A Juventus shareholders meeting is an unlikely place to fester unity amongst the Serie A top brass. Yet Juventus President Andrea Agnelli’s opening speech appears to have had a rather surprising effect.
“Juventus supports a reform of professional football, which can no longer be treated the same as grass roots football, a reform of the Leagues, of the number of professional teams, the youth sector, a full reform of the sporting justice, which cannot treat issues affecting clubs worth millions of Euros like minor disputes in provincial football” – just part of his talk on what ventured into a ‘state of Calcio’ address rather than a financial report.
But it resonated with his peers across the League. Lazio President Claudio Lotito tentatively placed himself in the Agnelli camp. “There is a sharing of ideas with Agnelli. We can launch a new era of reforms provided that the interests of the clubs are put at the service of the system.”
His last sentence is key – for far too long Serie A has been fragmented. The respective Presidents are, quite understandably, looking after their own interests first, but it has created an attitude of distrust and resulted in an inability to tackle the important issues affecting Italian football.
Genoa President Enrico Preziosi had it right when he claimed that “the problem with the League is that we are 20 heterogeneous clubs forced together – it is difficult to envisage Genoa thinking like Chievo and Juventus at the same time.”
It is an all too common sight to read, after a gathering of the 20 Presidents at a Lega Serie A event, contrasting opinions as to the way forward – the fiasco over using a club’s fan base to assign a portion of the domestic TV revenue a perfect example.
Agnelli’s appeal for reform, however, seems to have fostered a united front. Preziosi admitted that he was “at the side of Agnelli”, while Parma President Tommaso Ghirardi also expressed a desire for togetherness.
“We must be more united in the League, to clear the field of tensions and to avoid taking decisions that go and damage the smaller clubs,” he said. “I am glad this input comes from an authoritative person like him.”
With that, Ghirardi stumbled upon another crucial factor – it needed a big club to come out with this. It will also need them to follow Lotito’s advice and put their interests at the disposal of others, but that can only be judged much further down the line.
That is not to say there is no ulterior motive for the timing of Agnelli’s remarks. From a business perspective, Juventus are probably the most modern in Italy, and they are certainly the fastest growing within that modern structure.
When he was not pontificating on the state of Italian football, Agnelli was presiding over positive financial news. Revenue grew by 24 per cent, losses were halved compared to the previous year, and an investment of €40m was made to develop property in the surrounding area of Continassa which, in time, will further improve their revenue streams.
But the problem is that Agnelli can see the Italian system is going to hold Juventus from growing further. In his own words: “We can get as far as a certain point, but then it is the system that must grow. Italian football is experiencing a rapid decline, its development blocked by several factors that reflect the crisis in the country.”
This should not take away from the fact that he is right, but at the same time he is still looking out for Juve’s interests.
He did not just spend the time highlighting problems – solutions were put forward too. “We should focus on the sale of foreign TV rights to close the gap with the Premier League. A credible programme of five to eight years should be started with the aim of improving the revenues of Serie A.”
And continuing the theme of harmony and agreement, Ghirardi was thinking along the same lines. “We must take a road that brings more international revenue to our product, maybe bringing our matches to emerging countries such as China, UAE and India.”
It is an interesting trail of thought – most people, such as Pescara President Daniele Sebastiani, recognise the need to develop other sources of revenue from TV rights, but Agnelli knows improving the image of the League abroad improves the product, which will yield greater results elsewhere.