As a raft of stars leave Serie A, possibly joined by Edinson Cavani, Alex Mott wonders whether Italian football has lost its lustre.
All good things come to an end. And for Napoli fans, that denouement could be very soon. Reports this week have claimed that Edinson Cavani could be the subject of summer bids from Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, with both clubs willing to pay the 26-year-old’s €63m release clause.
It’s another story in a long line linking the Uruguayan striker away from the San Paolo and despite his recent contract renewal, the momentum is gaining pace for Cavani to depart the Partenopei in the near future.
The likes of Real Madrid, Chelsea and Arsenal have hinted at their interest in the former Palermo man, and even with Napoli’s sound financial structure and wealthy backer, they certainly wouldn’t baulk at the thought of an extra €63m in the coffers – even if it did mean parting with their best player.
It’s a dilemma that President Aurelio De Laurentiis will no doubt wrestle with at the end of the current campaign, but just the mere mention of Cavani’s future shows where Serie A is in the current pecking order of European football.
Having slipped into fourth place in the UEFA co-efficient rankings behind the Bundesliga, the Italian top-flight is no longer afforded four Champions League places, and is in fact closer to France’s Ligue 1 than it is to the German League. Les Parisiens emergence as a continental force – with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Pastore leading the line – could mean that within two or three years calcio will slip to fifth in the charts – a fate frankly unthinkable a few years ago.
Since Jose Mourinho’s departure from Inter back in 2010, Italian football has been on a steady decline that has seen a raft of big-name players leave the peninsula for better wages, better atmospheres and better football.
The three previously listed at PSG, Thiago Silva, Wesley Sneijder, Alexandre Pato and perhaps most worryingly of all Marco Verratti, have all left Italian shores for challenges elsewhere in France, Turkey and Brazil.
It’s a truly worrying state of affairs for fans of Serie A who have been spoilt for over 25 years with some of the greatest players of a generation. A lack of television money, sparse crowds, unsafe stadiums, persistent stories of racist chanting and a continuing economic crisis have turned some of Europe’s top stars of off calcio with alarming regularity.
It has meant, however, that the country’s top clubs have turned their attentions to promoting exciting youth talents. Stephan El Shaarawy, Mattia De Sciglio, Lorenzo Insigne and a host of others have come through in the last 12 to 18 months, turning Serie A from a retirement home to a League where young players can flourish.
It’s a paradox that strikes at the heart of all supporters, from the most casual to the fanatical. Is it right for the Italian top-flight to be the next Ligue 1 or Eredivisie – harnessing Under-21 stars and selling them on for profit? Or should owners on the peninsula be breaking the bank to keep their marquee names – a la Cavani?
Perhaps there can be a balancing act between those two fundamentals. And do truly world-class players make for truly world-class matches anyway? Right now, we are at a crossroads in Italian football. It’s a fascinating period to be witnessing, and whatever happens over the next few years will change calcio for a generation.
Lazio sporting director Igli Tare told German magazine Kicker on Thursday: “I can assure you, having watched games all over Europe, the Italian championship is still the best.” We may not attract names such as Diego Maradona, Marco Van Basten and Ruud Gullit anymore, but it’s not all bad.