Thursday March 18 2021
Italy's great shame

There are no Serie A clubs in the Champions League quarter-finals, but Richard Hall argues the European flop is not only down to sporting factors.

Gazzetta dello Sport begged the Rossoneri this morning. Ahead of their clash with Manchester United in the Europa League, the headline was, "Milan, lift us up."

This is because Italian sides have failed to impress, no, embarrassed themselves in European competition again this season.

Why is this? Inter went out at the Champions League's group stages, Juventus fell to Porto, Atalanta lost to Real Madrid and Lazio were silenced by Bayern Munich.

Do not see this as an explanation or a blog. See this as an open letter for discussion. There would never be a cure for this issue written in a thousand words, it would need a thesis and an economic and political deep dive on this subject just to scratch the surface.

Then with Italy's bureaucratic system, it would take decades to change anything. The first thoughts were that the reasons for this explosive mess Italian Football finds itself in, could be categorised into the following.

Why do Italian teams continually fail in Europe?

1. Lack of foreign investment,

2. The league has too many teams,

3. The fallout from Calciopoli,

4. Lack of interest in the Europa League,

5. No major investment in stadiums since 1990 hence no major tournament allocation.

Despite this list, it was the last point that seem to draw all the other ones together. The stadiums.

How many times have we talked about Italy's crumbling infrastructures, how many foreign owners are now trying to come into the league with grand plans, only to see them dashed on the rocks thanks to Italy's bureaucratic system acting like a lighthouse with no bulb.

Even if you look back to Italia 90 it was a sham. The Stadio San Nicola is and always be a white elephant, the other stadium built for the tournament was the Stadio Delle Alpi that had been demolished to build the Allianz Stadium, which was inaugurated exactly ten years ago.

The Stadio Sant'Elia even opened its doors with banners of Italia 90 and Coca Cola looking so modern whilst workmen still banged away on the other side.

Okay, they put a few rooves on few Mussolini approved structured from the 1930's and the World gasped as these art-deco stadiums with shiny seats and images of Ciao made everyone sit up, but surely this was the back drop of the beautiful cities also that helped.

The fact that the local authorities and the clubs share ownership of these stadiums is a constant thorn in the side of the league.

How can foreign owners come in and pump millions into a club whose stadium cannot be upgraded? Look at Rocco Comisso and his issues, they are many, deep and complex.

I interviewed him for Football Italia upon his arrival in Florence and he had great plans for the stadium and the training ground. Look where they are now as Italy's stadium laws tie up plans and the training complex was also dragged through the mud due to preservation laws on farmyard buildings.

How many clubs maximise their income when this is constant. Foreign owners cannot just come in and spend millions on a team they have to conform to FFP, which does not help.

Look at Arsenal when they moved ground in the UK. The difference is enormous, the club moved yards away, in London and built a shiny new stadium with 'the armoury club shop' that gives them colossal revenue, so did Tottenham.

How many times do we see plans for Italian Football stadiums flash before our eyes? Remember Napoli's? Even better Bologna's as that was a beautiful plan.

Should we have a laugh at Roma's or even better, how many plans have you seen for the new San Siro? What about the re-model of Siena's Artemio Franchi?

That even had a grass roof! They all look beautiful and if Serie A had moved forward with these, then the league would be in a much better shape.

There are deep and complex reasons and stupid reasons for these not going through but it is a major factor of why Italy have not been considered for a major tournament since 1990. Even if only half of these had been done the money from a World Cup would have helped re-design the rest.

There have been moves to change it, but I would ask anyone to tell me just how much confidence they have in the Italian governments' shock plan'.

As Italy's economy reels from the COVID pandemic this stimulus package was suggested to kick start football. The then Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, said, "It's essential toremove the urban development limitations. It's unthinkable that San Siro can be renovated, but not the Stadio Franchi in Florence."

Still what has happened? Just how has the 'Sbloccastadi – Stadium Blocker' change the world? Are we seeing everyone now doing what Udinese or Juventus did?

The knock on effects are huge. TV rights are always a major topic in Italy and will continue to be. The cameras want to see the top players play in full modern stadiums, which will be even more so after the pandemic.

The better the company that takes on the broadcasting, the better the marketing because one would gamble that nobody who reads this would not agree that the Lega Serie A's marketing of their product is nothing short of absolute shambles.

