It is hard to believe that it is only nine months since Pescara achieved promotion to Serie A. With a fourth-placed finish under Coach Massimo Oddo, the Delfini beat Trapani over two legs in the playoffs to seal promotion to Italy’s top league.
Now, with Oddo replaced by Zdenek Zeman, Pescara are set for certain relegation, with a miserable 12 points to show from a total of 28 games. Three of those points were awarded on a technicality, and it was hard for any Serie A fan not to feel for 2006 World Cup-winner Oddo as he cried on the bench when his side conceded five goals against Torino.
Preceded by a 6-2 defeat to Lazio, the 5-3 drubbing led to his dismissal, and whilst many felt for his side, Pescara’s misery this term highlights a wider point. The bottom four teams have registered just 13 wins between them all season, with one of those having been awarded on a technicality. Of their remaining 12 victories, six came against each other, two against 16-placed Genoa, with the final four against Chievo, Cagliari, Udinese and Atalanta.
It's Pescara v Atalanta this weekend and the betting odds don’t look good for the Delfini. Anything less than a massive defeat would be a shock.
The only sensible way to avoid this never-ending cycle would be for the FIGC to adopt proposals that would see Serie A reduced to 18 teams. This been a long-term desire of its President Carlo Tavecchio, who was re-elected for a further four-year term last week.
With the aim of increasing the quality of play and making the league more competitive, Tavecchio spoke about the issue back in September last year. Whilst such sentiments are undeniable, the real benefit of a reduction in teams would be an increase in credibility for the league as a whole.
Taking this season as an example, if Pescara and Crotone had been taken out of the equation under the new rules, the battle for relegation would suddenly look a whole lot different. Rooted to the bottom on 15 points would be Palermo, whilst Empoli would also look likely to go down with 22. The third spot however would be much more of a competition, with Genoa, Cagliari, Bologna, Sassuolo and Udinese all within four points of each other.
This would also have knock-on effects in the transfer market. Although suffering a terrible campaign and occupying the fifth from bottom slot, Genoa have little to worry about in terms of relegation, the Grifone an astonishing 14 points ahead of the drop zone.
The apathy created by this area of no-man’s-land has seen them strengthen top sides by selling star players Leonardo Pavoletti and Tomas Rincon to Napoli and Juventus respectively, safe in the knowledge that they will avoid relegation. Whilst Empoli have proved that the constant cycle of selling without proper reinvestment in the side will eventually come home to roost, these mid-level teams are just serving to widen the gulf.
Even though the Old Lady has enjoyed absolute dominance over her 19 rivals in the league this season, the lack of tangible competition only serves to weaken her when it comes to the real test of the Champions League. Indeed, all the Italian teams seeking European football would be improved by sterner tests through the domestic campaign.
It would cut the over-crowded fixture list and help players be better prepared for the late season rigours of European football or even international tournaments. The current 20-team league is an aberration, only the 18th campaign to use this format, compared to 36 seasons with 18 sides (most recently in 2003-04) and 30 with an even leaner 16 clubs. Before the change in 2004-05, Serie A hadn’t included 20 teams since the early 1950s.
Ultimately though, the tears of Pescara-born Massimo Oddo are a perfect illustration of the cruelty of a 20-team league. His hard work in earning promotion undone in one fell swoop, as the weekly mauling of his side cost him his job. Some teams simply don’t belong in the top flight and until we admit that, we’re just damaging those at the top, middle and bottom.