Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughThe Fall of Serie A - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough The Fall of Serie A - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

The Fall of Serie A

About 3 months ago the first Milan derby of the season was played in Italy’s Serie A campaign. As AC Milan hosted Inter in the giant San Siro stadium you would have thought that this would have been the most important domestic game in Europe that weekend. However, the match no longer parades the finest talent the world has to offer, and the majority of football fans across the world were tuning in to watch Barcelona v Real Madrid instead.

What has happened to ‘Calcio’ and will it ever regain its status as the finest league in the world?

Recent success has a big part to play in understanding why Spain’s La Liga is currently the finest domestic league in the world. Barcelona under Pep Guardiola, and now Tito Vilanova, have been playing the type of free-flowing, attractive, and devastatingly effective football that few of us believed humanly possible. Observers from all corners of the globe have admired and praised the slick, continuous passing, constant movement, quick combination play, and style with which they have destroyed most of the opposition they have faced over the last four years.

Real Madrid have also become a renewed force to be taken extremely seriously, especially since Florentino Perez’s return to the club a few seasons ago. Money has been pumped into signings such as Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso, Ozil, Khedira, Benzema, Coentrao, Di Maria, Kaka, Modric, and many others, just in trying to match the level that Barcelona have set. The bar has been raised to an unprecedented level, and although there are many other quality sides it is very much a two-tier system; everyone other than the two big boys fight it out for a 3rd place finish, which is realistically as high as they can aim for.

Spain’s national side managed to retain the European Championship this summer by convincingly thrashing Italy 4-0, and even had the ability to add the World Cup to an increasingly growing trophy cabinet in the intervening years. At this moment in time they are at the absolute peak of brilliance, with the majority of the squad made up of Barca and Madrid players.
Atletico Madrid have won two out of the last three Europa League titles, and Athletic Bilbao beat Man Utd both home and away in the same competition last year before ending as runners up. Only the English Premiership can match La Liga in terms of interest and global audience, due to the large number of foreign players at their top teams (coming from South America, Africa, and Asia) and the massive amounts of money consequently invested in the league by TV companies from around the globe.

Not so long ago it was a very different story. The league where all the best players were, where the transfers records were regularly broken, the stadiums full of the most passionate and dedicated fans, and the dominance of the game unquestionable: Italy’s Serie A.

In the late 90’s the Italian league was at its peak, just as the Spanish league is today. Although Milan and Juventus had been very successful during the 80’s and 90’s, the overall strength of the league had increased by the end of the decade, and no longer was it a two horse race for the title. In fact there were seven sides who could realistically challenge for the crown in this era; Juventus, Milan, Inter, Parma, Fiorentina, Roma and Lazio. Sunday afternoons were awash with quality games all across Italy, and the strength of the line-ups was impressive. Here is a selection of starting XI’s from the 97/98 season.

(For simplicity, all teams are represented with a 4-4-2 formation. Line-ups may not be entirely correct regarding playing positions or personnel.)

The stars were flocking to Italy in their droves, attracted by the prospect of lining up alongside the world’s finest players, challenging for important trophies, and receiving a hefty salary in the process. Warnings were made about some of the vast figures being spent on attracting the best talent but no-one paid much attention. It was all going so well that nobody considered that there could be clubs facing serious economic problems in the near future, and so the spending continued.

As the wave of success was ridden into the start of the new millennium it did so under the heavy pressure of financial instability. Eventually teams started having to pay back all that they had borrowed, and the bank wasn’t the only headache. There was also a disturbing negative trend become more and more noticeable every weekend; a reduction in the number of spectators at the stadiums. The clubs blamed the hard financial times that most of Europe was experiencing, and that this was the sole reason why attendances had fallen. However, the quality and condition of many stadia across Italy left much to be desired, with many in disrepair and severely lacking in facilities. In Italy the local councils own the stadiums, and they rent them out to the clubs on long term leases. Consequently it is virtually impossible for teams to redevelop, or alter, their stadium, and most would prefer to start again with a new build rather than attempt to patch up an existing one.

Changing times required a club capable of investing in stadium development and willing to offer reasonable ticket prices. Instead, the public got the crumbling arenas they had always had, no help with the cost of tickets, and a league which seemed to assume that they had to do nothing to convince fans to go to games.

Fast forward to the present day and the effects of this mismanagement and lack of foresight are immediately and glaringly obvious. Attendances are at an incredible low and it is now an exception to see a full stadium rather than the norm. Many fans watch the games at home or in bars, priced out of the ability to watch live matches and unwilling to suffer in a sub-standard arena for 90 minutes. The big seven teams of the late 90’s no longer hold such power, and some are not even contenders anymore. Only Juventus, Milan, and Inter can be considered as the big teams in the league, with the two capital sides of Roma and Lazio not figuring seriously in the title challenge for quite some time.

At the moment there is no silver lining to a very dark cloud that hangs over Italian football, and although all the top European leagues experience moments of superiority in their quest to be called ‘the best’, it is difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel for Serie A. Wholesale changes are necessary if they are to experience the glory days of the past again, and for an Italian side to reign supreme in Europe. Juventus have become the pioneers in pushing for this change by constructing their own 40,000-seater stadium, an example for the rest to follow if they wish to rise out of the current difficulties.

Only time will tell whether the star players and fans return to Italy’s finest clubs, but it is going to be a long, hard struggle, and changes need to be embraced – not discarded.

Frustrated Coach