Thursday April 18 2019
Calcio down and out

Napoli and Juventus stumbled out of Europe at the quarter-final stage, as Giancarlo Rinaldi looks back over yet another year of disappointment.

What’s another year? It’s a question once sung by that master of European competition Johnny Logan, but it could soon become the theme tune for the continental forays of Serie A sides.

One more season went into the history books on Thursday night with the dream of even a place in the semi-finals denied. It feels like Italian teams have been barred from a club where they used to enjoy some of their best nights out. There’s always another TV box-set to binge-watch, I suppose.

Napoli’s task at the San Paolo was always going to be arduous after a 2-0 defeat away to Arsenal, but as soon as they slipped behind, it escalated from Mission Improbable to Impossible. They had their chances to grab that vital first goal themselves, most notably through a thrilling Kalidou Koulibaly-inspired counter-attack concluded by Jose Callejon. But what had always felt like a long-shot quickly became a name-your-odds bet. Even the home support, capable of registering on the Richter Scale on a good night, felt like they never truly believed in this great escape and there were under 40,000 in attendance.

A certain sense of disappointment at even being in this competition was understandable up to a point. It was only a few months ago that Carlo Ancelotti’s side was narrowly knocked out of this tournament’s more glamorous big brother at the hands of Liverpool who - of course - are now in the Champions League’s final four. Italian football has a well-chronicled allergy to this kind of consolation prize and it flared up once again this year.

What it means, however, is that it is now 20 years and counting since a Serie A team even made the final of what we once called the UEFA Cup. That Parma side - under Alberto Malesani - lifted the trophy and reading the line-up induces a kind of heart-breaking nostalgia for how a mighty league has fallen. Gigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Lilian Thuram, Juan Sebastian Veron and Hernan Crespo were among the stars at his disposal. A team like that might even give the current domestically dominant Juve line-up a thing or two to think about. And they were just one of a string of Italian clubs who bossed this particular competition in the previous decade and more. It sometimes felt like the Coppa Italia Part Two.

For a while we could use the excuse that Italian teams really did not take it seriously, but that hardly washes any more. Even in the Champions League - where they presumably are giving maximum effort - their record is far from exemplary of late. Once one of the biggest box-office stars, they are now relegated to Best Supporting Actor for much of the time. Our finest side, Juventus, continues to find someone too strong every year in an almost obsessive search for European validation.

There was a school of thought before this Napoli versus Arsenal clash that the Partenopei would be better positioned to progress since their second place in Serie A was so solid. They could concentrate on the Europa League while the Gunners were in a huge scrap to finish in the top four in the Premiership - at least that was the theory.

However, I’ve always been a bit doubtful of that argument, as a side that can coast to its domestic goals rarely seems to raise its game to the highest levels in other competition. Certainly both of Italy’s last sides to succumb failed to perform to their best in their ultimate elimination. A string of relatively soulless league matches may or may not have played their part.

Whatever you think the causes are - and in the Neapolitan case, the departure of Marek Hamsik cannot be ignored - the end result remains the same.

The Europa League, in its present and former guise, was always seen as a measure of the strength in depth of a league and it tells a harsh tale for Italy. Once the fairest of them all, the mirror now delivers a much less flattering message. For what progress there might have been, Serie A remains some distance behind the very best on the continent. The finest players in the world no longer flock to the division and that has taken its toll over time.

We already knew there was no quick fix, but these latest results just confirmed how long the repairs operation might require.

Have your say...
Shameful as i said in another blog Italian representation in Europe was nothing but shameful! Starting with Juve lost last year because they couldn’t be bothered to show up in the first leg against Real this year failed to show up against AM in the first leg and deservedly got knocked out by Ajax without even putting up a fight! As for Napoli when a small spending Ajax can reach the semis in Europes elite why can’t Napoli reach the final in Europa league? Nuff said! Shameful
on the 22nd April, 2019 at 7:57am
Yes Serie A isn't what it was 15 years ago, but it also isn't what it was 5 years ago, did you expect an Italian team in the semis in 2014? at least now we have expectations & that should say something. I think they're learning to live with this new reality & trying to find solutions, it takes time, and patience, of which I see little on this post. Just ask PSG and rich EPL teams and they'll tell you how difficult it is to overcome a bad cycle. & maybe stop changing your minds week over week.
on the 22nd April, 2019 at 5:31am
There's a fine line between winning & losing, as Maldini once said. Few months ago I remember Napoli bossing a group with big spenders and semi-finalists to the last minute, and Juve walking all over ManU, another huge spender, yes it didn't last but it was down to very fine details. I also recall mighty rich EPL teams being treated like amateurs by every good team in EU, what of German teams? and French teams? Light years behind, but I guess no one is looking. 1/2
on the 22nd April, 2019 at 5:20am
I dont see any point in mentioning World Stars not coming to SERIE A but they can still come to JUVE. The Italian Economy is down so where would 100M for a single player come from ?.

