Are Italy as “crisis stricken” as Oliver Bierhoff claims?

“Take a look at the infrastructure, the stadiums, the balance of the league and the level of the teams: German football is currently better.” These are the words former Milan and Germany goal getter Oliver Bierhoff had to say pending his native land’s upcoming friendly against Italy – a battle which usually would take place during the latter stages of an international tournament, as both teams have fought it out for world titles on several occasions in the last few decades.
The Nationalmannschaft general manager went on to comment on the age of the Azzurri, stating that “most of the players from 2006 are not there” and “others are already in their later years as footballers.”
How accurate are the former Rossoneri legend’s claims? A huge amount has changed since 2006 for Calcio, most cripplingly the Calciopoli trial, in which Italian champions Juventus were relegated and stripped of two Scudetti, including the one they had won no more than a month previously, sending Italy and its football into a state of shock. As a result, the Old Lady of Juventus, so often the standard bearer for Italian football, has essentially been a shadow of its former self, hindered by a lack of star players and an equally unspectacular transfer campaign, having not had a consistent title challenge since those heady days pre-2006. They now have to settle with the push for Champions League places, an area of the table the Turin giants thought was theirs.
So Calcio had to reform, rethink, rehabilitate and rebound to reinstate the reputation it once had, a process which has it had its peaks and troughs, ranging from Inter’s Champions League triumph to the embarrassing early exit in last summer’s World Cup, which for a lot of people was one of the many nails in a long awaited coffin.
It is fair to say that Italian football is in a period of change, but when you look at the current national team, and see names like Sebastian Giovinco, Leonardo Bonucci, Giuseppe Rossi on the team sheet, all aged under 25, then suddenly the future does not look so dark for the Azzurri in terms of the players. With a fair wind the likes of Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli will find the kind of consistency that will justify both players’ respective talent, and suddenly Italy have a first team that is bursting at the seam with youth, vigour and creativity, three things that Lippi’s unsuccessful second stint at la Nazionale was sorely lacking.
As far as stadia are concerned, Italy must move forward, but steps are being taken. Juventus sporting director Beppe Marotta claimed that a new stadium is “decisive” to his side competing with the two Milanese outfits, and will move in next season. Lazio President Claudio Lotito mirrors this view, highlighting a new stadium as a priority for L’Aquile.
Italy has been shaken, stirred, battered and bruised. But if you look at a rejuvenated Milan side retaking the mantle at the top of Serie A, and Leonardo’s Inter progressing in the wake of the failed Rafa Benítez experiment, mixed in with the rise of Lazio and Napoli as genuine title contenders then Italy has a lot to be proud of, and perhaps a bit to look forward to in the future.

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