The Italian Renaissance

The Calciopoli affair truly dragged Italian football through the mud, it made fans, pundits and even politicians question the integrity of the so-called beautiful game. With it saw the giants of Juventus, Milan, Fiorentina & Lazio all facing various punishment for illegal match-fixing but aside from that it tarnished the good name of Italian football and stalled its progress as it competed to be one of the top European leagues.

7 years on from those dark days in Italian football and some might say things aren’t much better, with more tragic incidents coming out of the country since 2006 such as English fans being stabbed by violent ultras, racism and in 2011 another match-fixing investigation came to light this time involving low-profile Serie B/C sides. On top of this attendances are falling pretty much every year and now gates are only 5,000 higher than the average Npower Championship match in England. Sponsors too are turning away from Italy’s top flight and with the words “dying league” being cautiously whispered by many journalists and fans alike it is time for action to be taken, but is there any saving grace for Serie A?

First, let’s remind ourselves that Italy are one of the most successful countries in the world at football, both domestically and on the international stage. Reputation is certainly one thing Serie A has no problem with, at one period of time it was seen as the league second to only England’s old First Division. With the likes of Maradona, Platini, Van Basten and Baggio once gracing this division all for different teams you can see why.

We also must make sure to remember that on no less than 4 occasions in the last 20 years an Italian club have won the Champions League (a 1 in 5 success rate so to speak). This prestige that Italian clubs have earned whilst playing in Europe largely comes down to the 3 most famous clubs, Internazionale, Juventus and Milan winning the major European trophy 12 times between them. With Italian’s most recent success in the competition coming in the 2009-10 season as Internazionale lifted the trophy for a 3rdtime in the history, some Italian critics might simply have their claims of a “dying league” laughed off.

And what about this season? Well domestically the league is fine, it is looking a little one sided with Juventus in first place 8 points clear of Napoli (albeit the Partenopei have a game in hand) but it is on the international stage where Italy have excelled. Both Milan and Juventus progressed to the Last 16 and better still at time of writing Milan have pulled off a stunning 2-0 win at the San Siro against a Barcelona side tipped to win this tournament whilst Juventus went to Glasgow and tore up a lacklustre Celtic and returning to Turin with a more than healthy 3 goal lead in the tie.

So then what is all this fuss about? Well, whilst results and performances on the European stage may be improving, dark clouds continue to hang over the Italian game – including as recently as January when in a pre-season friendly Kevin Prince-Boateng walked off the pitch (followed by his team-mates and match officials) after he received a torrent of racial abuse from sections of the crowd. Incidents like this, as isolated as they are, really hurt the good name of Italian football as of course, 99% of Italian football fans are completely tolerant and supportive of black players in Serie A. Why else is there this talk of the league’s demise? Italian football has never been depicted as pretty and its stereotypes tend to be negative, with big, strong defences and very little flair (except from the Ultras of course!). 94 games this season in Serie A have been won by a margin of 1 goal so you could well be justified in thinking this is a boring, defence-minded league. Although it can’t be that tedious beating Barcelona at home, or thumping Celtic away for that matter.

With twisted genius Mario Balotelli joining an experienced set up at Milan they do hold a serious chance of progressing to the quarter finals as long as they can hold Barca out at the Nou Camp, whilst Juventus and their talented manager Antonio Conté, who boasts a 63% win percentage, face Celtic in what is sure to be a stroll through to the last 8. Could either win the Champions League though? Possibly. I see Bayern Munich & Real Madrid as the two biggest potential sides to be lifting the European Cup at Wembley but on their current form, especially Juventus, I see no reason why it couldn’t be an Italian club with their hands on the trophy come May.

So here’s hoping that maybe with the pressure off as it is no longer one of the European competitions in the limelight and the days of match-fixing behind them that Serie A clubs rise up and give this passionate, hard working fans the one thing they want: A good, honest 90 minute kick about. That is all we supporters want in truth after all… 

by Jamie Sinclair


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