at times, the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal of 2006 severely tainted the reputation of Serie A. The consequences of the Calciopoli were grave; Italian football faced a mass exodus of talent and replacing it was no easy task. Coincidentally, at this exact moment, the Premier League, La Liga, and the Bundesliga took a huge step forward with lucrative sponsorship deals, TV revenues and financial strength. They would attract the best players in the world and dominate European football for the next decade.

To this day, a malignant shadow of the Calciopoli looms over Italy, and some believe this may deter sponsors and players from moving to Italy. Perhaps unfairly, but nevertheless, the scandal has played a part in Serie A’s catastrophic decline.

Financial Struggles

Football nowadays has increasingly become a sport driven by money; to compete at the highest level, a club must invest boatloads of money. Therein lies the problem, Serie A has been struggling to compete financially ever since the Calciopoli. You see, in the years after the scandal, Serie A failed to secure lucrative TV deals and sponsorships.

While other top European leagues expanded into the Asian and American markets, Serie A seemed to be shunned by sponsors and broadcasters. The effect has significantly worsened in recent times; to put it into context, the team that wins the Serie A earns about the same money from TV rights as the teams that are promoted to the Premier League from the Championship as claimed by Gianluigi Longari, the Sportitalia TV transfer market expert.

Luca Gotti, Udinese Head Coach, voiced his opinion on the current financial predicament of Serie A.

Even with weak sponsorship deals and TV revenues, the ambitious Serie A clubs underwent unsustainable spending. What followed only sealed their fate. Eventually, the league accumulated crippling debt: a whopping €2.8 billion in 2019-20, with only three debt-free teams. To further worsen their predicament, the coronavirus pandemic struck. The closing of stadiums and stoppage of football drove the metaphorical dagger deeper into Serie A finances. These financial woes brought about the mass summer exodus of Serie A stars in the summer, and it now seems increasingly difficult for Serie A to attract top foreign talents.

Culture and Style

The beautiful game as we know it is a constantly evolving sport. Today, it is played at a much faster pace than ever before, and there is a greater emphasis placed on playing free-flowing attacking football. Conversely, when Serie A reigned supreme, it did so through possessing world-class defences. However, in the late 2000s, football underwent a paradigm shift. Gone was the Italian Catenaccio of old; in came the German Gegenpress and Spanish Tiki-Taka football. These tactical systems were more exciting to watch, and their influences spread across Europe to the Premier League.

Ralf Rangnick, one of the earliest pioneers of Gegenpressing, influenced European football in a significant way.
Image credits: Getty Images

To the Italians chagrin, Serie A could not make that next step. The Serie A was left behind, and you only have to look at Europe’s premier competition, the Champions League, for proof. Italian clubs have struggled time and again since Inter last won the competition in 2010. Juventus have made the final twice but were comprehensively beaten on both occasions by the Spanish Giants, Barcelona, and Real Madrid. Their grim record underlines how weak the tactical systems of Serie A clubs are when facing other European clubs on the grandest stage.

A Turn of Fortunes?

Despite the seemingly fatal hit Serie A has taken, not all is lost. For the first time in over a decade, the league is incredibly evenly matched; Stefano Pioli’s Milan and Spaletti’s Napoli are the two pace-setters so far but rule out Allegri’s Juve and Inzaghi’s Inter at your peril. Mourinho’s Roma and Gasperini’s Atalanta may too have a fighting chance.

What’s more, Serie A club’s seem to have finally embraced attacking football. Bar Allegri, all of the coaches listed above have set up their teams to play a beautiful, attractive brand of football that will surely attract a fan following. The Serie A also seems to possess a plethora of young talent ready to lead the next generation; Dusan Vlahovic, Victor Osimhen, Matthijs de Ligt, Rafael Leão, and of course, Federico Chiesa, to name a few.

As for the financial aspect, the reopening of stadiums is undoubtedly a boost. Italy hosts some of the most passionate fans globally, and the National team’s Euros win will only amplify the focus on Serie A. Additionally, a cautious approach towards managing funds will certainly allow Serie A clubs to become self-sustaining and compete regularly; they only have to look to Atalanta for inspiration.

There are ways to make their way out of this conundrum, but Italian clubs will need to be efficient and meticulous with their planning. It’s truly saddening to see Serie A fall so low, and we can only hope that one day, we may get a chance to witness the glory days again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *