Milan’s duopoly was extended further this weekend as the Nerazzurri defeated Palermo to take yet another another Coppa tricolore – but as Europe still basked in the afterglow of Saturday’s sensational Champions League final, the final throws of peninsula football passed in comparative anonymity.
For calcio aficionados this has been an enthralling scudetto race crammed full of entertaining subplots, extending one’s interest far beyond the San Siro stranglehold. From the surprise ascendency of Udinese, the soap opera that is Palermo, and on to the dramatic demise of Sampdoria, this season has provided an abundance of stimulating topics.
Here and now however, with the English Premiership coveting ‘the best league in the world’ status and Spain’s La Liga boatsing the planet’s best club side, is Serie A is in danger of being reduced to being a developmental league for emerging talent and remaining of interest for those with only an idiosyncratic interest in all things calcio – and for the long term good of calcio, enticing a new tifosi from beyond the peninsula is important.
Positively, the emergence of South American talents such as Edinson Cavani of Napoli, and Alexis Sanchez of Udinese, there now exists the fledging signs of genuine depth within Serie A as once ‘peripheral’ teams emerge to threaten the Milan based monopoly. More negatively though, immediate speculation seems to favour the possibility of which new clubs will sign such players rather than an assumption that Napoli and Udinese will retain their stars.
The fact that you are reading this suggests you possess an intrinsic interest in Italian football, but with the failure of Serie A teams to impose themselves in Europe, calcio is in danger of being reduced to a mere sideshow to the aforementioned Spanish and English leagues. As an inevitable consequence, Serie A may find it difficult to retain its hottest properties and thus remain in its very insular bubble.
During the forthcoming mercato it is imperative that the likes of Guidolin and Mazzarri retain the talent that they have nurtured, not only for more private reasons, but for the general well being of Italian football. Closer to home, it is key that both the Partonopei and Zebrette learn from Sampdoria’s fatal mistakes and resist the urge to bolster their own coffers by selling to the already strong Milan based sides.
Serie A needs a competitive league and the teams who make it into European competition can only benefit from sterner competition from their domestic peers. This term, both Milan and Inter were eventually humbled by Europe’s lesser lights while Juventus, Roma and Sampdoria suffered undignified cup exits. Udinese and Napoli remaining strong will not only help their own ends, but will also serve to hone the competitive edge of those around them.
Undoubtedly, the fans of both Milan teams will wish to continue to cherry-pick the very best of Serie A talent and will see this as a means to reinforce their Champions League credentials, but in doing so this risks turning Serie A into some sort of quasi Scottish Premiership – a league with two uncompetitive sides away from the SPL and a league which is largely unwatchable outside of its home territory – again this proves that a deeper and more competitive Serie A has wide ranging positives.
Some will point towards La Liga as a more reflective version of a two team league, but in the instance of both Barcelona and Real Madrid, each squad is inherently so strong that the absence of competition has little or no impact upon their Champions League aspirations or the desire to watch amongst non Spanish audiences.
Here and now, the summer mercato of 2011 presents Serie A football with a critical crossroads and ostensibly, one of three eventualities could pan out.
Firstly, standout players could be lured to other leagues with cash rich clubs such as Manchester City already linked with some of Italy’s burgeoning talent. Alternatively, players such as Javier Pastore and Andrea Cossu could follow the examples set by Cassano and Pazzini in favouring an internal flight to either half of Milan, rather their present and more modest surroundings. Thirdly, such players could elect to remain with their current clubs and help to make Serie A a wholly more balanced, competitive and eminently more watchable league.
The first case scenario is by far the worst and will serve to render Serie A as essentially a feeder league for the Premiership and/or La Liga amking it difficult for any team to repeat Inter’s European success of 2010. The second alternative will perpetuate the monotonous, Milan based imbalance which undermines not just the lesser teams, but also the very best interest of the Rossoneri and Nerrazzuri themselves.
Of course a combination of the above could materialise and with Roma looking to spend and Juventus keen to rebuild it’s not just the Milan teams with a keen on eye on the mercato. Ultimately however, one hopes that the likes of Aurelio De Laurentis, Maurizio Zamperini and Giampolo Pozzo resist an obvious urge to cash in and instead give the chance of glory a tilt. A philosophy if employed, will serve the whole of Serie A very well indeed.