This will be your correspondent’s final column after ten seasons of Serie A coverage, so instead of the usual pagella or report card, allow me some final reflections on how Serie A has and hasn’t changed in the last 10 years.
A Look Back At A Decade Of Serie A
By Michael Ottolenghi
10 seasons ago Italian football was hardly perfect, and was just recovering from a huge corruption scandal that saw Juventus relegated to Serie B. But Italy were the reigning world champions and Milan had just won the Champions League. Since then, the national team has become a laughing stock, failing to even qualify for this summer’s tournament.
Italian teams have won the Champions League only once in that period, when Inter achieved an unprecedented treble in 2010. Serie A was not exactly the most attractive league in Europe in 2008/9, but it still had some foreign stars in their prime, most notably Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Now with a couple of notable exceptions Italian clubs struggle to compete in the transfer market.
Violence and Racism
A good portion of the blame for Serie A’s decline must go to the league authorities and those who run the clubs. Together, they have proved incapable of securing new stadiums (with only three exceptions) or of curbing the worst excesses of the organised ultra fan groups. We have covered this at length in these pages, but the worst incidents include the death of Napoli fan Ciro Esposito on his way to the Coppa Italia final in Rome in 2014, the racist booing and chanting of “there are no black Italians” aimed at Mario Balotelli, and countless assaults on travelling European fans, particularly in Rome.
None of this is a specifically Italian phenomenon, but what is uniquely Italian is the combination of feigned outrage followed by complete inaction. Only last year Juve president Andrea Agnelli received a minimal sanction for giving tickets to mafia-linked ultra groups. Contrast this with the zero tolerance approach to violence and racism in the UK and it’s clear Italian football has a long way to go.
Transfer of power
On the pitch, the obvious feature of the past ten seasons has been the resurgence of Juventus, following their relegation for bribing referees. Since 2006, Inter have won 5 titles, Milan got one, but then Juve have dominated the Italian game, under both Antonio Conte and Max Allegri. To some it highlights the poverty of the Italian game, but Juve have also produced some exciting teams powered by talents such as Andrea Pirlo, Gigi Buffon and Carlos Tevez. The dynasty continues for now, but Italian football needs another winner to avoid becoming a lower tier league with only one winning team.
But all is not doom and gloom. Serie A has produced some exceptional talent over the past 10 seasons, both on the pitch and on the bench (less so in the boardroom). Inter’s treble winning team showcased key international talent from Samuel Eto’o to Wesley Sneijder and Diego Milito, while the league has also produced young talent of its own, from Marco Verratti to Leonardo Bonucci, Alessandro Florenzi to Claudio Marchisio.
But perhaps Serie A’s best talent has been that of its managers. This season Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli has been praised as playing some of the best football in Europe, while Conte, Claudio Ranieri, Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Mancini have exported Italian tactical ideas while winning around Europe.
Perhaps the many new foreign owners in Serie A will force much needed changes to a culture that protects violent thugs. A little leadership off the pitch could allow the vast reserves of talent in the Italian game to once again lead Serie A to be the best league in Europe. Fans of Italian calcio live in hope.
Thanks for reading.