The domination that Serie A had over every other league in Europe in the 80s and early 90s seems as far away as ever these days. Long gone are the days that Serie A had the pull and the financial power to bring the world’s best players to Italy, but could that change in the future?
Where did it all go wrong for Serie A?
There’s no doubt about it that, during the 80s and 90s, Serie A was on to a good thing. So much so that the likes of the Brazilian Ronaldo made the league his home with Inter Milan, but the stars didn’t stop there. Maradona became an adopted son of Naples as he seduced the locals of Italy’s third-largest city. In fact, Maradona’s time was so much of a success that a documentary-cross-film has been made of the Argentine’s seven years and 188 appearances for Napoli.
These days, this Napoli side is unrecognizable compared to the team that Maradona once played in, and that isn’t because of their new head-turning kit from Kappa, but more the fact the global stars don’t end up in the South of Italy anymore.
Carrying on with more stories of the Serie A football stars from yesteryear, and who can forget Paul Gascoigne’s time at Lazio from 1992-1995? The Englishman became a cult hero for the Italian outfit and enjoyed an emotional return to the club in 2012. Gascoigne, though, was one of the last great exports that Serie A was able to bring in during the prime of their careers.
Slowly but surely the infrastructure of the Italian game was left behind as clubs around the continent, especially in England, began to modernize which made these leagues more marketable. Now, the more marketable a league is, the more commercial value it is likely to have.
Serie A’s refusal to move with the times would be the beginning of the league’s downfall and, if you think back, it’s crazy that the powers that be in Italy thought that stadiums built in the 50s, 60s, and 70s would be enough to sustain them heading into the new millennium. But it wasn’t just infrastructure that led to sponsors turning away from Serie A, it was also the style of football.
Fans want goals and not a technical masterclass
There was recently an extremely interesting, as well as revealing, interview with three West Ham players about the difference between Serie A and the Premier League. The players questioned, who had obviously played in both leagues, were Felipe Anderson, Angelo Ogbonna, and Carlos Sanchez.
The common theme that kept recurring was that the most significant difference was that Serie A was a lot more technical, with the Premier League far more frantic and end-to-end. These three players, who all currently play for West Ham, insisted that you get far less time on the ball in England whereas, in Italy, the option is there to take your time. Another interesting point is that it is acceptable to pass backwards a lot more in Italy but, in England, there will be a groan around the stadium with the fans demanding the ball is moved forward at every opportunity.
Now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out which brand of football would do more to capture the imagination of not only the next generation, but also fans from abroad. It’s no wonder that people say Serie A is not a league for young players.
Can Serie A regain its prestige and become the best in the world again?
There has been the odd sign or two that suggests change is coming, which gives you the lasting impression that Serie A is a league on the up. On the commercial front, the fact that Italian Information and Communications giants TIM have become the lead sponsor of the league, suggests that the big boys are once again prepared to invest in Italian football.
As far as infrastructure goes, the news that the San Siro is set to be demolished is both upsetting but also promising in equal measure. Of course, football lovers the world over would prefer that the cathedrals of European football be left alone but, in the San Siro’s case, it is a sign that there is a change in mindset in Italy. For instance, the San Siro was built in 1926 but only ever renovated once in 1990; you simply can’t make money without corporate hospitality, which in turn pays for great players to play in your stadium.
On the playing front, more and more big names are relocating to the Serie A, and there is no bigger name than Ronaldo in world football. The 35-year-old’s move to Juventus was another indication that the league is becoming relevant again.
This transfer has also done wonders for Juventus’ chances of winning nine league titles in a row when you consider that Betway has the Old Lady at odds of ½ to win Serie A, as of the 24th of February. Indeed, owners are becoming more ambitious, which can only be good news for the long-term future of the league.
There’s no doubt that this league is once again on the up and up, but how long it will take to get back to former glories is another matter.
Whilst the decision to improve is an admirable one, the other leagues around Europe (that haven’t been standing still for 25 years) will also be looking for ways to improve their own products. This gives you more of an accurate description of how big the task is; to not only move Italian football into the modern age, but to also see it overtake its competitors.
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