They are happy to sit on past glories and these days are long gone. Milan's Champions League success and Italy's World Cup win may have papered over the cracks of Calciopoli for a year or two but the league was already dead by then.

Serie A has improved since then but it needs a lot of tender love and care. It needs restoring to former glories, true, but it needs to happen in a modern way that looks to the future and it needs to happen quickly.

Perhaps making the league smaller may also work to make it seem more elite (no offence Crotone).

Marketing the importance of the Europa League, this is another mind-blowing one as Italian clubs used to love the Cup Winners Cup and the UEFA Cup. These were good training grounds for the Champions League.

Ask yourself when was the last time and Italian club won the UEFA Cup/Europa League? Shocking, isn't it.

These however, are all theories that many will have thought of before. However, the fact is that without deep-rooted change, Italian clubs will continue to fail in Europe.

You may get the odd anomaly, which is true but it will not be structured dominance. Perhaps Gazzetta dello Sport should change its stance. Rather than beg Milan to save face for the Italian game, maybe they should rally for change, but they won't.

This time next year, they will be once again asking cap in hand for Inter, Milan, Juventus or whoever, to please help hide Italy's great shame.



Have your say...

No, Pirlo doesn't have a big chance to grab a coppa and a scudetto lol

He has a good chance for a coppa, and a slim chance for a double.

And let's face it, if this Juve squad win the double, what the hell will it say about the quality of the league?
on the 21st March, 2021 at 8:41am
Those bagging conte for CL results should also remember that inter struggled in the league around this time too. This current team playing as they are would be a very different prospect. And it is only gonna get better as they strengthen depth further.
on the 21st March, 2021 at 3:10am
..but yet the National team is flying funny that.. serie A and the Azzurri are worlds have young Italian players given a shot in the NT and trying their upmost best to impress the exact opposite of what's happening in serie A...without a core of Italians in serie A clubs I see a major lack of 'grinta'
on the 21st March, 2021 at 2:01am
But even swapping managers doesn’t change the fact that Milan have barely one or more players who would make our team. Donna is about it and handa still pushes him for the spot. Theo showing he was just a flash in the pan like the others and not actually world class. Give pioli credit where it is due, yes he isn’t going to win you titles, but he’s great at getting the most out of squads in the short term. If it was so much about managers, they’d be paid a lot more than the players.
on the 21st March, 2021 at 1:15am
@maldini heir - if inter and Milan swapped managers - Milan would be on top???? Hahahah this is like saying put conte in charge of Monza they’d win serie a. Yes conte is a ton better than pioli and can bring out the best in his players, but pioli has done a good job at getting average players to play well. Conte has done even better with a very talented squad to make them one of the top sides in the world currently. Perisic and Eriksen turnout has been monumental.
on the 21st March, 2021 at 1:12am
The CL results are a real shame but the league failings are numerous: dated stadiums, poor attitude towards European football, no long term planning of any kind really, a super slow game play compared to the other top leagues, horrible officiating that stops the flow of the game constantly and poor coaching. Italian clubs have been in decline since early 2000s but yet nobody cares. The league will be superseded by other lower leagues this decade if they don't come up with a new strategy. #shame
on the 20th March, 2021 at 10:57pm
It's been said a thousand times and this article restates the obvious: it's the infrastructure. Without modern, club owned stadia there will be no moving forward. Without the revenue generated by club shops, restaurants, tickets, merch etc Serie A clubs will not compete financially with other top teams in Europe. Also it has to be attractive to players and investors. Italy has a great climate compared to the UK, the food, ambience and quality of life is superior - but the stadiums are far worse.
on the 20th March, 2021 at 4:12pm
@Maldini's Heir

Save your theory until the end of the season. Don't unload it now, Mr.Know it All. LOL

Pirlo still has a big chance to grab coppa and scudetto.
on the 20th March, 2021 at 11:43am
Italian politics is the branch, trunk and root of the problem.
Politicians, football club owners and the Italian media are all wrapped up in a big ugly mess.

Farsopoli continues to overshadow Serie A. Why would any large outside business take an unnecessary risk by investing their money and reputation in the league when nobody knows when the next self inflicted scandal will hit.

