Fake Eric Cantona

Reversing the Decline of the Serie A

Created on Apr. 26, 2014 1:49 PM EST

When CONI president, Giovanni Malago, blasted the Serie A for being stagnant over the past few months, he was speaking to the relative weakness of the league as a whole. Currently there are only two teams in Italy that are fighting, while the rest of the Serie A struggles against each other to avoid relegation. 

Financially the league is struggling. While many leagues are struggling, few can claim the feats of the Serie A both historically and recently. The Serie A has placed a team in the Champions League semi-finals for most of the past decade. AC Milan and Inter Milan have both lifted the Cup. 

But since Inter Milan won the Champions League, the Serie A has seen one of its coveted Champions League spots taken by the Bundesliga. Why? Because German teams were performing better in the UEFA Cup - the Dane Cook of European Competitions. UEFA's aim was to increase the market power of German football. However, this effort has fallen short, as to this day still no one watches German football outside of torture cells and Germany. 

Smaller May Be Better
The current size of the Serie A at 20 teams may be causing the talent to be spread too thin. FIGC President, Giancarlo Abete, has sought to reduce the size back to 18, as it was in 2004. The thinking behind this move is that it would allow teams more time and resources to prepare for Champions League and UEFA Cup tournament matches.

An example from the Serie A 2010/11 season was that Sampdoria, who qualified for the CL, quickly found themselves knocked out by Werder Bremen. They subsequently entered the UEFA Cup, where they dragged out a disappointing run. The consequence of these tournaments was that they did not focus on their league matches, and were relegated from the Serie A at the end of the season.

Sampdoria would have been wise to ignore all the CL and EL matches that appeared on its docket, and focused solely on the league itself. A smaller league would help in that teams like Sampdoria would not be struggling as hard to fit all their games in one season. They would have more room to schedule and reschedule. This would, in turn, improve each teams chances of competing. 

Look to Youth Players Instead of Old Foreign Journeymen
Milan's downward spiral perhaps started when they brought in Mark van Bommel, Ibrahimovic, and a collection of old players who were not going to provide the foundation for a legacy. These players were building blocks towards immediate short term goals. Young talent, such as Thiago Silva, were sold for good value. But the sale of Thiago Silva was the beginning of the end. 

This is a condition of the league as a whole, where the Serie A has a reputation for ignoring the youth in favor of old men. 

Roma and Juventus were two teams that did the opposite. Both Invested in young players, and both have been selling the same young players to consistently reinforce the team. Youth sells. For AS Roma, the added wealth can be pin-pointed to the appointment of Czech manager Zdenek Zeman, who partnered with Franco Baldini and Walter Sabatini to play money ball with the Roma squad. They brought in Marquinhos, Lamela and Osvaldo, and then sold them off for massive sums.  For all his faults as a strategist, Zeman was a genius as a talent scout. And it is finally this season, Zeman and Sabatini, known for being chain smokers above all else, can argue that they know how to buy more than just cigarettes. 

Juventus is a much different beast. Scanning through a list of the hottest young talents in Italy, one might find that many are co-owned by Juventus. Juventus scouts talent, cultivates it, and then decides the future of it. For example, Domenico Berardi, who stormed into the Serie A this season for Sassuolo with scoring displays left and right, is owned by Juventus. 

The more that teams develop their youth programs, the more they will be able to produce young talent that they can sell to finance the plans of the team. Those teams will remain more competitive as well. 

Invest in a Home
Juventus, and soon Roma, are the only clubs who have their own stadiums. One might make the claim that Sassulo owns Mapei Stadium, or that Mapei owns Sassuolo. These Stadiums are fresh, and made with the current players and fans in mind. 

A recent article by Paolo Bandini highlighted the problem with the old Stadiums: "Like so many players before him, he rushed to celebrate under that stand. To get there required hurdling one waist-high advertising hoarding, rounding another one and sprinting 20 yards across a covered running track."

The current list of stadiums in Italy includes buildings older than the oldest Serie A fans today. San Siro, also known as the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, where Milan and Inter host matches, opened in 1927. Genoa and Sampdoria play matches at Stadio Luigi Ferraris, which opened in 1911. And next season, when Tuscan rebels Empoli are promoted from the Serie B, they will host their matches at the ancient Stadio Carlo Castellani, which opened in 1923.

These old relics of the Serie A need to be updated, because their current condition makes it impossible to make the following change, in improving the marketability of the league as a whole, both domestically and abroad.

Improve Marketing At Home and Internationally
In the United States, regular people everywhere can watch each and every English Premier League match live in high definition through NBC. Simultaneously, those Americans can pay an arm and a leg for BeIn Sports channel and Fox Soccer, to watch replays of games from the Serie A, Ligue 1, and Spanish Liga in something that cannot even fake being HD. The Serie A broadcasts are terrible, but it is not Bein's fault.  

BeIn does not film the matches, but buys the rights to replay the matches. They are getting the source material from ancient Serie A camera people using legacy equipment which probably belongs in a museum. The result is that Serie A matches end up looking like they were shot in the '90s, and you can expect Roberto Baggio to appear on screen during every match.

The fault lies with the Serie A itself. Money needs to be set aside to bring the Serie A up to speed with the English Premier League, or else they can continue to see the broadcasting rights for English matches far exceed anything Italy has to offer. The solution is feasible, and will cost much less than forcing teams to buy modern stadiums.

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