Tuesday April 25 2017
Future is bright for Serie A

As the ink dries on important contracts and 48 goals are scored in one round, Adam Summerton believes Italian football is back in business.

I, like perhaps many others reading this, grew up on Channel 4’s Football Italia of the 1990s - intrigued and drawn in by an alternate football culture to the one at home – mesmerised by the shows of colour and passion in the stands. But the biggest draw of all was the absolute wealth of top players.

Paul Gascoigne’s arrival in Serie A took English interest in Italian football to a whole new level, but he was just one of a galaxy of star names in Italy at the time, which included the likes of Roberto Baggio, Ruud Gullit, Gabriel Batistuta, Stefan Effenberg, Frank Rijkaard, Nicola Berti, Beppe Signori, Sosa, Roberto Mancini, Jean-Pierre Papin, Marco van Basten, Florian Raducioiu, Gianluca Vialli, Fabrizio Ravanelli… I could go on and on, and I’ve not even mentioned a single defender there. To put it simply, Italy’s top-flight was the number one place to be, the world’s single biggest collection of top-class footballers.

The modern day Serie A cannot yet claim to boast such a level of riches, but this is a league now very much on the up and once again building stocks of the world’s top players. Just this week Roma confirmed the arrival of Monchi from Sevilla, a world-renowned recruiter. Saturday saw an announcement that Naples-born Lorenzo Insigne had pledged his long-term future to his home-town club. That came hot on the heels of news that Paulo Dybala had agreed a new deal with Juventus. Two other players who agreed improved long-term contracts in the recent past are Mauro Icardi and Andrea Belotti, two of the most valuable assets in world football right now.

Whilst delighting supporters of their respective clubs by staying put, all these players will also have pleased those people in the offices of Serie A whose job it is to sell and promote the league’s brand. Top talent attracts more top talent, which drives fan interest, which drives revenues, which attracts more top talent, which drives more interest… you get the picture.

The Premier League has achieved these desirable conditions better than any other league in the world, but I believe Serie A is catching up, and I don’t just mean in terms of the proliferation of star players. It’s taken a lot longer that many would’ve wanted, but several Serie A clubs are now beginning new stadium projects, well aware of the huge benefits it can bring, as proved by Juventus who, as ever, were well ahead of the curve on this. Smaller but much fuller venues is the way forward, and, as Serie A attempts to attract a greater global audience, this matters a great deal. TV viewers in another country switching on to see vast empty stadia are quite understandably going to question why they should spend an hour-and-a-half watching a game that even the local population don’t appear inspired enough to go and see.

The recent Milan derby was played in front of a complete sell-out at San Siro which looked absolutely magnificent in the sunshine, and while the 12:30 kick-off time was criticised in some quarters, it helped attract a record global TV audience in excess of 800 million people, who were treated to one of the games of the season.

Attacking spectacles like that are absolutely crucial to spreading the word far and wide that this is a league not just with great rivalries and tremendous history, but hugely entertaining football and goals - lots and lots of goals. It still never ceases to amaze me how many people still think Italian football is slow, ultra-defensive and low-scoring – it couldn’t be further from the truth. Six players have already scored 20 goals or more in Serie A this season – at the time of writing the Premier League, La Liga and Ligue 1 each have two, and the Bundesliga has three.

There have been 17 hat-tricks scored in Italy’s top-flight this season – that’s compared to 13 in the Bundesliga, and nine each in the Premier League, La Liga and Ligue 1. Serie A averages 2.87 goals-per-game, of Europe’s top-five leagues only La Liga (2.89) exceeds that.

All this said, it’s perhaps a little ironic that right now the country’s best team is being quite rightly lauded for an ability to defend majestically, and on the biggest stage too. Juventus made Barcelona’s much-celebrated front three look relatively toothless in the Champions League quarter-finals and haven’t conceded a goal in the competition for 531 minutes. But this isn’t a defensive Bianconeri side, far from it - the country’s standard bearer right now seems to have found an almost perfect balance between defence and attack.

