Four Reasons for the Downward Spiral of Italian Soccer
When it comes to soccer, Italy has always been an international powerhouse and a home to some of the biggest club teams in the world.
The "Azzurri" are four-time World Cup champions, winning in 1934, 1938, 1982, and in 2006, and were also the European Champions in 1968. A.C. Milan won the UEFA Champions League seven times, Inter Milan three times, and Juventus twice.
With big name players like Ronaldo, Lothar Matthaus, Diego Maradona, and Kaka, the Serie A was a preferred destination for world class foreign players. It was also home to great homegrown Italian players like Paolo Rossi, Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Roberto Baggio, and Dino Zoff. For many years, Serie A was the best league in the world, and it provided the Italian national team with a tremendous pool of players who helped the team flourish.
Italian soccer reached the summit in the summer of 2006 when Fabio Grosso converted the game winning penalty kick against France. The entire nation celebrated as Fabio Cannavaro lifted the trophy at the Olympiastadion in Berlin.
Ever since, Italian soccer has not been the same.
Serie A is now the No. 4 ranked league in Europe and has lost a spot in the Champions League starting next year. The Italian national team has also fallen to 11th in the top 25 rankings and did not make it out of an easy group in the 2010 World Cup.
This downward spiral in Italy is due to several reasons.
1. Match-Fixing Scandal
The very year Italy won the World Cup, the reputation of Italian soccer took a huge hit.
The reigning champions at that time, Juventus, and four other Italian teams were involved in a match-fixing scandal. Juventus, Milan, Lazio, Fiorentina, and Reggina were all punished, with the most severe penalty being handed to "La Vecchia Signora."
The Italian giants were relegated to Serie B, lost their 2005 and 2006 league titles, and were prohibited from playing in the Champions League the following season. The other clubs involved suffered relatively minor penalties, such as a deduction in points and having to play a few home games behind closed doors. "Calciopoli," as it is called, has had a lasting impact on Italian soccer.
Any time you relegate a team of Juventus' stature, the league takes a hit.
While they were competing in Serie B, the competition in Serie A was non-existent, as Inter Milan coasted to a title with a twenty-two point lead over second-place A.S. Roma. Juventus wound up selling some of their best players, many of them leaving Serie A. Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluca Zambrotta, and Lilian Thuram all left for Spain, and these are just some of the key players the team lost.
As seen from past history, the Italian national team thrives when Juventus, Milan, Inter, and Roma are thriving. That has not been the case for all teams since 2006. Juventus have had two dreadful seasons in a row, Roma have been struggling, and the only teams that are winning are Milan and Inter.
Not only has the match-fixing scandal hurt the league in terms of losing players, but Italian soccer as a whole is being looked at differently because of the controversy.
2. Stadiums and Facilities
A very important aspect of being successful is having adequate facilities to draw fans to the games. While England has some of the nicest and more modern stadiums in the world, Italy has fallen behind.
Most of the facilities in Italy were built before 1970 and are outdated. This is a key reason why the league only draws an average of 23,000 people. More fans means more money, and so teams are not making as much as they could be making. In addition, many of the playing surfaces are in poor condition, which affects the quality of the game.
Another aspect of the stadiums in Italy is that the security is not very good. Fans riot in the stadiums, throw flares on the field, chant obscene words, and in the past, derby games have led to opposing fans killing each other. Last year, Juventus fans burned the seats in the stadium, and last October, Serbian fans rioted in Genoa before a Euro 2012 qualifier. In many cases, fans do not go to the stadiums because they fear for their safety.
Stadiums also generate revenue, but the problem is, many Italian teams do not own the stadiums they play in. For example, San Siro is not owned by A.C. Milan or Inter Milan, but the city of Milan. Juventus does not own the Olympic Stadium in Torino either. Owning the stadium gives a team all the revenue it brings in from hosting games.
Right now, there is money to be made but teams are not building their own stadiums.
3. Italian Youth
The key to any soccer team’s future is youth.
Italy is having a hard time developing young talented Italian players like we are accustomed to seeing. In the glory years, Italy produced players like Totti, Nesta, Cannavaro, Buffon, and Del Piero regularly. These players got where they are today because they were given the chance to play at a young age.
In a day where teams want instant results, the big Italian teams are not very patient with developing their players. Instead, they are eager to buy players who are already established. Along with this comes the fact that a lot of teams right now simply do not have many Italian players.
Last year’s Inter team that won the treble only had four Italians on their roster; only two of them saw regular action. The startling fact is that the team with the most Italians, Juventus, is in seventh place this season.
4. Coaching and Tactics
You can also argue that the coaching and tactics are not very effective.
Some of the best coaches in the world like Jose Mourinho, Fabio Capello, Roberto Mancini, and Carlo Ancelotti all left Italy. Juventus hired Luigi Del Neri, Milan hired Massimiliano Allegri, Inter has Leonardo, and Roma has Vincenzo Montella. These coaches have little experience and are not world class coaches.
This shows in the way teams play.
The classic Italian style of play was to play good defense and keep possession of the ball. These days, the defense is not like it used to be and the game is very slow. When the best Italian team plays a fifth place English team in the Champions League and doesn’t win, there is a problem. And when there is only one Italian team left in both the Champions League and Europa League, there is an even bigger problem.
Italy has to fix these problems and put in a good showing at the Euros next summer. This might help them in the future and is the first step in restoring the glory of Italian soccer.