And you see those team with 2-3 quality players instead of grooming them to build a decent team but NO they sell them up SALAH, ALISSON, TORREIRA etc

And the biggest culpris is the goverment, for a club to build a stadium in italy is like breaking a mountain rock with a stick, but why is it like that? PATHETIC.
on the 21st April, 2019 at 10:13pm
Why is Ranieri still managing let alone a team fighting to be part of Europe's elite competition next season. I watched them yesterday vs Inter and I could not recognise Cristante that I rated so highly at Atalanta. He was just anonymous and what he did he did poorly. No bursting from midfield to finish chances, nothing but even worse was Zaniolo 1st on the bench then coming on to be on the wings and defending. This is a star in the making that could be stifled by a negative thinking manager.
on the 21st April, 2019 at 11:39am
Way too many average to mediocre foreigners in this league. I look at Lazio and wonder how Italian defenders could be worse than Bastos, Wallace, Patric and especially Radu who has been there forever. Most serie A teams have this issue. Then the constant merry go round of very average managers. Only in football can you be sacked for ineptitude then hired a few weeks after by another club only to be sacked a few months later then rehired by the 1st club that fired you. Meanwhile you still suck.
on the 21st April, 2019 at 11:34am
All I know is that if Roma gets Belotti, they are taking everything next year if we also get a world class keeper like Neto or even Sirigu. Hold on to Manolas, send Nzonzi and Olsen packing,find Kolarov a backup and watch Florenzi win comeback player of the year.
on the 20th April, 2019 at 2:26pm
The technology argument can be possible and may have resulted in the reason agents seem to have so much power in Italy as opposed to other footballing countries as Italian teams now use agents to assist them in scouting sub par players from around the world. This has been to the detriment to the league and the national team. If Italian football is to rise again it must start with the scouting from the ground up, get technology to bring them into the 21st century and some coaches with gravitas.
on the 19th April, 2019 at 9:33pm
The problem runs throughout the league. Teams in the bottom half of the league are full of players that aren’t fit for your local pub team. So what has led to this? Is it the scouting? Hard to believe when Italian teams for years, as recently as the last decade, had the best scouting systems throughout the world. Technology has changed since then, so can it be that Italian teams are not leveraging technological advances as well as those in the EPL and La Liga? 2/2 One more post forthcoming.
on the 19th April, 2019 at 9:22pm
Napoli - Albiol, Hysaj, Callejon, Insigne, Diawara, Zielinski
Juventus - Szczesny, De Sciglio, Rugani, Khedira, Cuadrado, Pjanic, Can
Inter - Asamoah, Dalbert, Vecino, Borja, Candreva, Keite Balde,Perisic
Milan - Calabria, Mussachio, Zapata, Biglia, Suso, Calhanoglu, Laxalt, Kessie
All the players above are either first teamers or flirt with the first team, yet none of them are what you will consider world class or worthy of playing for some of Italy’s top sides. This is just the top four. 1/2
on the 19th April, 2019 at 9:14pm
Well I was feeling down after the article but Pintrucchio's tantrum brought a smile a back. Complete with self entitlement ("I won't watch anymore" or "we Juventini deserved Zidane" lol) finger pointing (Baka+Kessie thing is somehow management's fault but the much bigger scandal of Bonucci's Kean comments isn't? How about Juve ultras protesting ticket prices during Ajax? And your childish, unsolicited tirade against Napoli.)
Self entitlement and finger pointing, 2 of the many problems with IF.
on the 19th April, 2019 at 6:31pm
Well I was feeling down after the article but Pintrucchio's tantrum brought a smile a back. Complete with self entitlement ("I won't watch anymore" or "we Juventini deserved Zidane" lol) finger pointing (Baka+Kessie thing is somehow management's fault but the much bigger scandal of Bonucci's Kean comments isn't? How about Juve ultras protesting ticket prices during Ajax? And your childish, unsolicited tirade against Napoli.)
Self entitlement and finger pointing, 2 of the many problems with IF.
on the 19th April, 2019 at 6:28pm
Even some of coaches' attitudes. Like Allegri saying IF will never b like Dutch football!? It seems obvious. There isn't the same pressure in Holland but why can't Italian teams play their own style of a pro-active game(Napoli n Roma did?) wi many fearless youngsters? Confidence does seem 2 b n issue when it comes 2 Italy but Italy is/was known 4 it's great technical players. Even defenders could play. Italy wa so far in front n it's remarkable how much it's now lagging! The players r still good
on the 19th April, 2019 at 5:29pm
-ed multi-functional stadiums can't help! For many obvious reasons. Some of the attitudes can't either. For all the benefits, as if Ronaldo is gonna save the entire league? Youth? It's changing now but they must be given a chance 2 develop properly! Clubs should stop looking down at the EL when it seems they aren't good enough 2 compete anyway! The general negative attitude around IF can't help either. Fans r worst. They go from 1 extreme (world-beaters) 2 other (shameful)
on the 19th April, 2019 at 5:04pm
SOMETHING is holding Italy n IF back!? Italy's 2nd team, Napoli, playing in a dilapidated stadium just over 1/2 full can't help matters! The way the league's run can't help. The clubs' own mismanagement n lack of intelligence would b hilarious if it wasn't harming IF in general so much. It didn't matter as much when Italy had all the money but they need 2 invest wisely now n learn 2 make logical decisions somehow?! Not havin' club own
on the 19th April, 2019 at 4:53pm
I'm choosing to be optimistic about Napoli. Ancelotti spent his first year thoroughly rotating his squad, something Maurizio Sarri was rightly criticized for not doing. I trust that Ancelotti knows what Napoli needs, and that ADL will provide it over the summer window.