They are good enough to win the Champions League, and if they do, for the first time since 1996, it will be another big boost to the image of Serie A and its world-wide marketability. You could say something very similar about the kudos that a strong national side brings, and the future looks very bright in that respect too. Players like Gianluigi Donnarumma, Alessio Romagnoli, Mattia Caldara, Daniele Rugani, Roberto Gagliardini, Marco Verratti and Andrea Belotti all have several tournaments in them potentially. Donnarumma might even make the 2038 World Cup!

All but one of those talents play their football in Serie A, which still has ground to make up in terms of attracting the best ‘off the peg’ talent from elsewhere – but as far as developing and retaining top players is concerned, it is right up there with the best already.

Italy’s top-flight of the near future might look a lot different to the one many of us enjoyed greatly on Channel 4 in the 90s, but I think it’s got the potential to be just as good to watch. 

Have your say...
Juve rules. Bayern wins bundesliga every year. Is bundesliga dull?
on the 29th April, 2017 at 12:13pm
Serie A is not on the way up. It's a league where managers of certain clubs publicly declare 3 days before the game that it would be a miracle to even think of getting a point off Juventus, and low and behold that said team is 2 or 3 -0 down in 30 minutes without even putting a tackle in. Juventus - chievo the other week was a joke, chievo didnt put in any sort of tackle in 90 minutes. Those same teams play the game of their lives vs Nap\Rom. This is why Juve run away with the league.
on the 29th April, 2017 at 10:06am
great article Adam! couldn't have said it better myself. as a Serie A fan in America, it amazes me that people think the premier league is the "greatest" league in the world simply because they have the most money and the most tv coverage here in the States. Hell, even MLS is more exciting to watch than the premier league :)
on the 27th April, 2017 at 3:54pm
Abundance of young talent in Serie A and the future is certainly bright... i'd argue there is greater young talent in Serie A than in the EPL
on the 27th April, 2017 at 10:49am
Especially when Juve are going to sign Patrik Shick.
on the 27th April, 2017 at 4:45am
Re: Competition, this is something English media would have you believe to the detriment of leagues with World Class teams.

EPL for almost a decade was exclusively Manchester United and Arsenal. Thereafter interrupted by the new money Chelsea or City revolutions.

If Inter or Milan challenge now, the media will say they bought the right to challenge. Now because the EPL is chalk full of mediocre teams at the top, competitiveness matters? MLS is great for competition, watch that then.
on the 26th April, 2017 at 6:22pm
Positive spin and rightfully so.

Considering a couple points raised here in the comments:

Current Monopoly (term should be Oligopoly) which JUVE are breaking into, none of the EPL teams are close - at best they would be mid-tier with the likes of PSG, Napoli, Roma, Dortmund. None are at JUVE Barca Real Bayern or Atletico level.

World XI - aside from being based on name, I genuinely do not believe there would be a single EPL player in there either (or the 2nd XI for that matter).
on the 26th April, 2017 at 6:09pm
I got in to Italian football in the late 80s just before C4 came on to the scene and was brilliant. Like many, I picked a club and kept with them (even now).

Would be nice to see someone challenge the Grand Old Lady, but, look lower down the league and things get really interesting. Atalanta (my team) fighting for Europe with a crop of superstar youngsters, Sassuolo in Europe last year even the likes of Crotone, Carpi and Frosinone have made people second look, maybe Spal can add next year!
on the 26th April, 2017 at 5:54pm
i remember the days of ravenelli, vialli, roberto baggio, signori and mancini as many do and for me not one of the current generation of Italian players can match up to these guys technically or in terms of sheer ability. This is what made Italian football in the 90s so awesome this is what allow italian football to dominate. Things are getting better no doubt it but no where near to that standard.
on the 26th April, 2017 at 2:05pm
Great article, for too long has the focus been on the poor financial state of Serie A and not the positives.

