Throughout the late eighties and nineties, Italy had undoubtedly the most competitive football league in the world. Alongside the status came the financial clout. In between Diego Maradona’s switch from Barcelona to Napoli in 1984 and Alan Shearer’s move to Newcastle in 1997, every world record transfer involved Italian clubs purchasing one of the world’s great superstars.
Big bucks continued to fly into the new millennium as transfers involving Christian Vieri, Hernan Crespo and Gianlugi Buffon all exceeded 30 million pounds. As the first decade of the new millennium draws to a close big money has changed hands again, yet the Italian clubs have ceased to become footballs big spenders and if this summer is any thing to go by they are now the games big receivers.
Former AC Milan superstar Kaka highlighted this point as the Rosseneri sold their prize asset to Real Madrid. The Brazilian revealed that he had joined the Spanish giants in order to help Milan overcome their financial difficulties.
Milan’s vice-president Adriano Galliani had reiterated this point just days prior by stating that Milan might find it difficult to turn down offers for their major players. “We have had requests for Kaka and Pato from two of Europe’s biggest clubs and we will try and resist but there is an uneven playing field.”
The uneven playing field which has left Italian football behind is not a recent trend and has been evident for a few years. A look at the major stars which have been attracted to Italy in recent times tells the story.
David Beckham, Patrick Vieira, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho are the names that stick out and suggest Italy has become an attractive proposition for those at the twilight of their playing careers.
Galliani has no doubts that finances are to blame for the current plight of Italian football. “Today’s league tables coincide with club turnover, we’re playing in a new championship now; it’s called the Money League. How come Portuguese teams, Dutch teams or even a side like Red Star Belgrade win nothing these days?”
Galliani goes on to explain, “The main reason for our crisis is basic economics, Our biggest problem is that clubs like us share a stadium and don’t have one of their own.”
Galliani has inside experience of the problem with Milan sharing the San Siro with neighbours Inter, “as soon as major sponsors discover that the stadium “changes colour” (switches club) every week, they pull out of major sponsorship deals. It would simply cost too much to have to mount and then dismantle semi-permanent advertising hoardings linked to the two different clubs. It is inevitable that the best players in the world will follow the money… all the way to the Premier League.”
If recent trends are anything to go by then Italy may face a bigger problem than not being able to attract the world’s greatest players. Many of their promising youngsters are now being lured away with the bigger financial rewards available on foreign shores. Recent examples include Giuseppe Rossi, Fredrico Macheda and Arturo Lupoli who have opted out of plying their trade in their homeland.
Alongside the financial turmoil has come a downgrade in performance. Last seasons Champions League saw the failure of any Italian side in making it through to the last eight.
Money is not the only problem in Italian football with many pointing out recent scandals, poor infrastructure and fans violence, all contributing to the demise of football in the country.
There is no doubt however that as huge sums exchange hands off the pitch Italian football feels a deficit on it.
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