In the 1980s and 1990s, Italian football was the glamorous cousin of the British game. There was plenty of money in Serie A, the world’s greatest players gravitated towards Milan, Turin and Rome, and Italian club sides were feared everywhere.
Something went wrong with Italian football as English and Spanish clubs started to dominate Europe. Some say that the sport “killed the golden goose”, not least in badly distributing vast amounts of TV money. And there was always the odd scandal to compromise dear old Calcio. It’s a major surprise that amid all this turmoil, Italy were World Champions in 2006!
In the days when players like Platini, Maradona, Boniek, Gullit and Rummenigge stalked the dressing rooms of clubs, crowds flocked to Serie A games. In 1982-83, for example, the average crowd was almost 33,000. In 2012-13, the average was under 25,000. This contrasts greatly with, for example, the story in England. In the mid-1980s, football enthusiasts in Britain envied the Italian game, but there’s been something of a role reversal.
In recent years, Italian clubs have got used to their best players been snatched by clubs from other countries. And the league of choice for many of the top players has been England or Spain, with France and Germany now emerging as contenders for the premium talent.
Italian clubs have not fared so well in the UEFA Champions League in recent years. In the last five seasons, only once (2009-10 when Mourinho’s Inter won the competition) has an Italian outfit reached the semi-finals.
This summer, however, Italian clubs have been among the big spenders once more. Napoli, who cashed in on Serie A’s leading scorer in 2012-13, Edinson Cavani, selling him to Paris St. Germain, have already spent some of the £50-odd million, beating Arsenal to Real Madrid’s Gonzalo Higuain. Juventus, impressive in Europe at times last season, have bought Carlos Tevez from Manchester City for what could be a bargain £12 million. And Fiorentina have acquired Mario Gomez from Bayern Munich, who looked as though he would be bound for the English Premier. If you want a dark horse for the title, Fiorentina could be it, although losing Stevan Jovetic to Manchester City might make that a little harder.
There’s a trend emerging and the Tifosi are recognising it in the form of increased season ticket sales across the league. Serie A kicked off this weekend, and it looks a little like “business as usual”. Juventus, who won the Scudetto in 2012 and 2013, started with a 1-0 success at Sampdoria, thanks to a goal from Tevez. Milan, meanwhile, who many regard as Juve’s only real contenders, lost 1-2 at newly-promoted Verona. The home side’s two goals were scored by debutant Luca Toni, who at 36 is playing for his 13th Italian club.
Inter beat Genoa with two second half goals and Roma won 2-0 at Livorno. Napoli gave Rafa Benitez a good start with a comfortable 3-0 victory against Bologna. No goals for Higuain, though.
It may not be the glory days of Football Italia, but there’s still plenty of glamour and goals in the Italian game. Juventus may have too much firepower for their rivals, but watch out for Milan (Balotelli and El Shaarawy), Napoli and Fiorentina.