The slow and painful demise of a great footballing nation
I first came up with the idea for this article whilst I was watching ACF Fiorentina take on Chievo Verona last weekend, and what struck me the most about this match was the lack of people at Stadio Artemio Franchi who were there to witness Fiorentina's 2-1 win, in a stadium with a maximum capacity of over 47,000 only 23,000 turned up, large sections of stands were left completely empty, a club of Fiorentina's size were being watched by a more than half empty stadium, and this lack of interest in football matches in Italy isn't a new concept either, unfortunately it's been happening gradually for a long time now, but a lack of attendance isn't the only problem in Italian football nowadays...
As we all know Italy is a great footballing nation, one whose national side has lifted the World Cup on no less than four occasions, reaching the final of that competition and losing on two other occasions, one which has embraced domestic football ever since James Richardson Spensley founded the first Italian team, Genoa C.F.C, a team which initially competed in cricket and football, unfortunately nowadays you can't see the likes of Marco Borriello wave a cricket bat around but they are widely accepted as the oldest Italian football team, one that is steeped in greatness much like the majority of top flight Italian sides. But despite the history and the glamour of Italian football it has been suffering for a long time now and that suffering hasn't always been for footballing reasons.
In 1980 Italian football was rocked to its core when a match fixing scandal involving the likes of A.C Milan, Lazio and Bologna came to light, this infamous scandal named Totonero ended in the relegation of A.C Milan to Serie B along with Lazio and numerous points deductions for other teams involved, but Italian football bounced back just two years after this scandal and won the 1982 World Cup. There was a recurrence of Totonero in 1986 and similar points deductions were handed out to the offending teams, once again involving Lazio.
And since then Italian football has been muddied with scandals ranging from betting to match fixing which have ruined the great spirit which the Serie A once had, a league where there has been known to be over five realistic winners in a season, a league where Champions League winning teams strut their stuff on a regular basis, this league was ripped apart by those scandals and lost a lot of credibility thanks to them as well. The early 2000's was marked by a large number of big signings such as Rui Costa to A.C Milan, these signings created more interest and the league regained its mojo so to speak, with Milan competing with Lazio and Juventus both of which had invested heavily as well but then in 2006 yet another scandal hit, possibly the most famous football scandal ever, one that ended in the relegation of Juventus to the Serie B, that relegation caused a major exodus from the club with players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lillian Thuram heading elsewhere, those big exits also caused many other players to leave Italy. Incredibly the national team managed to win the World Cup that same year.
Since then, players have been leaving the Italian league, world class players such as Kaka headed to Spain where a footballing revolution was taking place and the league took a big dip because of that and so did the national side who were humiliated at the 2010 World Cup.
And now, small attendances and a lack of big players have really taken its toll on the league which was once dubbed the best in the world, the national side reached the final of the 2012 European Championships only to be destroyed by Spain in the final.
For how much longer can they keep bouncing back? For how much longer can Italian clubs sustain their finances despite a lack of income? Could a win for A.C Milan over Barcelona be the catalyst for the league's revival? I certainly hope so but I doubt it.