Calcio Finito!
Lessons to be Learnt from Italian Football’s Decline

by Rob Shepherd.

hi-res-BalotelliACAtletico

Balotelli and friends were a distant second-best to Atletico Madrid

Twenty years ago AC Milan trounced Barcelona 4-0 to lift the European Cup.

Last week Milan were dumped out of the Champions League having been humiliated 4-1 by Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon stadium.

Chelsea target Diego Costa scored twice as Atletico, who have made this season’s La Liga a three-horse title race, prevailed 5-1 on aggregate.

It was convincing and poignant as Italy’s only representatives in the knockout stage of the Champions League fell at the first hurdle.

But back in 1994 Italian football was THE big league in Europe.

Although Italy would lose the World Cup final that summer on penalties to Brazil, Serie A was where the big money was and where most of the big world stars played as it had been for most of the previous three decades.

The Premier League was in its infancy and globalization of Spanish football was just starting. Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona had won the European Cup for the first time two years earlier but the revolution of a team which had a young Pep Guardiola in its midfield hadn’t really taken off – as that resounding defeat at the hands of a Milan side managed by Fabio Capello showed.

ACMilanBarca

Desailly celebrates after putting a giant cherry on top of Milan’s cake by scoring the fourth goal in a 4-0 demolition of Barca in the 1994 final

But two decades on how the tables have turned.

Across the board the big money is in the Premier League and La Liga.

The dour DNA of Italian football lost the battle for global TV audiences a long time ago to the Premier League and La Liga.

And even domestic TV audiences, which clubs rely on for the bulk of their income, are falling.

Attendances at matches continue to decline, not least because of hooliganism and issues of racism which in turn drive away sponsors. It just shows how the bubble can burst.

The English game has confronted and overcome many of the issues which Italy failed to address when their game was living high on the hog.

It’s getting so bad over there that there may come a time when the likes of Milan, Juventus, Inter and Napoli may push for a breakaway European Super League.

At the moment that prospect is not attractive to English clubs.

But Serie A’s current strife is a warning to the big Premier League clubs of complacency and the perils of treating core supporters with contempt, not least over ticket prices.

@robshepherd5

 

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