During the late 1980s and the 1990s, every kid kicking about a football in the streets would dream of playing in the Serie A. It was the best league in the world at that time. Italian clubs were then the wealthiest in Europe and most of the best players of the world used to play there. Roberto Baggio, Michel Platini, Paolo Maldini, Diego Maradona, Patrick Kluivert are just a snapshot of the players that graced Serie A in the 80s and 90s and the list would keep getting longer. Now here’s a stat which shows Italian teams’ dominance in European football during that period: Between 1989 and 1998, there was only one Champions League final which didn’t include an Italian team. Italian teams were the most feared across Europe.
But, sadly, the dominance couldn’t last. Slowly, the powers of Italian teams waned.
The main reason? Money. Foreign investors started investing in leagues of England and Spain. As the money started moving, so did the top players. Italian teams didn’t have the money anymore to bring in top players. They couldn’t build squads capable enough of fighting on all fronts.
Another major problem: stadiums. Now, having a stadium is a good thing. But, not if a club is renting it. As the stadiums are rented or shared, the teams don’t get good matchday revenue and the FFP rules make it important for all clubs to get good matchday income to balance their spending. Plus, Italian teams also have to pay high rents to local councils, another big hit to their purses.
Now, Juventus stand out of the lot. They built their own stadium in 2011. Since then, the club has been in the riches. They’ve won multiple league titles and have also reached a Champions League final. They have built teams capable of both dominating Italy and of competing in the Champions League. Every season now, they are considered one of the favourites for the Champions League. It’s of course also the hard work of their players, coaches and the board, but money has helped them get those players and coaches. Still, they are not at the level of the likes of Real Madrid or Manchester United financially.
Another downside of these money problems in Italy is that most good players head to either Juventus or to other big European teams. This leaves Juventus as the unprecedented champions of Italy every season and this also leaves other Italian clubs in a bad state to compete with Juventus and other European clubs.
Thiago Silva, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani, the number of players who have left Italian clubs like A.C. Milan and Napoli in search of more money and success in the recent years is quite a lot. Paul Pogba is the most recent example. Despite winning four league titles in a row and reaching the Champions League final he left Juventus for Man United for £89.3m where he’s now earning a staggering £290,000 per week. Probably, he would never have earned that at the Old Lady.
There are still top players in Italy at clubs other than Juventus. For example, Dries Mertens, Kevin Strootman, Radja Nainggolan etc. However, they are constantly linked with moves away to either Juventus or another top European club. And truth be told, most of them will move sooner or later which will force their clubs to start from zero again.
All that said, with Chinese investors taking interest in Italian teams, there might yet be another twist in the tale. Forza Serie A once again?