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The Gap Widens...Changes Serie A Needs To Make

Posted by Aymen Gheddai Friday, March 12, 2021

During the second half of AC Milan's second leg defeat to Manchester United, esteemed commentator Martin Tyler
opined about how the Premier League was far more competitive than the Serie A. This sentiment has been a recurring one for the past few seasons, specifically since the Premier League teams have started dominating the Champions League. Mr. Tyler, unlike many of his isolationist-type colleagues in England, tends to be rather knowledgeable about non-English football, so when he makes such a declaration some consideration is due.

The all round quality of the Premier League is actually not that competitive in relation to the other top leagues in Europe. In spite of that, the top three or four teams in England are significantly stronger than the ones in Italy, Spain, Germany, and/or France. Without digressing too much, the main focus here is the gulf that is beginning to show between Italy and England.

Football today is very business inclined and as a result the various leagues are now viewed as if they are products. The English realized this early on dubbing their league the "Premier League" and have not looked back since. Not long ago fans analyzed the respective leagues strictly based on the quality of football (Italy is very tactical, Spain technical, England physical etc.), while that remains to a certain degree, it is not the sole source of evaluation. Nowadays fans are captivated by excitement almost more so than the actual quality of the football being played. Once again the English realized this early on. It started with constant declarations about the Premier League being the most exciting league in the world, but now it has evolved into a whole new creature.

Simply viewing Sky Sports shows you the massive public relations campaign that the Premier League has behind it. The constant theme on Sky is that the Premier League is the "best league in the world." Going back to the product analogy, when watching a match from the respective leagues around Europe, clearly one league stands out. Viewing a Premier League match comes with the plush pitch, fans so close you can sometimes see what they are saying, and of course the decibel level is clearly more audible. All these are necessary components in ensuring television viewers are truly engrossed in the spectacle. As a result, that is the likely product you are going to endorse. That being said, apart from top of the table matches, sadly the Premier League seriously lacks in actual footballing quality. What does it matter though? As long as the fans are captivated, and the stadiums are full, the league will still be immensely popular, despite the lack of technical or tactical quality.

This bring us to the Serie A. When watching a match in Italy's top flight a few things are quickly noticeable starting with the stadium attendance. More often than not stadiums are never at capacity, which results in less support (vocally) and excitement. With Italian coaches having the tendency to be more tactical, numerous games are almost like a chess match, which may appeal to true football lovers, but once again as a product it does not appeal to the masses, who crave constant action, like the Premier League does.

Italian teams not only struggle with attendance levels, but stadium ownership is not even in place, with many teams paying a fee to city councils in order to play matches at the different venues. Italy is lagging behind England and Germany, where in both leagues the teams own their stadiums. This results in massive revenues for the respective clubs which in turn allows room for investment in the stadium, pitch, and, crucially, players.

Stadium ownership is not the only problem in Serie A, the quality of the stadiums also pose a major issue. The majority of the stadiums in Italy are dilapidated and most were either renovated for the 1990 World Cup, or built in that same year. Distance from the pitch is a major complaint at famous grounds like the Olimpico and Delle Alpi, in addition, safety standards are a cause for concern for football fans, and this results in lower attendance. As a consumer, when viewing a Serie A match, superficially, there is little that would entice you when you see empty stands and hardly hear any noise.

The gap in revenues has shifted over the past ten years significantly. Around the turn of the century Italian teams routinely broke transfer records for the best football talent available. However, with extremely high taxes in Italy, funds at various clubs are rather tight. Today, virtually only Inter are capable, due to a billionaire patron, to pay massive transfer fees, and despite that they are only able to attract players no longer wanted at other teams (Sneijder, Eto'o, Lucio). While money does not always ensure success, as Real Madrid showed against Lyon, it contributes to building a solid league infrastructure.

With TV rights in excess of two billion pounds for the Premier League, the whole league gets a portion allowing the teams to have presentable stadiums which lends itself to the desired image the Football Association wishes to portray. All this results in numerous fans around the world, and this increase in popularity brings in more funds to all the clubs, but the biggest clubs are the ones who gain the most. The likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal all possess arguably the deepest and strongest squads in Europe. Exceptions such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter, Bayern, and Milan remain, but out of those teams only Barcelona and Milan have challenged the Premier League's domination of the Champions League in recent seasons.

Balance is always required, but as it stands the Premier League clubs are in danger of excess with the highest club debts in Europe being in England. With UEFA starting to head toward a ruling requiring clubs to run profits in order to take part in the Champions League, the English teams may yet struggle if they continue carrying debts and cannot sign all the foreign players they desire. While the stadium issue is massive in the Serie A teams' quest to be recognized as one of the elite leagues again, they do have some positives that are noteworthy.

The debt in Italy is only a third of the Premier League's, and like La Liga, Ligue 1, and the Bundesliga, Italian teams primarily consist of local talent (except Inter). This is hardly the case in the Premier League where the top teams are very Inter Milan-esque. This could pose a problem down the line with Michel Platini also trying to place more quotas on foreign players in European club teams. For Serie A teams the immediate focus should be rebuilding the stadium setup which would be the beginning to a more prosperous league. Such a move would allow the Italian teams to earn more in revenues and resume being competitive in the Champions League. It would also contribute to making the league more appealing, and maybe as a result fans who are not just looking for excitement in a non-footballing manner will start to pay attention to the Serie A and be more appreciative of its quality once more.

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2 comments

  1. Hus Said:
  2. Well written, thoughtful insight.

    I think the combination of stadium ownership and TV rights (or combined lack thereof) has led to the perceived decline in the Serie A. The EPL is a consumer-friendly, well-packaged product and this has helped them achieve global status as the # 1 league. You can't argue with that.

     
  3. Hemense Said:
  4. Wow. You definitely are putting all the pieces together. I learned quite a bit from this.

    Wouldn't getting more foreign players be better for the league by gaining interested viewers from their respective countries?

     

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