Serie A: The Decaying League

Mats EngdahlCorrespondent IJune 26, 2009

MILAN, ITALY - APRIL 11: Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Inter in action during the Serie A match between Inter Milan and Citta di Palermo at the Stadio Meazza on April 11, 2009 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by New Press/Getty Images)

Now that Kaka has absconded to Madrid, followers of world football are being told three other superstars are getting ready to leave the peninsula.

Alexadre Pato is reportedly set to leave Milan for Chelsea, while across town Brazilian defender Maicon has cited Inter's failure in the Champions League as motivation for a transfer, while his teammate Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been connected with Barcelona.

Couple this with the fact that no top-flight players seem to have Italian teams high on their destination wish lists, and the league's plight begins to appear more dire.

So the question is: has Serie A run its course as top-tier league?

In the 1990s and the early part of this decade, Serie A was probably the best league in the world. The caliber of players that graced the league was unmatched: AC Milan boasted Rijkard, Van Basten and Ruud Gullit in the early 90s to be followed later by Shevchenko and Kaka.

Juventus had Zidane before he broke the then-world transfer record with his move to Real Madrid. Inter Milan, in the early part of the decade had Lothar Matthaus and in the late 90s brought in Ronaldo when he was still being compared to Pele. Maradona opened the decade by leading Napoli to the league title.

But this transfer period has seen the league's best player depart for Spain and it looks likely that the next two, in Maicon and Ibrahimovic, will be soon following him abroad.

No Italian teams are in the running for the season's other top transfer darlings like David Villa, Cesc Fabregas or David Silva. Granted that Emmanuel Adebayor and Samuel Eto'o have both been linked with Italian moves, but only Eto'o could claim to be of the same quality as any of the above players.

The root of the current state of affairs lies most directly with 2006's match-fixing scandal that saw Juventus, Fiorentina and Lazio all relegated to Serie B. It was a dark mark for the league and one its most successful teams historically, Juventus, are only just now recovering fully. Since the scandal, Lazio has remained mired in financial muck.

Considering the renaissance currently being enjoyed by the Premier League, now arguably with six clubs capable of qualifying for the Champions League and at least three, Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea, with the financial firepower to dominate the competition in the future.

Inter will be trying for its fourth straight Scudetto this season and, but they are the only team that would appear close—financially and otherwise—to competing abroad and the previous two Champions League competitions have seen them embarrassed in England.

Perhaps its time for Italy to start reforming the youth academies in the same mode as Arsenal, or otherwise accept that they will become similar to the Bundesliga and the Eredivisie as a league that just serves to fill out the spots in the Champions League.

Because right now, they are getting blown away by the big-money bullies from Spain and England.