Since Sampdoria famously lifted the 1990-91 Scudetto, Milan, Juventus and Inter have won 17 of the 19 title’s available (the 2004-05 title was not awarded to anyone due to the Calciopoli scandal,) and all of the last nine championships. Will we ever see a provincial side win the Scudetto again? And if so, how?
Breaking the traditional dominance of the biggest sides in any country is a difficult if not impossible process, yet it’s that problem Italian football faces at present. In the years before TV and sponsorship deals really took the biggest sides to another level, it was not uncommon for a provincial club to break the stranglehold of the big three. In the 1969-70 season, a Cagliari side containing Calcio icon Gigi Riva stunned the Italian game by beating Inter to win their only Scudetto. Preben Elkjaer inspired Osvaldo Bagnoli’s Hellas Verona to a superb title win in 1984-85 with the Gialloblu only losing twice all season. And as mentioned above, Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini were the leading men in taking Sampdoria to to their only title win in the 1990-91 season.
Clearly un-limited finances help a side if they want to challenge for a title. It doesn’t matter if you’re Juventus or Juve Stabia, if a rich arab king decides to pump hundreds of millions into your club then you will soon be challenging for honours. Manchester City and Chelsea have been the benefactors in England, whilst Malaga and Paris St.Germain in Spain and France respectively are both hoping significant investment from Qatar will pay off as they try to wrestle their way into contention in their leagues. As of yet, no-one has come forward with the billions in Serie A that has been seen in other countries, although Calcio is not without in benefactors. Where would Milan be without Silvio Berlusconi’s investment back in 1985? Would Napoli’s climb from Serie C to Champions League have been possible without Neapolitan film-director Aurellio De Laurentiis’ financial input? What about Palermo’s rise from Serie B to Serie A under Maurizio Zamparini? All have enjoyed relative success, though none can be considered in the same financial breath as the sheikhs and oligarchs sweeping through football on the continent.
So without major investment, who can realistically challenge for the title in the coming seasons? Aside from the ‘big three,’ it could be argued the biggest clubs in Italy are Napoli, Roma, Lazio and Fiorentina. All boast a good history, large stadiums and big enough fan-bases to host Scudetto winners. Lazio and Roma took consecutive Scudetto’s between 1999 and 2001, but again finances helped dictate these wins, especially Lazio’s win under eccentric (and now disgraced) owner Sergio Cragnotti, who financed moves for Christian Vieri, Marcelo Salas and Seba Veron at huge cost. Roma have come the closest to breaking the mould in recent years, clawing back an 11 point deficit to Inter in the 2007-08 season under Luciano Spalletti only to lose out on the last day of the season. Napoli’s challenge last season was exciting but ultimately ran out of steam, with the Azzurri having to settle for 3rd place after challenging for the vast majority of the season.
This season saw two unlikely challengers in Udinese and Lazio, although recent weeks have curtailed any title party plans in Udine and Rome. The Zebrette, under veteran coach Francesco Guidolin have been up at the top all season with Milan and Juventus, but a poor recent run of one win in six has seen the Bianconeri slip to 5th, 11 points behind top spot. Lazio are nine points behind the leaders, but their frightening inconsistency has been their downfall. From deservedly beating Milan 2-0, to a 5-1 thrashing in Palermo inside 18 days highlight where Edy Reja’s men need to improve should they wish to again be champions, although whether prudent president Claudio Lotito would open the chequebook wide enough to allow a sustained title challenge is open to question.
It seems clear for now that for the next few years we are unlikely to see a break-out side come and challenge for the title. Perhaps if Roma have faith in the project that has only just started, then they can eventually push for only their fourth Scudetto, although having faith and sticking to projects is not something synonymous with Italian football. Napoli will become a more attractive proposition to big-name players after their swashbuckling style in this seasons Champions League, and if they can finish 3rd thus guaranteeing another European Cup adventure, there is real potential to create a realistic title challenge.
Whatever happens it seems certain we will never see a ‘small’ club emerge from the wilderness to clinch the title ala Cagliari or Verona. Modern day football simply does not allow it, be it Italy or elsewhere. Quite simply, finances dictate who wins trophies rather than the genius of a coach or ingenuity of a player, and it’s a simple conclusion that the bigger clubs have more of it.