The Italian Mess: Italian Football’s Decline

Roberto Baggio was unable to kick start a change in Italian football

The Italian league and the administrators running the league and the teams have been accused of plenty and the teams don’t have the best reputation when it comes to promoting youth, there are exceptions but notables ones like Marco Verratti end up in France to get regular game time.

What some have recognized the Italians need is a more structured youth system. In some other countries like Spain, Portugal and Germany B or II teams of top level teams play in the second or lower divisions. It is also important that the teams realize and agree collectively that youth promotion and emphasis on it can also be cheaper and better. Much like it happened in Germany where Bundesliga teams, in partnership with the federation, took action after German national team’s failures in the late 1990s and early 2000s. As an almost direct result German football rose again and has been consistently successful in the last decade or so.

Attempts have been made in Italy to improve this and to set up such structures. The national team, the Azzurri, have done relatively well at times under good coaching and the talent that is nevertheless plentiful. Winning the World Cup in 2006 and reaching the final of Euro 2012 to name two such successes in the not too distant past. However the negatives and shortcomings have never been eliminated.

Back in 2010 Roberto Baggio, the famous and legendary Italian player, was given the task of reforms within the FIGC (The Italian federation), in particular youth development. He quit less than three years later unable to enact much, the Italian system resisting major changes. Not long after that Carlo Tavecchio was elected to be the president of the federation. Promises were made, crucially of reducing the size of the Serie A to 18 teams from 20. However Tavecchio was also of the old ways and was racist as well, using banana eating to describe some players and later conversations of him regarding gays and jews were leaked as well. His choice to appoint Giampiero Ventura to follow Antonio Conte in 2016 was seen as a mistake and so it proved to be. After the failure to reach the World Cup for the first time in 60 years they both resigned or were forced out.

The elections to replace Tavecchio have now failed to produce a result. After four ballots no one was able to gain the necessary number of votes (50%+ required for the fourth ballot) and the recognized change candidate, former Roma player Damiano Tommasi, fell after the first ballot. Sooner or later someone new will be in charge and the next federation president will have the opportunity to make changes. A proper youth strategy and set up and boldly pushing in a reduction in Serie A’s size to 18 teams to allow for more training and recuperation time plus a less congested fixture list are at least two steps forward. He would also have the important decision of choosing the next national team coach. That coach would hopefully have more ready players at his disposal and uses them well.

AC Milan At A Crossroads

As another football (soccer) season nears its end AC Milan fans are realizing that their beloved club is at a cross roads.
For years financed and saved by billionaire Silvio Berlusconi the financial excesses seem to have ended for the said owner. Expectations however have not and as much as the fans are entitled to demand a continuation of the previous spending ways to compete not only in the Serie A but also in European leagues (Champions League and its wealth) it is up to the owner to do as he wishes and if he is unable or unwilling to do so to consider selling the team.

The major issue and complaint is more than just the (lack of) spending however, it is how the club is run day to day and how the motto of ‘the most successful club’ (in terms of number of domestic and European trophies won) is used as a justification that the team can remain successful. The club is also notoriously stubborn in remaining loyal and to hold on to some players whose best days have passed. Some of those players have high wages which is not helping in these days of restrained spending. At the same time some highly useful assets have been sold (Kaka to Real Madrid) and the threat of further departures (Pato to any one of Chelsea and Real Madrid), to ‘balance the books’ remains.
The 2009/10 season brought a new and inexperienced coach, following the departure of the sometimes maligned but mostly successful Carlo Ancelotti to Chelsea, in Leonardo. The former player who had been at the club as a scout and major negotiator for South American transfers since 2002 was thrust into the coaching position and showed a great deal of intelligence and calm not only in tactics and formation but in dealing with the meddling management and owner wanting to not only dictate lineups but to demand wins despite an aging and weakened squad. Of course there was stubbornness from the coach in insisting on an attacking 4-3-3 formation that resulted in an (early) exit from the Champions League at the the hands of this writer’s least favorite team, Manchester United and an almost as embarrassing wipe out by one of this writer’s other least favorite teams, Inter Milan, in the league. Both teams exploited the team’s weakness and tactics’ naivety to counter attack and kill any chance of a good result.
Recent days have seen reports, not officially confirmed, that the said coach Leonardo might leave because he is being pushed or otherwise and he has admitted to a rocky relationship with the owner. The future of the team is even further in question, the owner is thought to be searching for a yes man type of coach and as mentioned may be tempted into selling Pato and others for even more cash. The squad meanwhile is depleted because of injuries and that has not helped the team when it almost seemed like they may even have a chance at the title this season. This exasperated situation has come despite the daily rumour mill linking highly useful players like Milos Krasic (from CSKA Moscow) and Edin Dzeko (from Wolfsburg) to Milan but it seems unlikely the money for such transfers will be made available and even if they are the team requires more depth and defensive help as well.
It is perhaps time for a new ownership, one that knows the value of investments. It is not necessary to go into a Chelsea or Real Madrid type of spending spree but a more intelligent yet sustained approach at presenting a team worthy of the traditions and value of the club, incidentally one that is still among the top earners in the world. One can name players who perhaps should be let go and others that would serve the team well but above all else this team has the wealth and power to remain among the elites of Europe and the world, if it wants to.