The Relative Decline of Italian clubs in Europe
2006 was a terrible year for Italian football. Of course and Italian fan, still revoking the sweet feeling of winning the World Cup that year will laugh at that statement. Memories of the world championship will last a long time. But it seems so will the effects of the Calciopoli scandal of match fixing, which sent Italian club football into tatters. It is still trying to recover.
Ever since the Italian Serie A has been steadily losing competitiveness compared to the rest of Europe. The most obvious indication is that they slipped to fourth place in the UEFA’s country ranking, which deprived them of a 4th team in the champions league at the expense of Germany. It also doesn’t look like that was a temporary thing, it is just a new normal Italian clubs and fans have to get used to.
Of course, it is easy to make a counter argument. In the six years since the scandal, Italy has won 2 Champions League titles, Milan in 2007 and Inter in 2010. This is as much as England (Manchester United in 2008 and Chelsea in 2012) and Spain (Barcelona in 2009 and 2011). So seemingly Italy is doing just as good as the two big superpowers of European football and much better than Germany. But this is deceptive. Milan’s title was largely due to momentum gathered from before 2006 and Inter’s triumph was mostly the result of a one-time stroke of genius from Jose Mourinho and is unlikely to be replicated soon. Other than those two times, no Italian club has reached the semi-finals of the most prestigious tournament in the last six years.
Calciopoli affected Juventus the worst. The team was relegated to Serie B, whereas the other perpetrators were deducted points, but remained in the top-flight. But the Turin club has come back to life and right now looks like Italy’s best chance of success in Europe. The Bianconeri qualified in first place from a tough group that saw last-years title holders Chelsea exit the competition.
Juve is a very well balanced team. Although it clearly lacks a superstar of the ranks of Messi or Ronaldo, it is well capable of competing with the best on the continent. Veteran Andrea Pirlo is the engine of the team from midfield, while Georgio Chielini directs a very well-organized defense. Although the attack is not world-class, Mirko Vucinic provides some tricky options, supported from the wing by Arturo Vidal, who has really risen to prominence recently. Working as a unit, Juve can go deep in the Champions League and is Italy’s best chance to become relevant again in the near future.
This is in stark contrast to Italy’s other powerhouses, Milan and Inter Milan are still struggling to adjust to life without their big superstars Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thago Silva, who left in the summer of Paris St. Germain. That transaction in itself is indicative of how much European football’s landscape has changed. In previous years, football talent exchange between Italy and France was a one way street in the direction of Serie A, but no more.Success in Europe looks thin for the clubs from Milan
Although Milan did manage to progress from their group, it was courtesy of relatively easy opposition and still only as second-placed team. Whoever the draw picks in the elimination round, Milan will be an underdog to go any further. Inter’s story in the Europa League is very similar – progression from a relatively easy group as the second-placed team. Although the Europa League is very well balanced and anything can happen, Inter’s chances of success don’t look good after being outplayed by Rubin Kazan on two occasions.
The balance of football power in Europe frequently changes. English clubs dominated to 1980s, only to find themselves completely dominated and outplayed in the 1990s. Now they are dictating events again, together with the Spanish duo Real Madrid and Barcelona, together with the ever-present Bayern Munich. Italian teams seem to at least one level down at this time, but it is not unlikely that they will bounce back. If you want to bet on it, start with Juventus.