News from the Peninsula – Juve march on, but was anybody watching?

It’s been yet another inauspicious week for Italian clubs in Europe, with both Milan and Fiorentina crashing out of the Champions League. Juventus stopped the rot with a win over Fulham, but even that experience was tainted for the peninsula by seemingly being played in front of two men and a dog.


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The attendance of little over 11,000 was a sad indictment of the new fangled Europa League, but also the predicament Juventus find themselves in after a very ordinary season. Even still, in the latter stages of a European competition, with a sniff of some elusive silverware, should a few more of the Bianconeri faithful have made the trip?

Fulham may not have been the most enticing of draws to attract a bumper crowd, but nevertheless the overall picture broadcast around the continent was of a struggling team, playing in front of a pitiful attendance. As Juve plot their revival for next term, what will their prospective signings think about playing in front of thousands of empty seats?

It may sound like an overreaction, but in reality, this is just one of the reasons why Italian football has fallen behind that of the Premier League, graphically illustrated at the packed out amphitheatre of Old Trafford on Wednesday night. The full footballing package goes a lot further than what happens on the field, and in an era of state of the art stadia, increasing attendances and worldwide exposure, the top players are reticent to ply their trade in stadiums which give the perception that nobody could be bothered to turn up to watch.

The completion of the new 41,000 capacity Juventus Arena is due for the start of the 2011 season, but even then, will the turnstiles be clicking to the tune of a club who are the largest supported in the country? Their attendances since relocating to the Torino Olimpico have been a little off 20,000, a figure which pales into insignificance with the clubs at the top of the game on the continent with whom la Vecchia Signora are trying to keep pace.

In modern day football it’s arguable how much difference gate receipts actually make when dwarfed by television and commercial revenues, but empty crowds are not aesthetically pleasing, and therefore, marketable. A game played out in front of a half-empty stadium doesn’t resonate the same atmosphere as a capacity game, and therefore can often lack the intensity and appeal. All this contributes to the overall image of Italian football, which, sadly is still at a low ebb.

A further indication of this slump is the news that Serie A is likely to lose its fourth Champions League slot to the German Bundesliga. The loss of the fourth place qualification spot would be just desserts to the likes of Inter, Milan and Juve who have squandered the competition in recent years anyway, but it would be a huge blow to those clubs such as Palermo and Napoli who have kept their own house in order, and worked well towards attaining that slot. The loss of the additional place would cap a remarkable fall from grace in European competition, and will raise very pertinent questions about how to redress the balance. Certainly, Serie A’s fortunes on the continent are a weak imitation of the powerhouse days of the 1980’s and 90’s, incidentally, a period of time when the countries stadiums were considered modern, and the attendances healthy. Coincidence?

The various failings of clubs in Europe this week automatically rotates a few panels of the managerial Rubik’s cube. Milan’s capitulation to Manchester United did Leonardo few favours, it may, in the long run, help out his successor who will be able to point out that the decrepit squad at his disposal cannot compete at the highest level. There will presumably soon be a space free on the bench at the Bernabeu, which will presumably see Jose Mourinho linked with the post. That simple equation may become clearer following Tuesday’s return trip to Chelsea, where elimination would at least pave the way for a Madrid-Mourinho embrace providing they want him. The Special One must hope his team fair better than they did on Friday evening when they capitulated to a 3-1 loss to Catania, with yet more indiscipline costing the Nerazzurri dear. Sulley Muntari was brainlessly sent-off after coming on two minutes previously – it was il Biscione’s third dismissal in as many matches, and means rivals Milan can cut their lead at the top to just a point with a weekend win over Chievo. The pressure’s building on Jose, but isn’t that how he likes it?

Sat just three points above the drop zone, Lazio are in need of some increased vocal support when Bari visit this weekend, but not in the form of their star striker. Mauro Zarate has confirmed he will be watching his teammates from the Curva-Nord of the Olimpico after being sent-off against Sampdoria last week. If the Zarate kid had found the net on more than three occasions this season, the Biancocelesti may not find themselves mired in relegation trouble; it’s a fact likely to be pointed out in less choice words by some of the Lazio Ultras on Sunday. Good luck Mauro.

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