I did not expect a miracle from Ancelotti in year one. I'm looking forward to year two.
on the 19th April, 2019 at 1:45pm
If Juve can't do it the others have no hope

The Milan's are a bad joke at this stage, Inter out to PSV, Milan out in a group with a team of part-timers in it

Lazio don't have the finance or ambition

Roma, like Napoli, are a soft club that prefer excuses over taking responsibility. Neither have addressed their defensive frailties for years either

Atalanta might do ok in next year's EL if they get there, provided they don't sell half their team

A few foreign coaches might shake things up too
on the 19th April, 2019 at 10:28am
We have been duped over the last 5 seasons that teams such as Napoli and Juve have a seat at the round table of European superpowers, at least in terms of quality. The demise of the Milan teams are not serving Serie A well at the moment. And for as long as teams like Napoli dominate the Milan cousins we will always be fooled into believing that they are European material. AC and Inter are no longer the yardstick to gauge Serie A quality, and dominating them is misleading. Period!
on the 19th April, 2019 at 10:13am
Sadly Giancarlo you are so right.
Where once upon a time the very best, the creme-de-la-creme of world footballers would flock to Serie A, now the clubs are taking second rate.

When between 1982, and 2006 EVERY world cup winning captain had at some time plied their trade in Serie A, now the league is struggling so much.

Sadly our very best, Juventus, huffed and puffed against Ajax, and throughout the Europa, we came up short yet again.

Even the marquee signing of Ronaldo is a gilded failure.
on the 19th April, 2019 at 10:06am
Well, Serie A has been down & out for a decade now. When only one team keeps dominating on & off-the-field, and that team can't do anything much in European level .. expect nothing more.
If Serie A lost its 4-teams-for-CL in the near future, blame it on ourselves.
on the 19th April, 2019 at 9:06am
major disaster! italian football in major crisis! the following has been noticeable:
• investment very poor to challenge Europe’s elite.
• unorganized management to meet the ambitions of CL & UL.
• old school type coaches like allegri & ancelotti failed to secure trophies in recent years while football changed to new styles.
• the believe on young italian talents is absolutely unpatriotic.
• the negativity of italian football in general will surely has major impact on the national team.
on the 19th April, 2019 at 7:03am
utter failures at every step in the last 15 years. If Napoli are given the chance to represent Italy as flagbearers, Italy would fail so hard that UEFA would push us out of Europe altogether.

I'll go make a cup of tea and go back to watching videos from 1998, maybe even from early 80s as well... Ciao. (4/4)
on the 19th April, 2019 at 6:33am
domestic results. Very sad.

Both Milans: Hilarious mismanagement. That whole Icardi saga, that Kessie+Bakayoko debacle... Even a bunch of clowns are better managed amongst themselves than these paid superstar morons. Keep it up, help Napoli become the laughing stock of Italian football by letting them come 2nd or 3rd every season.

Finally, the undisputed clowns of Italy, trashtown of Calcio: The self-proclaimed Barca of Italy, the Maradona of Europe. EXCEPT losers at every hurdle, and (3/4)
on the 19th April, 2019 at 6:33am
need a much, much better coach. At this point, with the lack of talented coaches in Italy, I'd give Pirlo a chance, because we Juventini deserved Zidane, but he ran back to his comfy chair and didn't want a challenge.

Roma: After a season of nearly making it to the final of the UCL going toe-to-toe with Liverpool, their idiotic management dismantled their squad. Now they're struggling even to reach 4th place. Shows how stupid Italian mentality is when even a SF place fades over poor (2/4)
on the 19th April, 2019 at 6:32am
This isn't just a UEL/UCL issue, it's a Europe mentality issue. In Italy, people are still happy with found the bare minimum and getting a B- grade and smiling. In England, Spain and Germany, they get annoyed and flustered with even an A-, because to win the world, you need an A+. Juventus - bad coach who should've been fired end of last season may continue next season... Hilarious, because I as a Juve fan will not watch/pay anymore as long as Allegri is the coach. No Conte please, we (1/4)
on the 19th April, 2019 at 6:32am
Not only have they not improved, but Italy doesn't even have the pleasure of seeing the epl being as bad as they've been over the last decade, and their very healthy head-2-head vs English teams which stretched into this season with 3 straight wins has now been dragged down by 5 straight defeats.

Has Italy ever lost 5 straight games to England? If they have it was a long time ago.

Even Germany, who've been awful in Europe in recent years, have a team in the semis.

Dark days
on the 19th April, 2019 at 2:07am
Same story each year , no serie a team will ever win a European trophy again for years. It’s been almost a decade since inter won CL. What an absolute joke Italian football has become stuck in past glories much like the country living off past meanwhile , they are all bums living off parents pensions.
on the 19th April, 2019 at 1:10am

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