Tuesday August 8 2017
Italy's Champions League issue

With only one out of a possible seven Italian clubs winning their Champions League play-offs since 2011, just what is the problem, asks George Rinaldi?

Back in 2009-10, Fiorentina successfully saw off Sporting Clube de Portugal on away goals to reach the Champions League group stage. It completed a Treble of sorts. For three seasons running, Italian clubs had managed to bring all four of their prized co-efficient teams to the last 32. Coupled alongside Lazio in 2007 and Juventus in 2008, Italian football was reaching a new peak of quality. It may not have been 1990s Serie A, but it was not half bad.

That very same 2010 when La Viola made it through the play-offs, they reached the Round of 16, but it was league champions Inter who would topple Bayern Munich and take the crown of Europe back to Italy.

Yet, it was the beginning of the decline. The Nerazzurri triumph would be the last time that an Italian team has won the Champions League. Sampdoria would be ousted by Werder Bremen in their play-offs the following season, whilst Milan, Inter and Roma would not make it beyond the quarter-finals.

Since then, Italy has lost their grip on the play-offs, lost their grip on the Champions League and disastrously lost their grip on a fourth qualifying spot.

Sampdoria was the catalyst. The Blucerchiati had lost 3-1 at the Weserstadion in Bremen, but a Giampaolo Pazzini away goal in the 90th minute gave them hope. A 2-0 result would have done, and in the 85th minute they went 3-0 up in the second leg. Cue a 93rd minute cracker from Markus Rosenberg to send the game to extra-time, and Claudio Pizarro did the rest to see the Germans through.

Following on from that, Udinese lost to both Arsenal and Braga, whilst Milan eased through against PSV in 2013. The most recently defeated include Napoli, Lazio and Roma: Athletic Bilbao, Bayer Leverkusen and FC Porto the tormentors in this situation.

The disappointment for Italians in the play-offs can’t simply be down to not turning up on the day. Out of all those teams that beat the Italians since Sampdoria lost to Werder Bremen, just two of the six clubs managed to get out of the Group Stage. The two teams being Arsenal and Porto, but even then, the Round of 16 was the best they could muster.

It is not as though these Serie A clubs have a divine right to qualify. Those in question had their chance and were deservedly beaten against teams that cannot even get out of the group stage. The mixture of clubs also poses a tough issue of pin-pointing an argument as to why Italian teams falter in the play-offs. Four countries spread over the six successful clubs suggests no real correlation.

All of these leagues – Bundesliga, La Liga, Primeira Liga, Premier League – start a couple of weeks earlier than Serie A and this has often been pointed to as the decisive factor. Coaches in these clashes constantly complain at facing opponents who are further ahead in terms of match fitness and tournament readiness. Can that be enough to explain such a poor recent record, though?

The argument then could be as simple as Italian sides simply are not as good as people may think they are these days. Much like teams in the Premier League – supposedly better than other nation’s sides to some areas of the media – end up losing rather dramatically to an apparent unknown entity.

Italy’s second-wind of dominance under noughties Milan and then briefly Jose Mourinho’s Inter closed out in 2011. Recently, Juventus have been the obvious high-point, the goal for all other 19 league clubs to aspire to. But even then, two Champions League Final defeats do not spell success for a club of the Bianconeri’s stature. Their aim is to win, whilst for others it is to get through the play-offs. Neither have been successful.

The failure of progress by Italian clubs in the play-offs is no different from the failure in the knock-out rounds. There is a much bigger reason to losing out in the play-offs than simply not turning up for 180 minutes, and that is Serie A is not the league it was anymore. It is not 1990. It is not 2010. It is 2017, and Serie A needs resurgence. Serie A needs Milan and Inter to compete again – fortunately very probable this season - and for Napoli to defeat OGC Nice and begin this movement.

In 2018, we will see four qualification places for the Champions League back in Italy, so the change must be fast. The change must be now.

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Have your say...
@Davide: Napoli started pre-season early this year. Sarri just mentioned this at his press conf in the past week.

