In a definite tip of the hat to the quality of the English Premier League and the power it has in European football, Serie A has today announced that it will break away from Serie B after this season and form a new(ish) separate competition which will see them gain more revenue through television rights etc., a move that mirrors that which began the Premiership era in 1992 when it broke away from the rest of the football league.
With the first legs of the Champions League semi-finals having been contested this week, we once again saw it contested between three English clubs and Barcelona, with Italian clubs conspicuous only by their absence in the semi finals of the UEFA Cup too. Italian football, not so long ago a powerhouse of European football, has certainly seen a huge decline in recent seasons.
Some of this may well be down to the trouble that they had a couple of seasons ago with the match-fixing controvesy that effectively ruled out two of their ‘big three’ from the running for major honours, and while Juventus and AC Milan quickly returned to the peak of the league, they haven’t been able to compete with Inter since that rough patch and in many ways Serie A has become less competitive even than the traditional four horse race that is the Premier League.
It’s fair to say that that situation probably brought about a dip in quality in the league’s overall standard, there wasn’t a mass exodus from AC and Juve, but they certainly lost some important players and while Inter benefited by becoming the Italian club that foreign stars wanted to play for, at least for a brief period, they haven’t really ever acheived any real consistency in European competition.
But really, the major difference between the two leagues, ultimately, is money. The Premier League and Serie A are both leagues that have really strong and passionate support as well as a reasonably high percentage of foreign players in most of the top teams, but with the Premier League pulling in so much more money from TV rights and other bonuses from being without question the most glamorous league in the world, it has begun to establish a bit of a monopoly on the really big players.
There are still the odd big clubs around Europe where big name players are happy to go, the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and indeed Inter Milan and AC Milan to an extent, but in the Premier League the big four have an almost unmatched attraction for big players, and the richer clubs in the chasing pack like Villa, Man City and Tottenham can also afford to buy such players’ services.
This of course is a result of the massive revenue that the Premier League attracts, but it is also a self-fulfilling cycle of ever increasing growth, because that revenue is then used by the clubs to attract these players, become more successful and establish a dominance over the European competitions which then only increases their income in terms both of money and players. If it carries on like this, the English clubs will continue to pull away from most of the rest of Europe with maybe only the other ‘glamour’ clubs that I mentioned earlier in with a chance of keeping up.
So in many ways, the move taken by Serie A is one that is overdue, and one that may well keep Italian clubs in tocuh with Europe’s elite. If this new league can have a similar galvanising effect, as the Premier League did on English football, it may not be too long before they are back up and challenging seriously for honours again. Indeed, recent times have seen a low ebb in Italian football, in a similar way to how English football was on a bit of a downer when the Premier League stepped in.
Having failed to really re-establish themselves as European powers following English clubs banning from Europe, and following the tragedy that was the Hillsborough disaster, the mood in English football was grim. But the Premier League changed all that, it brought excitement and interest and more importantly, success, back to English football. Italian clubs, who voted almost unanimously for this split will no doubt be hoping that they too can revive Italian football in a similar manner, and push onto a new successful era.
If they can increase their revenues and begin to attract more big name players back to Italy, I see no reason why it can’t happen. Of course, the Premier League is a money making machine and doesn’t look like slowing down, especially with this ridiculously greedy talk of 39th games and two-tier Premier Leagues, but it may be that things will even out a little. What depresses me though, more than anything, is the impact that money now has on the game. All this inequality, all this change, all the success of English clubs ultimately comes down to money. And that shouldn’t be what football is about should it?