“There are no easy games in Serie A.”
It is a phrase that has long been used by players, managers and general observers alike when speaking of the Italian game. The most recent of whom includes under-fire Juventus bench boss Gigi Delneri, and Milan’s influential midfielder Gennaro Gattuso.
But while this idea of parity has become an embraced phenomenon of the Italian top flight, it may be doing more harm than good to Italian squads on the European stage.
With the recent announcement that the German Bundesliga has overtaken Serie A in the battle to occupy four Champions League places beginning in the 2012-2013 season, the issue has come to the forefront for fans of calcio.
It is a bitter pill to swallow for the league, but in truth, the announcement was imminent. Given that the UEFA co-efficient scoring system takes the much maligned Europa League into consideration, Italy was always going to come out on the wrong end of the decision.
But now that the announcement has been made, the focus turns to why?
And parity seems to be a possible answer.
The Serie A is loaded with players from the so-called “smaller clubs” who could merit not only a squad place for one of the league’s top sides, but who would feel hard done by if they were not a fixture of the starting eleven.
The greatest example comes from the Stadio Friuli.
Despite Udinese’s surge up the table and their breathtaking attacking displays this season, their position amongst the larger clubs in the league has never been a certainty. Players like Alexis Sanchez would walk into the starting eleven of Milan, Roma and defending champions Inter, while others such as Antonio Di Natale, Gokhan Inler and Samir Handanovic have all been linked with a move away from the Bianconeri in recent years.
Down in Sicily, the flair of Argentine playmaker Javier Pastore would be a welcome addition to any club in the division, despite his recent dip in form. In defence, both Federico Balzaretti and Mattia Cassani would find a place in Milan’s backline, as they could desperately use two quality full backs in their Round of 16 clash with Tottenham Hotspur.
Further down the table, the likes of Cagliari, Fiorentina and Genoa all have quality players who would perform very well at the big clubs in Italy.
Even one point above the relegation zone, Parma and Catania employ players such as Sebastian Giovinco and Maxi Lopez, respectively.
As all three sides representing the Serie A attempt to overturn disappointing first-leg defeats in the Champions League within the next two weeks, one must wonder whether they would be willing to sacrifice league parity for European success year after year.
After all, the high level of competition in the Serie A is one of its strongest qualities. As Chievo talisman Sergio Pellissier said in the early stages of the 2010-2011 campaign, “It is wonderful to see an equal league.”
Fans of the Italian game need to decide whether they prefer to have a strong, competitive product each and every weekend, or a system similar to that of Spain’s La Liga, where the best talents in the nation ply their trade with only two clubs.