Politics is a reflection of its people. It will be slow to change.
on the 20th March, 2021 at 9:21am
@ Gman Juve are managed by someone who has never coached a senior team before. So if the midfield is not moving the ball effectively it might be because the coach doesn’t know what he’s doing. Rio Ferdinand once said that one of the differences between Ferguson and Moyes was the latter kept the team guessing about his starting eleven during the week. Ferguson used to announce the team early in the week and work on drills. Moyes finished 7th the season after Ferguson won the title.
on the 20th March, 2021 at 1:36am
I’m baffled why everyone thinks that any old randomer can coach a team and it’s all about having super-world-class players. Managers are the difference between success and failure. Look at Inter this season. It’s all down to Conte. If you swapped Conte and Pioli and rage them the exact same squads I reckon Milan would be top. Conte wins titles. That’s what he does. He’s terrible in Europe. I don’t know why but so was Ferguson for a long time.
on the 20th March, 2021 at 1:33am
@ Jez Of those players you listed, in 2007 only Nests, Pirlo, Seedorf and Kaka were top players, Maldini and Cafu were past it, and Oddo, Gattuso, Ambrosini and Inzaghi were no better than any players Milan have had in the past 10 years. The difference was we had Ancelotti. It’s the manager that makes all of the difference. For 10 years
Milan have had either youth team coaches or managers from mid-tier clubs. Pioli was the first semi-decent manager we’ve had and look what the difference is.
on the 20th March, 2021 at 1:31am
that has managed to do it effectively and that is a Barcelona of the past, not even the current one. Instead of Italian teams being able to counter-attack effectively as in the past only a few individuals demonstrate it today. Chiesa comes to mind, and then people wonder why he impresses. He does what Italian coaches should be teaching their teams to do as a unit instead of an infatuation with possession based play just for the sake of possession.
on the 19th March, 2021 at 8:26pm
As a follower of Serie A it always surprises me how slowly Juve's midfield move the ball. I see the art of counter attacking is lost on them for the sake of possession based play, so much so that they will slow the play down to allow everyone to reset including their opponents. Then they wonder why the mid's can't distribute to the offense. Italians have always been great at counter-attacking football but not possession based football because the ball is moved too slowly. There's only been 1
on the 19th March, 2021 at 8:20pm
110% on point! Something I, as most sensible people, have been saying & writing about in blogs, etc. The latest example that happens in Florence is the best example of the great insanity the whole situation with Italian stadiums is. They won't allow Comisso to build a new stadium, by trying to sell the land for it for a totally insane price & on the other hand, they literally don't allow the man to renovate Franchi! That ruin is considered an architectural heritage?! Its stairs & tower? Jesus...
on the 19th March, 2021 at 5:18pm
@ Andrew Nunes Poulsen

Your comments are classic Italian mentality, living in the past and looking to justify your failings by highlighting others who have failed also.


