Italy’s Serie A can’t keep up with foreign rivals

Italy host Croatia on Sunday in a crucial Euro 2016 qualifier but behind the veneer of Antonio Conte's seemingly rejuvenated Azzurri squad lies a murky backwater that is Italy's Serie A.

Italy's Serie A can't keep up with foreign rivals
Italy is trailing behind all the other big European leagues," said Carlo Ancelotti. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

Italy's once revered top flight, a former haven for the finest purveyors of the 'beautiful game', is in crisis mode – and big names from Johan Cruyff to Carlo Ancelotti are among those ringing the alarm bells.

"Serie A has to become more attractive. Nowadays, you can watch any league championship on television," Ajax and Barcelona legend Cruyff said this week in an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport.

Milan legend Ancelotti, who led the Rossoneri to their seventh and last Champions League triumph in 2007, underlined the failure of Italy's legendary clubs to keep up with more astute foreign rivals.

"When Italy began dominating the European scene other countries, like Germany, started thinking about how to catch up," the Real Madrid coach said in a recent interview with French football magazine So Foot.

"The English had already started by modernizing stadiums. Now, Italy is trailing behind all the other big European leagues."

Just over a decade ago, three Italian teams – Juventus, Milan and Inter – qualified for the semi-finals of the 2003 Champions League with Milan beating Juventus to the title after a penalty shoot-out.

Now, Italians teams are considered lucky to reach the last eight of a competition whose financial rewards mean it is crucial for any club hoping to lure the game's top stars.

Inter Milan were Italy's last winners in 2010, when Jose Mourinho led the Nerazzurri to an unprecedented treble. Since then, only Juventus have made it to the quarter-finals, losing to eventual winners Bayern Munich in 2013.

Then coach Conte declared: "We have to look elsewhere, to Spain, to England and to Germany to see what lessons we can learn."

Three-time European champions Inter have failed to reach the Champions League competition for the past two seasons while seven-time winners Milan, who missed qualification this season, are now a pale shadow of the club that once attracted stars like Jean-Pierre Papin, Ruud Gullit, Andriy Shevchenko and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Milan city Mayor Giuliano Pisapia admitted: "In Milan right now, there are a lot of disappointed fans, but times have changed. We're all feeling the effects of the recession.

"Investment possibilities have dipped and fewer people are now going to the stadium."

Grounds like 'prisons'

With the exception of Juventus, few clubs in Italy can afford the big names who lure fans to the stadium. Once considered part of the average fan's Sunday ritual, for many it is now a thing of the past.

The possibility of watching foreign league games via satellite television, smartphones and tablets offers fans the chance to watch the world's best in Spain, England and Germany at a fraction of the price.

"Today's fan has far too many advantages sitting at home watching television: replays, commentary, statistics, and multiplex," Marco Bogarelli, the president of international sports marketing agency Infront, told Gazzetta dello Sport.

Coupled with sporadic episodes of football-related violence and the comparative lack of modernity at Italy's football stadiums, it means a trip to "il stadio" is not so enticing as it used to be.

A recent study found that Italian clubs reap, on average, only 11 percent of their revenue from stadium receipts. It is almost double elsewhere (23 percent in England, 23 in Germany and 22 in Spain).

Outspoken Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini said: "Going to the stadium should be enjoyable, where you can go with your family. Nowadays, in Italy it's like walking into a prison."

Ancelotti believes attracting fans back to the stadium is crucial. "For me, the stadiums and how they are run is key. Television rights [money] is important, but not decisive," he added.

"The number of people coming to watch games is a far more more important factor than television rights. Look at England, the stadiums are always full. In Italy families are too afraid to go to the stadium."   

Dutch legend Cruyff said Juventus, who have won the last three Serie A titles, are the "only club capable of overcoming the crisis".

"They have a different philosophy and, importantly, have built their own stadium which allows the club to manage it on their own and balance the books," he said.

"The other Italian clubs don't have money. They are are investing less in grass roots football and buying fewer big names."

Despite the inherent economic constraints, Bogarelli believes league chiefs must revolutionize their key "product" if they are to grab a slice of the competitive global market.

"The market for Real Madrid and Barcelona, once Latin-American has now gone global. Serie A doesn't have a Cristian Ronaldo or a Lionel Messi, so you have to invent something else," he added.

"With a few million [euros] investment stadiums could become more [consumer] friendly.

"We need to encourage fans to spend more time in the stadium. Much like a consumer in a shopping mall."

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Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players’ ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome

Italy’s national football team reportedly insisted on taking an open-top bus tour through Rome to show off their European Championship trophy to crowds of fans - despite city authorities forbidding it amid concern about the spread of coronavirus.

Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players' ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome
Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The team’s bus parade through the city on Monday night following their Euro 2020 triumph “was not authorised”, according to Matteo Piantedosi the head of Rome’s prefettura (the public safety authority).

Thousands of fans packed the streets of central Rome to see the team celebrate their cup win after beating England on penalties in the final.

READ ALSO: ‘Football came home’: Italy celebrates Euro 2020 victory over England

Piantedosi told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Wednesday: “We had denied permission to celebrate Italy’s victory in the European Championships on the open bus, but the pact was not respected.”

Piantedosi, who is Rome’s top public security official, said police had “no choice” but to let the parade go ahead after players Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci insisted on it.

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

A meeting had been held on Friday with the Italian football federation (FIGC) to discuss plans for the celebrations if Italy won, said Piantedosi.

“I had agreed the line with Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese and Chief of Police Lamberto Giannini,” he said.

“It was clearly explained that [the parade] was not possible. We said we could not authorize it.”

Piantedosi said the Italian football federation (FIGC) initially agreed to hold a “controlled” ceremony in Rome’s central Piazza del Popolo instead of the parade.

After players insisted on the bus tour on Monday however, Piantedosi said, authorities reluctantly let them go ahead due to fears of sparking public disorder.

“At that point we had no choice but to acknowledge the situation and handle it in the best way we could,” he said.

READ ALSO: Covid cases on the rise in Europe once again as WHO warns of Euro 2020 risk

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

In a statement on Wednesday, the FIGC said it had acted responsibly but decided not to disappoint fans who had come to celebrate with the team.

Footage of large crowds thronging the bus carrying the ‘Azzurri’ and the European Championship trophy through the capital however fuelled concerns about new outbreaks of coronavirus, after Italy’s infection rate began to rise again last week.

The World Health Organization warned earlier this month that crowds and gatherings connected to football matches will fuel a new rise in cases across Europe this summer.

READ ALSO: Delta variant in Italy will be ‘prevalent within 10 days’: health official

Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza also voiced concerns on Monday about the consequences of people gathering to watch sporting events.

He said the European football championship win was “a great joy after terrible months,” but “even in these moments of national pride we can’t forget that our ‘game’ to defeat Covid is not yet won.”

There are currently minimal health restrictions in place across Italy, however masks are supposed to be worn in crowded public places, including outdoors.

“Footage shows that police were virtually the only ones [in the crowd] wearing masks,” said Piantedosi.