Italy has always, and probably will always be, one of the great footballing nations. The national team has won the world cup 4 times, trailing only to Brazil in terms of total numbers of triumphs. They also have one European Championship title to their name, and hosted the World Cup in 1990. Historically, Italian clubs have done well in European competition – AC Milan are the second most successful team in the Champion’s League’s history, with 7 victories, while Inter Milan have 3 trophies and Juventus 2. It also boasts some of the world’s most impressive stadiums, in particular the San Siro, the Juventus Stadium, the Stadio Olimpico and the San Paolo. However, the general feeling amongst the footballing community is that the Italian domestic league, Serie A, is no longer the powerhouse it once was, and it is certainly lagging behind, in terms of popularity, the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, and even Ligue 1 with the injection of wealth and talent that league has seen.
This argument that the league has decline in quality has some merit – the league traditionally has four teams qualify for the UEFA Champions League, but as of the 2012/13 season only three teams have qualified for the tournament, despite Inter Milan winning the trophy in 2010. In last season’s competition, AC Milan were eliminated in the Last 16, despite a 2-0 win over Barcelona in their home leg. Juventus, Italian footballs current dominant force, managed to reach the quarter-finals but were easily dispatched by eventual winners Bayern Munich. In the opening two weeks of this seasons competition, Juventus have struggled to draw both games against much weaker opposition, Milan have four points but performances have been poor, and Napoli fell to a poor defeat at Arsenal despite an impressive win against Borussia Dortmund.
Despite this apparent decline in quality, Serie A is still my favourite league to watch and follow. Why is this? In my opinion, games are much more entertaining to watch and unpredictable than in the Premier League. The games are often very end-to-end and, despite the common misconception that Italian football is defensive and slow, full of attacking talent and skillful play. Games are unpredictable – this season has already seen Verona beat AC Milan, and Sassuolo draw at Napoli. Week 2 of Serie A saw 43 goals in 10 games. This season’s competition is also showing signs of being much more competitive than the last few years, which have been dominated by Juventus. Roma have made the best start to a season in the clubs history, winning all 7 of their games so far after several years in terminal decline. Napoli have continued their fantastic ascent of the last few seasons, Inter Milan look to be showing signs of recovery from their incredible slump in the post-Mourinho years, Fiorentina are also challenging after some ambitious transfer activity. The relegation battle also looks to be fascinating this year, with newly promoted Sassuolo claiming points against Napoli and Lazio, and Hellas Verona defeating the mighty AC Milan, who are in fairness looking a shadow of the side they once were. And, Serie A in my opinion sees far more spectacular goals than the Premier League – just look at these strikes from the 2012/13 season:
Another reason for Serie A’s entertainment value is that Italians are in many cases very eccentric and prone to controversial comments, in particular the club chairmen who seen to be engaged in an endless war of words with each other. The undoubted king of the crazy chairmen is Maurizio Zamparini, chairman at Palermo who were relegated from Serie A last season. Zamparini has employed 50 managers in 25 years, and got through 5 last season, some of which lasted just 3 games. While completely insane and a terrible strategy for success, Zamparini and his fellow chairmen made Serie A entertaining and unpredictable.
There are however, other, less savoury reasons reasons for Serie A’s decline in popularity: allegations of match fixing, violence between fans and a troubling amount of racism. While I certainly will not defend any of these things, and hope they will be stamped out as quickly as possible, I believe Serie A has been unfairly singled out when these problems are more widespread than some will admit. The Premier League had struggles with violence and racism in the 1980s, and if it managed to overcome them, so can Serie A. Many other countries still see skirmishes between fans today, and racism is still far too prevalent in Eastern Europe, Russia in particular. There have been major match fixing scandals in Italy, notably in 2006 when Juventus were stripped of two titles and demoted to Serie B. There are now suspicions of match fixing in many other countries, including Levante in Spain and an unnamed Champions League match in England, so it is unfair to believe Italy is the only country with this problem.
In summary, I still enjoy watching Serie A despite its recent decline, in particular Lazio who I have taken a liking to for reasons I’m not even sure of. If more people would give the league a chance, and get past the unfair labels it has been given, perhaps Serie A could regain its former title as the world’s greatest league.