Agree with everything you say. I love Serie A and Italian football because of my roots, but I have given up hope that the people running the league/country will ever bring it back to the top league in the world for all the reasons you mention
on the 19th March, 2021 at 4:55pm
I want to add something.
We are not so bad with all problems around. Check Germany. Yes, they have Bayern and... nothing else with beautiful stadiums and investments and don't perform perform better that Italian sides. They had Leipzig, we had Atalanta. Where are all German sides in Europa League?
Spain had one of a kind generation and Real with Barca have been around for ages with unlimited resources. British clubs are really strong but with billions and superstar players still don't dominate.
on the 19th March, 2021 at 4:54pm
You made several points but except the quality of the players, other points are not so relevant. Brits have built new stadiums but had been really poor in Europe until the beginning of the 21st century with influx of money and they started to buy top players.
My points;
1) 20 teams are too many. Reduce to 18.
2) not to buy players for the sake of buying cheap
3) We lost our main advantage: brilliant defenders. Look at yesterday's Milan - grade 5.
4) We stopped produce high quality coaches.
on the 19th March, 2021 at 4:46pm
2)the nation remains divided between haves and have nots, north and south yet the people soldier on in the face of adversary as they have have for centuries a tribute to their character and love of this beautiful country and culture.
Games are won on the pitch, as I have said many times the psychology of success is often 90% mental. I see Italian teams in the Cl & El has a glass half full able to compete though the pitch may be tilted at this time in history against them.
Forza Italia sempre.
on the 19th March, 2021 at 2:01pm
1. Sadly the country is a disaster, corruption reigns on all levels and entreprenenurship is stifiled due to archaic legal regulations and tax codes. Can you believe a major roadway collapsed in Genoa or have you seen some of the ghettos in and around major cities particularly in the South. The government can't deliver the vaccine to its citizens after receiving 200 billion from the EU or have a coherent immigration policy. Covid has decimated the tourist industry as businesses close..
on the 19th March, 2021 at 1:51pm
Agree with this as a failing for the league & the economic gap but it doesn't explain the european form. for all this the italian league has good players good teams but they rarely ever perform to their potential in Europe. stupid errors & panic sets in. a wrong mentality. injuries are always a factor. the league needs to move to ensure these teams are in shape to give their best in europe in spring. they need to prioritise . they need to face more high pressing physical sides. they need luck
on the 19th March, 2021 at 1:44pm
Resources and investment is central to the failure. Lazio have no money, atalanta massively overachieving, Juventus are in decline and inter are in an unstable situation. Milan were better than man utd for 90% of the two legs but lost because of no luck, poor refereeing decisions and lack of a cutting edge. How do you expect lazio to compete vs bayern m? lazio get into champ league and buy some bloke from turkey, whilst bayern m have a defender on the bench who they spent 70m on.
on the 19th March, 2021 at 1:34pm
Lots of interesting points. There are many reasons. Another that I would add to the mix is the sharp drop in the standard of our defending. What was once the lynchpin of our game and a basis for our success, has now become a laughing stock. We used to have an embarrassment of riches at CB, now they are few and far between. Not only this, our defensive units are also poor and the number of errors that are being are lamentable.
on the 19th March, 2021 at 1:19pm

Of course it involves Milan lol. We're talking about an ongoing problem in Serie A - Milan being one of the worst culprits in the last 13 years.

Milan have played 16 CL knockout games since they last won it.

How many have they won?
on the 19th March, 2021 at 12:37pm
This was Milans first season in Europe for some years, they have invested in youth and not spent endless money on the transfer market.

They are still a work in progress and considering they way that they played against Manchester United, there was only 1 player out of 22 that made the difference. So this article clearly does not apply to Milan for sure.

This article only applies to Juve and Inter, Juve should have done a lot better and Inter are only succeeding because of no Champions league.
on the 19th March, 2021 at 11:12am
All valid points, but there is also the bigger picture. Italy has stagnated economically for the past 20+ years, in large part due to the Euro. This is not to mention other problems like unemployment, birth rates, etc. Football, being so money driven, is a reflection of this.
on the 19th March, 2021 at 11:04am
It baffles me how italian people in general, who love and are so passionate about football accept this mediocraty. Should they not be lobbying the powers that be to finally take the finger out and stop putting obstacles in the way of building new stadiums. Also, the ultras, how are they not out protesting against this also. Until new stadiums are built and owned by the clubs the league as a whole will never progress. Mark my words!!
on the 19th March, 2021 at 10:28am
A brilliant article!!! poor crumbling stadiums, after effect of calciopioli and little investment all combine with the end result of there being very little money in SerieA. Premiership mid to low table teams have more money than the biggest teams in Italy (maybe with the exception of juventus). Sad fact is, without money the league simply cannot attract the top players in the world. you may have 3-4 teams who have good teams but the rest of the league is of a very poor level.
on the 19th March, 2021 at 10:26am
Lay off the author, they've got a point. The point isn't Atalanta should've done better, its that why were they in that position in the first place. The top 4 in Serie A need to be better, regardless of who they are. It's an indictment of the overall league, not the team that becomes a beneficiary due to a lack of competitiveness in that league.

There's a reason why Atalanta wouldn't touch the CL in a league like La Liga or EPL.
on the 19th March, 2021 at 10:18am
Let me help..
2007- Nesta, Maldini, Oddo, cafu, Gattuso, Pirlo, Ambrosini seedorf, kaka and inzaghi.
Now we must be honest with ourselves here... is the a single player in today Milan that can match up to even a single one of the 2007 squad?
Aswell as the obvious lack of quality the other issue is that in 2007 the Milan squad was was full of Italians. This is exactly the same problem as Juve today!
Stadium's? Last time I checked the Stadium's don't score goals!
on the 19th March, 2021 at 7:52am

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