Italy's last UEFA Champions League hope flickered out Wednesday night when Bayern Munich eliminated Juventus with a comprehensive 4-0 aggregate victory over two quarterfinal legs. The second leg ended in another 2-0 Bayern win, and afterward, Juventus manager Antonio Conte was bringing the straight talk.
In wide-ranging post-match comments, Conte is quoted by the Daily Telegraph as saying:
They (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.
Conte is clearly correct about the first part. Bayern outclassed Juve over two legs and deserved to advance. For our purposes, let's talk about that last part, where Conte says it might be a while before an Italian team wins the Champions League again.
Is he right? Has it become that bad for Italian football?
Inter Milan was the last Italian team to win the competition, beating Bayern in the 2010 final. Since then, no Italian team has reached even the semifinals.
The reason, according to Juventus' director general Beppe Marotta, is spending power. "Don't forget that Bayern have a turnover that is not only twice that of Juve, but also Milan and Inter Milan," he said.
Much of Bayern's squad, however, is home-grown. Admittedly, Javi Martinez was a big-money acquisition last summer, but influential players like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller came through the club's youth system.
That fact suggests the problem has less to do with money than Marotta claims.
On Wednesday, Bayern exposed Juventus' flaws, but Juventus should be possible to correct those problems, through squad-building, youth development and coaching. After the second leg, B/R's Clark Whitney outlined Juventus' issues thus:
The Turin side have a great central midfield, but no dedicated attacking midfielders, no out-and-out fullbacks, and poor forwards. Jupp Heynckes had a tactical advantage in facing Antonio Conte's 3-5-2 formation, and his side exploited it ruthlessly.
That doesn't sound like a team hopelessly out of European contention. Rather, it sounds like a team that needs to—and can—improve in certain areas in order to reach the top.
A solid core is already in place at Juventus, and AC Milan are improving quickly after this season's early troubles. So tell us what you think, readers.
Is it possible Conte is merely trying to downplay expectations? Or is he on to something here? In short, can an Italian team win the Champions League in the next few seasons?
And if so, which club and when?