Back in the day, the Italian first division was always considered to be one of Europe’s top leagues. Those living in the UK were treated to the show Football Italia, broadcast on Channel 4 until 2002 and centred on live coverage of the Serie A Italian football league. The show briefly ran on other channels until 2008 but with less success, which was almost certainly due to the fact that the personable James Richardson was no longer the main host.
Both Football Italia, and its sister show, the highlights show Gazzetta Football Italia, proved extremely popular amongst the general British public, with the first episode of Football Italia (a 3-3 draw between Sampdoria and Lazio) reportedly attracting around three million views, with the Gazzetta version drawing in 800,00 viewers a week in its first season. With household names such as Van Basten, Maldini, Simeone, Baggio, Ronaldo, Zidane and Inzaghi all gracing the league in the 90s, Italian football was arguably the strongest in Europe and in turn, this only attracted more top players to Serie A.
Where Did It All Go Wrong?
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when and when Serie A started losing both its key players and its pulling power as one of Europe’s top leagues. However, there are certainly a few key moments and incidents in the league’s recent past which served to create a toxic atmosphere and left a cloud hanging over Italian football. The well-publicised “Calciopoli” scandal back in 2006 is still the biggest of its kind in modern footballing history and saw Italian giants Juventus relegated from the Serie A and stripped of two of their “Scudetto” championships.
In addition to this, the club started the next season with a record 30 points deduction, leaving the reputation of both the club and Italian football hanging by a thread. There’s little doubt that to some extent, Serie A and Italian football as a whole still bears the scars of Calciopoli. With investigations and trials still periodically taking place even to this day, the impact of the affair will no doubt be felt for many years to come.
There’s little doubt that Juventus and the four other clubs involved deserved the sanctions and punishments handed down to them. Nevertheless, from a neutral observer’s point of view, the standard or the league suffered. Whilst club stalwarts such as Gianlugi Buffon and Alessandro Del Piero remained loyal and stayed with the club (and were widely praised for doing so), wantaway stars such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Fabio Cannavaro were quick to pack their bags in the wake of the scandal.
The Effects of the Calciopoli Scandal
It is estimated that around 30 players who played in the 2006 World Cup that summer left Serie A after the scandal. Of course, the most galling aspect is that Italy actually won said World Cup – any goodwill towards Italian football generated by this success was quickly extinguished by the actions of few ill-advised idiots. The fact that the Italian public were almost unable to properly celebrate the success of their home nation perfectly illustrates the far-reaching effects of the scandal and how it affected people’s lives outside of domestic football.
With a number of stars leaving the league, the remaining top teams such as Inter, AC Milan and Roma were all forced into a spree of desperation spending in an attempt to rebuild their paper-thin squads. In terms of short-term success, this appeared to work wonders for Milan – they managed to land a European treble and became the dominant side in Italy for a short time. However, the long-term impact of overspending was felt by a number of clubs and after the Italian economy took a nosedive not long after, many teams were financially overstretched. Reggina and more recently Parma are two of the most notable examples of financial mismanagement – Parma, in particular, went through a very ugly and public debacle after years of “creative financing” and were booted down to the same non-professional tier which Reggina found themselves in back in 2015.
Source: Parma Calcio via Facebook
Rising Like a Phoenix? Or Slowly Learning to Walk Again?
There’s little doubt that Serie A is slowly but surely returning to its former glory. One only has to look at the resurgence of Juventus in order to see that order is finally being restored in Italian football. The Old Lady’s performances in the Champions League over the last few years have once again made people sit up and take note and with other teams such as Napoli and Roma also catching the eye, Italian teams are no longer the pushover they were around a decade or so ago. Of the Italian teams in the Champions League this year, Napoli are fancied to go the furthest and are 33/1 to land the trophy come May – with firms such as Oddschecker offering bonus bets for a number of different online bookmakers, taking a risk-free punt on Napoli could well pay dividends after Christmas.
The strength of a league is ultimately determined by the players plying their trade in it and over the last few seasons, Serie A has seen a number of high profile incoming transfers into the league.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s decision to join Juventus after leaving Real Madrid was said by some to be the final piece of the puzzle in restoring Italian football to its former glory and the Portuguese star has impressed since his summer move. The importance of a player like Ronaldo choosing to move to Serie A cannot be understated – last season, he showed that he’s still at least the second best player in the world (we will leave the Messi vs. Ronaldo debate for another day) and so his decision to move to Italy is proof positive that the perception of the league is changing for the better.
In an interesting turn of events, Gareth Bale is the latest star to be linked with a move to Serie A and could well be linking up with former teammate Ronaldo if the reports are to be believed. With players such as Douglas Costa, Gonzalo Higuain, Leonardo Bonucci and Joao Cancelo all choosing to play in Italy in favour of attractive offers elsewhere, it appears that Serie A is once again on the radar of top players. The success enjoyed by Italian teams in the Champions League will undoubtedly also play a part in attracting new talent to the league and with this in mind, Serie A can only go from strength to strength within the next few years.
Serie A Is Back On The Map
Whilst Italian football used to be rightly lauded back in the 1990s and early 2000s, it was noted that teams often preferred to sit back and defend narrow leads as opposed to going for the proverbial “jugular”. There’s little doubt that the top Italian teams remain as defensively sound as any of Europe’s top leagues but with masses of attacking talent at their disposal, Juventus and Napoli, in particular, possess some of the most devastating attacking talent on the world stage. Whisper it quietly but with this new found attacking prowess, Serie A has the potential to become more watchable and exciting than ever before if the league keeps on progressing in the way that it has over the last few years. Watch this space.