I assume they didn't want to repeat the Athletic Bilbao experience from two years back ;-)
on the 24th August, 2017 at 3:39am
I believe the season needs to start at least in line with the premier league. People forget that S-A has some of the toughest bottom competition. S-B is if not the best the 2nd best-2nd division in the world. Making the worst teams a lot better that the worst teams in Spain or Germany. The fact is that in S-A you need to play your best squads against all opponents while in Spain you can play Your B team against the bottom dwellers and still win 3-0. In IT Europa League is 4th Priority.CL S-A CI
on the 14th August, 2017 at 3:02pm
one more thing, cut down the league back to 18, 3 teams being promoted and relegated
on the 12th August, 2017 at 6:36pm
The playoffs begin before Serie A clubs are at full fitness, as ours is one of the last leagues to start among those that go from fall to spring. As we've seen many times in the past, particularly with the Europa League, Serie A teams take take the attitude that if they qualify for the group stage, that's great, but if they don't, in a sense it's a relief because now they can focus on the championship. I've never heard of an Italian team starting preseason early to be ready for the playoffs.
on the 12th August, 2017 at 3:44pm
Can one limit the number of EU players within the teams? I guess that might be against European laws, due to free transfer of people and workforce within EU.
The rule might be applicable (and is in some ligues) for non-EU players.
on the 10th August, 2017 at 6:32pm
For me the problems with Serie A have to fix to be competitive in Europe again are: (1.) teams have to own their stadiums. Only Juve and Atalanta own their stadiums in Serie A. New stadiums will bring attendance way up again.

(2.) Milan and Inter must return to being competitive in CL. If Italy is gonna be a
force to reckon with in Europe again.

(3.) Invest in Italian youth - in the 1990's there were only 3 foreigners allowed. Now we'd be lucky to see 3 Italians in the starting lineup.
on the 10th August, 2017 at 5:55pm
@Palermitano, Exactly right. Prandelli was in charge of Fiorentina then. That game was shocking. The refs handed the victory to Bayern. I don't know if Fiorentina filed complaints but they were actually playing better then Bayern. 1 goal disallowed also If I remember. It was a competitive game until the ref ruined it. I normally don't get too wound up if a ref messes up a game since half the time the other team plays badly also but that night was different. They were robbed.
on the 10th August, 2017 at 12:49pm
@ AI

Exactly right. That era 8 or 9 years ago was dreadful in Serie A overall. The league, despite still having many problems, is far healthier now.
on the 10th August, 2017 at 5:32am
Fiorentina should have won the game vs Bayern Munich. Some unjust offside calls if I remember right.

Palermo, had they beat Samp to the UCL would have done better, I'm sure.

I have always been baffled at how much Italian teams underperform in Europe. Is it a mental issue?

Who knows.. I just hope they overcome.
on the 9th August, 2017 at 8:48pm
More pressing problems like a migrant crisis and a bankrupt government and economic depression than dealing with old stadiums.
on the 9th August, 2017 at 2:56pm
Foreigners are not ruining Serie A they always have been there even in the days of the great Robby Baggio and Maldini it is that the Italian mindset and their negative football is ruin for them look at what Juve tried to do in the second half of the final against Madrid of all teams they tried to sit back defend and absorb any pressure and wait for the penalties if only they had taking the initiative like they did in the first half they would have gotten something out of that game.
on the 8th August, 2017 at 11:05pm
Juve are really disgraceful and disappoinment because a club of their stature should not be aiming to be finalists losing to the mighty Barce was understandable but losing to Madrid and feeling inferior to them as if they were on par with Barcelona's slick football was just embarrassing they ought to never take part of another final because they are just disappointment just like the rest of Italian teams except for the mighty Milan who on their day feel no inferior to anyone.
on the 8th August, 2017 at 10:54pm
Juve have been in 2 finals in 3 years. Yes we didn't win it, as we're all aware, but we've carried the league, and it's time others stepped up.
on the 8th August, 2017 at 8:46pm
3 Reason: We haven't been good enough; some of our 3rd placed sides sold the players that helped get them there in the first place, e.g. Udinese selling the likes of Sanchez, Inler & Benatia; and the late start for Serie A which does both our clubs and the Azzurri no favours -I'm dreading the Spain match.
on the 8th August, 2017 at 7:45pm
What would be a nice move would be to close the transfer window a bit earlier, to coincide with the start of the league campaign.

UEFA would also do well to start UEFA tournament qualifying only after the window has shut, not going to happen because too many teams waiting to find out if they are going to have the windfall of UCL money to spend.

