Ten years ago, if you asked any football fan which football league was the best, most of them would have instantly answered ‘Serie A’ (although the English Premiership would have come a close second). Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Since then, the Italian football elite has taken one hell of a beating, which can be attributed to several factors all occurring at once – the wake of the Calciopoli scandal (the shadow of which Serie A has still not fully recovered from), the economic downfall still being experienced in Italy, the reduction in the number of Champions League places from four to three, poor spectator attendance and overall poor club management. The Serie A is still nevertheless considered to be one of the top four football leagues in the world, with more players winning the Ballon d’Or while playing for a Serie A side than any other league.
Where the English Premier League is renowned for its fast, furious and physical style, the La Liga for its emphasis on technical skill and the Bundesliga on its excellent infrastructure and spectator attendance, the Serie A has been traditionally known as the most tactical and defensive league (non-fans commonly use the phrase “slow-motion league”). This has often been used as an excuse to explain why several players favour a move to other leagues over the Serie A, but this is arguably no longer applicable since differences in playing style between the leagues are far less readily apparent, with the emergence of attacking Italian teams such as this season’s new-look Roma, Fiorentina and Napoli.
In addition, football fans are increasingly criticising the La Liga and Bundesliga for their poor competition; with the latter being currently a Bayern Munich monopoly (even last year’s rivals Borussia Dortmund are looking poor this season), and the former has been dominated by Real Madrid and Barcelona for several years now, and it is only a resurgent Atletico Madrid under Diego Simeone that has looked capable of dethroning the duo and removing them from their pedestals. Serie A has no such problems – sure, defending champions Juventus are currently laughing their way to a third consecutive Scudetto, with only Roma looking capable of challenging, but the rest of the table is an absolute death pit, with just ten points separating fifth-placed newly-promoted Hellas Verona and thirteenth-placed Sampdoria.
So why does Serie A continue to struggle? A major reason is the fact that none of the Italian elite teams bar Juventus own their own stadiums. One of the main factors why Juventus have re-emerged as the dominant force in Italian football is their new home, the Juventus Stadium, which is owned by the club, allowing the bianconeri to directly collect revenue from spectator attendance and giving them total control over the stadium facilities. The rest of the clubs do not own their home grounds, but merely rent them from the respective cities. An example is the Giuseppe Meazza stadium in San Siro, which is owned by the Milan council, and to add insult to injury, the two Milan-based clubs, AC and Inter, have to share it. Italy is one of the few majaor footballing European countries to still allow this – in other countries such as England, this is not only intolerable but unthinkable. However, improvements are being made, with Roma and Inter planning to build their own stadiums within the next few years.
Foreign leagues such as the English Premier League have also been boosted by the cash influx generated by new foreign investors arriving, such as Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich and Manchester City’s Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, while the majority of Italian clubs are still owned by locals. However, with foreign investors recently arriving (such as Inter’s new Indonesian owner Erick Thohir), things are looking up.
In hindsight, while Serie A is looking bleak right now, one can’t help but feel that the night is darkest just before the dawn – progress is constantly being made and the Italian government has in fact recently agreed to step up a campaign to quickly improve the outdated football stadia. Time will tell if Serie A will regain its former glory, or will forever remain in the shadows of its rival leagues.