Having just witnessed three losing finalists in the European finals of each major competition, Italian football superficially looks in a good place. Peer behind the curtain, though, and fans can see teams that are built on short-term thinking, massive debts, and crumbling stadia. Add in a league that lacks the commercial innovation of its major rivals, and Italian football is in a precarious place. Successful today, but with little hope for more success in the near future.
One major problem that the clubs face is the impending need for financial backing. Clubs like AS Roma are having to make concessions and sell of young players to meet UEFA financial deadlines. This is causing a lot of players to be moved on ahead of their peak, forcing clubs to accept pennies-in-the-pound offers for their best players.
The fear is that after such a good season last year, the biggest clubs in Italy will face an exodus of talent as they need to bring in funds to keep the lights on. Given the Premier League is currently being raved by the growing Saudi Pro League’s financial might – an issue Italian clubs are also facing – there are fears that the squad spaces opening up in cash-rich Premier League clubs, like Liverpool FC, will be filled with Serie A stars.
The wages that can be offered by Saudi clubs blow away what even the English teams can offer; by contrast, though, English teams can outspend Italian clubs with ease. This means that many English clubs might bring their newly fattened wallets to Italy, forcing clubs to lose top talent as they start afresh.
Naturally, this is causing concern and fear that clubs are going to see their best players sold on and replaced with young talent. This would bring down the overall age of the league, but also likely reduce the quality on show week-to-week.
Decisions from decades ago still hurting Italian football
During the cash boom of the Italian game in the 1980s and 1990s, teams often put aside the need for commercial improvement. Building modern stadia and landing lucrative sponsorship deals was ignored in favour of allowing rich owners to foot the bill. And while the likes of the Moratti and Berlusconi families produced dynastic success for their clubs, all but a few in Italy feel years behind the curve.
While much of European football has moved to a ‘player trading’ model and making the most of commercial innovations, Italian football still feels stuck in the past. Many teams both lack the revenue they should generate and the means to improve this. These problems mean that clubs are often in a period of flux with player transfers, selling on stars to be replaced by potential as opposed to current quality.
The decisions made by Italian clubs almost thirty years ago are still limiting what Italian football can do. Without a cultural revolution – and a focus on youth development – it is likely that Italian football will remain a shopping centre for richer leagues.
The arrival of arguably the richest league yet – the Saudi league – into the European market means that, more than ever, Italian clubs feel at the mercy of their more innovative and cash-rich English counterparts.