Serie A starting a week earlier would also benefit the national team, giving for a game or two extra fr players to get up to speed.
on the 8th August, 2017 at 4:57pm
We get 4 group stage spots in 2018 so there are no more embarrassing defeats at the qualification stages, just losing to a Greek team in the group stages. As for the state of the league, there is no money in Italy, hasn't been for years or rather the money in Spain and England overshadows Serie A. Juve is run like a business and they can do that with their own stadium, still they cannot compete with the other top leagues for wages. As for the other teams, they need a rich owner.
on the 8th August, 2017 at 3:23pm
Not an issue starting next season anymore. The issue however has been that Serie A starts 2 weeks after most other leagues and the teams playing the qualifying round are simply not ready.
on the 8th August, 2017 at 2:57pm
Hm..I find it funny how clubs like Roma and Napoli are all talk about champions league, but yet the media in Italy would rather see the two Milan clubs in the competition. That's saying something if you ask me
on the 8th August, 2017 at 2:36pm
This article sounds ridiculous. The quality of Serie A can not be conferred just by their success in two-legged play-off. The depth and quality within the league in the late 2000s was horrible compared to today. The clubs are a lot better financed than they were seven years ago; they are able to hold onto their good players and are competitive again in the transfer market. I am not sure what league this guy has been watching and how this article got approved by the editors.
on the 8th August, 2017 at 2:24pm
New wealthy owners and modern 20.000-55.000 seater arenas are imperative. Only then will Serie A rise from the ashes.
on the 8th August, 2017 at 12:56pm
With stadiums from another time period it's difficult to improve financially. Hopeless politicians who want football to vanish in Italy don't make it any better.
on the 8th August, 2017 at 12:50pm
When Chelsea won the Premier League last season they played the same side 7 games in a row. Home many Italian teams managed that? Juve (who lost the Champions League final) couldn't stick to a single formation let alone team. People can talk about all of these "unbelievably incredible superhuman world class supercalifragilistic" players that every team must go out and buy each transfer window but the fact is teams need to be getting more out of their existing players.
on the 8th August, 2017 at 12:29pm
right "condition". Even though everyone knew that they'd have these games they apparently weren't prepared. Sure they won (against a Romanian Europa League side) but they struggled. Whatever about competing financially with the other European leagues, Italian teams need to improve physically. One of the things they need to do especially is cut the size of the squads and stop all the rotations.The likes of Barcelona, Real and Bayern don't have these enormous squads and don't rotate players weekly
on the 8th August, 2017 at 12:25pm
I remember when Juventus played Man Utd in 1996 and completely outplayed them. But more importantly they were fitter and more physical. Back then Italian teams were some of the fittest and tightest in Europe. Nowadays Italian teams struggle as much physically as they do technically and tactically. It all seems to start badly with pre-season. Why is it that Italian teams start later? Every pre-season is the same. Italian teams get embarrassed. Milan in the Europa League were apparently not in the
on the 8th August, 2017 at 12:23pm
For me it a lack of professionalism and leadership at the beginning of the season. Each of those games was lost because of key moments due to a mistake or a lack of concentration. Udinese are the exception but only because they sold their key players on mass both times they qualified for the cl.

It is worrying as a fan of serie a. This napoli game against nice should be straightforward nice do have some decent players but napoli clearly have the better group of players. yet it feels precarious
on the 8th August, 2017 at 11:14am
Lack of new stadiums (and wealthy owners). Hope we see 4-5 new stadiums before 2022.
on the 8th August, 2017 at 9:58am
If the editor thinks the '07 to '09 era was a "new peak in quality", then he's living in cuckoo land. That was the most depressing era for me in Serie A.

The great Milan side were dead, Juve still recovering, Roma were the 2nd-best in Italy despite being weaker than now (as average as they are now).

Inter were mile ahead in the league, but hopeless in CL under the clueless, negative Mancini.

Serie A is not the best now, but at least there's more pulling power.

Italy needs the 2 Milan's back
on the 8th August, 2017 at 8:56am
The only thing that is provincial is your mentality. Other teams in European competitions is exactly what Italy needs (Fiorentina, Atalanta, Lazio). Cut the Inter/Milan crap.
on the 8th August, 2017 at 8:45am
This is Simple. To many foreigners in serie A. As a result the national team is no longer a threat on the big stage and the 'big guns' of serie A are doing nothing in the big comps.
Gone are the days of the elite players from overseas being brought in to strengthen teams already of the highest quality. Now we have jam packed teams with more average cheap foreigners than ever before.
Serie A needs an overhaul, with rules allowing no more than 5 foreigner players on the field at anytime.
on the 8th August, 2017 at 7:48am
The problem is very simple.Italy CANNOT rely on provincial, non-pedigree teams like Napoli and Roma to carry the flag in the Champions League.Need the Milan teams to be there,fighting for it.Napoli and Roma will just never cut it in the Champions League. So,until the Milan teams get their act together,my team Juve will be the only Italian team to do anything in the Champions League.And until Juve changes their mind set, and buys international stars, they too will remain the Eternal Bridesmaids.
on the 8th August, 2017 at 3:55am

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