There are so many great young players coming through the ranks in serie a. the league has become a fantastic breeding ground for top talent, look at Pogba, Dybala, Belotti, Icardi, Donnarumma, and now Schick looks like the next wonderkid.

The next step would be for Serie A to become a place that attracts the elite again, instead of Europe's top clubs looking at it as a shopping market!
on the 26th April, 2017 at 11:28am
JD, that is a problem, but on the other hand, almost every Serie A game that I watch is keenly contested. The likes of Napoli & Roma are improving, & Inter with their good players & war-chest are bound to come good soon. I still find it amazing that, despite the Premier Leagues advantages when it comes to money, support, stadiums, facilities etc, they are barely ahead of us on the pitch. Imagine how strong Italian football would be if it had those benefits.
on the 26th April, 2017 at 9:01am
It's premature to claim SerieA is on the way up. Yes, clubs have realised the importance of building their own stadium but it's not going according to plan. Take Stadio Della ROma for example, work has been getting stalled and it's embarrasing to see them perform in Europa and we are talking about the second best team in the league here.

I see only Inter having the resources to compete against the big clubs in Europe. Hopefully, Diego SImeone's arrival could help that.
on the 26th April, 2017 at 7:34am
Until Roma, Napoli and the Milan teams catch up with Juve, Serie A will still be at a disadvantage. Now that the top 4 teams will go directly to the CL group stage and divide the market pool, we should see more stability. While I am super excited about Monchi, management will sell any player who brings in big bucks. Roma need the stadium in order to change that. Problem is, if they ever start construction, it's not farfetched that they will hit something historical like Nero's dungeon or..
on the 26th April, 2017 at 5:54am
Things are looking up. But it will take time.

Many young talents across Italy right now.
I was also happy that the Milan sale finally went through. Happy about the Roma stadium. Let's hope we see the fruits of that very soon.
on the 26th April, 2017 at 5:16am
Those C4 days were the best. I got into football for the 1990 WC,my 1st n all the top stars from each nation were in Serie A n the setting n stadia were fantastic! But Italy is on the way back. Juve might be dominating but it's only like Bayern in Germany n Chelsea in blighty. Italian coaches r the best n with the new funds,new stadia planned n Italy finally playing their youth,it looks good. I just hope they don't change San Siro 2 much! Youth,clubs run as good business models,new Stadia,yeah!
on the 26th April, 2017 at 3:07am
I was thinking the same thing over the weekend, not just the number of goals but the quality too. The foreign recruitment I do think is going better than this article credits, when I think players like Franck Kessie and Gerard Deulofeu are building careers in Serie A I get quite excited, not to mention the Argentinian talent at Juve, etc.
on the 26th April, 2017 at 2:10am
It's doing ok, but still miles away from La Liga and sadly the EPL.

The top foreigners are not there anymore, and they won't until Serie A can splash the most amount of cash.

If you name a world 11, just who from Serie A would make the cut? In the early 90's, such a team would be completely full of Serie A players.
on the 26th April, 2017 at 1:41am
"Top talent attracts more top talent, which drives fan interest, which drives revenues, which attracts more top talent, which drives more interest… you get the picture."

You forgot something important: Competition

That is also a key factor that drives fan's interest. It is crucial to have REAL competition within the league. Even a equal two-horse race is better than having no REAL race at all. I can't consider Serie A "on the rise" until there is an serious team capable of running with Juve.
on the 26th April, 2017 at 12:06am
It's too early perhaps for saying that Serie A is definitely on the way back up. They still have some distance, with the exception of Juventus, to break the current monopoly that Spain and Bayern have in Europe.

Clubs absolutely have to build their own stadiums. Giving away a fortune to the municipal councils for renting the grounds is scandalous.

And regardless of the outcry for the Milan derby being scheduled at that time, it needs to be done, especially to draw in viewers globally.
on the 25th April, 2017 at 8:58pm
Great read, and on the money too. Good things happening in Serie A
on the 25th April, 2017 at 8:34pm

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