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...
Ah, the cribbing of the paese, and the mental waste that are the Italian authorities... HILARIOUS!

I mention this to everyone who asks me why I, as a non-European, moved to live in Germany, when I love Calcio, the country Italy, and don't shut up waxing poetic about the beautiful Italian language...

Simple - The decadence and despicable economic conditions, and the incorrigible, corrupt bureaucracy.

Italians will kill themselves than change - simple and straight.

(Part 1/n)
on the 18th March, 2021 at 3:57pm
Agree with most of this blog, regarding the stadiums, but would contest that Atalanta and Lazio were disappointing in the Champions league. Both beat far more established teams in Liverpool and Dortmund despite budgets far smaller. Inter and Juve far more culpable of letting the country down.
on the 18th March, 2021 at 3:53pm
As for Atalanta,their footballing investments in their academy,scouting,and Gasperini are what's paying off in recent years.Btw it's hilarious to me that Inter's CL win wasn't mentioned.One more thing I would like to highlight is Italian teams have lost the fear factor and developed an inferiority complex.Meanwhile,teams like Arsenal,Spurs,and PSG still maintain a fear factor despite some embarrassing results in recent history.
on the 18th March, 2021 at 3:21pm
Simply put, the league needs to follow the Juve or Atalanta model.Juve took a big step backwards losing Pirlo,Pogba,Vidal,Tevez all at once. Stars attracts other stars. I remember Bayern fighting off big offers from Real for Ribery in 2008 and 2009. Juve stayed competitive with smart signings and quality coach but splashing out on CR as a quick fix instead of rebuilding with Sarri seems a step back as well.They have the means to bounce right back though.
on the 18th March, 2021 at 3:04pm
4. Look how quickly Bayern turned themselves around. Only 2 years ago they looked a spent force in the CL, the next season they're flying with a few new players and a really positive attitude

When does that happen with Italian sides? Always reactive, rarely brave, slow/out of date tactics

Managers: Italy needs more foreign managers, because when everyone thinks the same, you learn nothing.

Hopefully Milan and Roma do something, but if they somehow win the EL, it'll be papering over the cracks
on the 18th March, 2021 at 3:00pm
3. Slow, predictable football is another issue. Any foreign teams that plays with some pace invariably beat an Italian side.

What is it with Italian sides that they can't run? Skill levels are poor too. When do Italian sides rip opponents apart regularly, if ever? Inter are useless at it, Juve are as bad - and these 2 are our best hope?!

Living in the past: Milan fans think they belong in the CL. They don't. They've won 2 CL knockout games in the last 16. They're garbage in the CL now.
on the 18th March, 2021 at 2:53pm
2. These over-the-hill guys arriving from the epl only makes a mockery of the league. Serie A used to dump their has-beens in England 20 years ago - now it's the opposite.

Italy is in danger of becomming a souped up Turkish league where the fans turn up at the airport all excited to see some half crippled 34yo arriving from Chelsea on a two-year deal worth 8 million.

Loser fans of teams who blame every other club bar their own is another major problem. Sort out you own mess.
on the 18th March, 2021 at 2:46pm
I can understand why the champions league slump as the top spending teams have a massive advantage, but it's the poor results in the Europa cup that shock me. With Juve's dominance in the league, why hasn't a team said, let's go all in and win this. Never do you see the strongest 11 on a Thursday.
on the 18th March, 2021 at 2:39pm
1. There are endless problems with Serie A. And it's a reflection or the clowns "running" the country as a whole.

Decrepit stadiums are a major issue. All we hear is designs for new stadiums here and there, but then nothing is done.

Don't expect to see new Roma/Fiorentina/Milan/Inter stadiums by 2030.

Italy is a football hotbed, yet who'd host a tournament in a run-down place like it?

Average foreign players arriving (oft on huge wages from the epl) should be left where they are.
on the 18th March, 2021 at 2:38pm
When was the last time a german or french team won the EL?

Ill tell you

Schalke 1997
French team? Never

How many CL´s have the the Premier League won in the last 15 years, where english teams have had the huge money advantage over everyone, through new stadiums, biggest tv deal in footbal history and so on?

Ill tell you
England 3
Italy 2

Serie A will always survive because their talent developtment are years ahead of the english, and thats the most important thing in football.
on the 18th March, 2021 at 2:18pm
Richard - I couldn't agree with you more. Bang on.
When I just look at the marketing product aspect alone it is light years behind other leagues specifically the EPL.
There is no reason Italian teams couldn't compete - they have quality players and arguably the best coaches. The problem lies in the fact that the Italian culture thrives on individuality, but fail when they come together as a group. It's shameful because it does a dis -service to the teams, the players and the fans.
on the 18th March, 2021 at 1:51pm
Stadiums?? That's the main issue is it? How about top clubs investing in young Italians and building long term projects? How many mediocre foreign players are there in Serie A taking the place of upcoming Italian talent.

Renovate the stadiums sure, but stop clubs purchasing so many mediocre foreign players and have a focus on Italian players. People seem to think Italy has suddenly stopped producing talents, not true at all but they need a chance in the top Italian sides.
on the 18th March, 2021 at 1:44pm
The reason is mainly:

1 Lack of modern stadiums. The politicians must take a huge blame.

But also ...

2 Lack of (foreign) rich owners, though things are changing right now.

New stadiums are needed.

Inter 60.000
Milan 60.000
Roma 45.000
Napoli 45.000
Fiorentina 41.000
Lazio 41.000
The rest 20.000-30.000
on the 18th March, 2021 at 1:41pm
We need to get the fans back. There is no mystery here. Man Utd can get a full house of 70,000 against Bristol in the League Cup on a wet, windy Wednesday but Juventus can barely get 20,000 to turn out for a league game against one of the minnows. I remember going to Italy in the 80s and 90s and was told I'd never get a ticket for the San Siro because they were like gold dust. Get rid of the dumb, mindless Ultras, sort out the stadia and incentivise the families back.
on the 18th March, 2021 at 1:40pm

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