Whisper it quietly - very quietly in fact - but there’s a gust of rejuvenation blowing through Italian football. On the field, the Nazionale is starting to resemble something of a respectable team after the hideous monstrosity that was the Gian Piero Ventura era. Away from the pitch, Italy’s clubs are finally waking up to the realities of 21st Century football, namely modernising their stadia.
Juventus led the way, almost a decade ago at this stage, by building the J Stadium on the site of the loathed Stadio delle Alpi. Juve’s hegemony over the Serie A title is no doubt viewed by rival fans and neutrals as tedious and highly damaging to the ‘product’. Furthermore, Juve are usually, and unfairly, lumped together with Bayern and PSG as examples of domestic dominance gone too far, like a giant sloth gorging itself on the rest of the league.
But if their dominance has crystallized one pertinent issue to the other 19 owners in Serie A, it’s that, finally, they see the importance of owning a modern, multi-faceted stadium as a vital measure to increase revenue and close the Grand Canyon-sized gap that now exists with The Old Lady.
Of course, this is Italy. The country’s archaic, byzantine bureaucracy that cripples so much of everyday life has also been stifling clubs from getting ambitious stadium projects off the ground over the last 15 years. But there is genuine optimism that the sands are shifting.
Following Juventus, Udinese renovated their bloated Stadio Friuli between 2013 and 2016, downsizing its capacity in the process. They, along with Sassuolo, remained the only clubs to own stadiums.
Then in 2017, Atalanta bought the rambunctious-yet-decrepit Stadio Atleti Azzurri D’Italia from the city of Bergamo for close to €9m. Plans have since been approved to totally renovate the structure, with work beginning this April on the Curva Nord. Work will thus continue each summer until 2021. The remodelled stadium will have a capacity of 23,000 and cost €35m.
Frosinone also joined the party, when they inaugurated the Stadio Benito Stirpe at the beginning of last season. Their 16k, €20m stadium won plaudits across Italy.
Similar projects are in various states of flux: Cagliari’s new €60m stadium, to be built on the site of the old Stadio Sant’Elia, has won city council approval, with ground to be broken by next year. Bologna presented plans in January to refurbish the Dall’Ara. Fiorentina, Venezia, Empoli and, of course, Roma’s eagerly anticipated project are all nearing the bureaucratic finish line. Sampdoria, Bari and Brescia are also toying with the idea of restructuring their respective grounds.
What’s benefiting Italian clubs in the stadium quagmire are the recent changes made to Italy’s sporting law, introduced to accelerate the lengthy bureaucratic process and to allow private investment in the building of new stadiums.
The change of law is evident in the case of Bologna’s proposed renovation. In their presentation, the club revealed that the restyled Dall’Ara will cost in excess of €70m, with President Joey Saputo investing €40m and the municipality of Bologna supplying the additional €30m, otherwise known as a PPP (Public Private Partnership).
The PPP model has already been implemented in Germany and France to great success, with both countries doing so ahead of the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2016. It’s hoped that a PPP-driven reconstruction of the Dall’Ara, if a success, could lead to further clubs becoming home-owners.
As you might’ve noticed, all these projects – bar Roma – are reconstructing existing sites. That speeds things up considerably, as most of the Stadio Della Roma issues have been around infrastructure, transport and public order, needing to create new roads, bridges and even a Metro station to reach the site.
In the 2000s, many of the leading figures in the Italian game took a rather placid attitude towards their stadiums. They rested on their laurels, believing the key to reinvigorating them was through hosting a major international competition, effectively hoping the government of the day would invest where they wouldn’t.
This resulted in Italy bidding to host Euro 2012 and 2016. In the bidding for the latter, they didn’t gain a single vote in the second round, all the while their structures aged and crumbled, becoming public eyesores.
President of the Italian Football Federation, Gabriele Gravina, has again spoken of a desire to see Italy host Euro 2028. Yet what separates a potential 2028 bid from the failed attempts of 2012 and 2016 is the recent pro-active approach from clubs in the peninsula. There’s a recognition that the clubs should’ve and could’ve done more to alleviate the situation.
The stadium issue has once again been in the public discourse when FIFA boss Gianni Infantino, speaking to Rai, declared that Gabon has a superior stadium infrastructure than Italy. Those comments, as expected, didn’t go down well. Several days later, La Repubblica revealed that Inter and Milan are actively pursuing a new stadium.
Whilst we have heard this before, many times before in fact, it seems concrete steps are being taken by Milan’s owners Elliott Management, and Inter patrons Suning, to build a new stadium on the site of the current San Siro. Modelled on the MetLife stadium in New York, the capacity would total 60,000 and have a retractable roof, an interchangeable pitch and various other mod cons that come with all modern stadia, at a projected cost of €600m.
A successful bid for Euro 2028 would be the final push needed to oversee Italy’s entry into the modern game. New stadiums wouldn’t solve all the league’s ills, but would it scratch its biggest, deepest itch.