The Sweeper: Serie A’s Series of Unfortunate Events

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Comparing European leagues is a favourite pastime for followers of club football, and UEFA has long provided fans with a handy system of coefficients to supply us all with a point of ‘objective’ comparison.  Following last week’s results in the Champions League, which saw Fiorentina beaten by Bayern Munich and a pathetic AC Milan ravaged by Manchester United, the gap in that “league of leagues” between Serie A and the Bundesliga shrank to 1.4 points. As Raphael Honigstein pointed out in a piece for the CBC on Friday:

Germany still have five teams in the running – Bayern, Stuttgart (both in the Champions League) and Bremen, Wolfsburg and Hamburg (all Europa League) – whereas Italy are left with only Inter and Juve, who take on Fulham at Craven Cottage next week.

Defeats for those two teams in England would naturally be much appreciated in Germany. There is a realistic chance that the Bundesliga can overtake their southern rivals by the time the season is over and have four teams (three guaranteed starters plus one at the final qualification stage) involved in Europe’s top competition from 2011-12, whereas the Italians would have to make do with two plus one.

Today, Marina Hyde embraced some of the anti-Serie A schadenfreude ahead of this week’s potentially balance-tipping Champions League fixtures.  In an article for the Sunday Observer, she opens with a lead paragraph listing Serie A’s ills containing some familiar themes to long-time followers of the English top-flight:

Sadly, kicking calcio when it is down is nothing new. Italian football’s problems are well documented. AC Milan’s powerlessness against Manchester United emphasised dipping levels of performance in Europe. Inter’s untroubled dominance at home tells of a league struggling for competitiveness. Gone are the days when the biggest names in football would play in Serie A, as Diego Maradona and Michel Platini did in the 1980s. Nowadays, the departure of the best players – Kaká and Zlatan Ibrahimovic moved to Spain last summer – smacks of lowering standards. Then there are the poor attendances. The antiquated stadia. The outbursts of racism and violence. The harsh and stressful policing. The financial headaches brought on by the after-effects of the corruption scandal.

It would be hard to argue that the current Serie A is even remotely similar to the dire state of English football in the mid-to-late eighties—banned from Europe, blighted by violence, crammed in antiquated, inept stadiums, all while Serie A showcased the Ferrari football of Arrigo Sacchi’s (and Berlusconi’s) AC Milan, Platini’s Juventus and Maradona’s Napoli—but Hyde seems to echo the sense in England that the English top flight and Serie A have swapped places over the past two decades, even amid growing doubts about the financial sustainability of the Premier League.

The battle of coefficients also signals that, so far, 2010 has been the year of the Bundesliga.  As Terry Duffelin pointed out last week, the current financial good boy of Europe is not without its problems.  But if results go against Inter this week at Stamford Bridge there will be a sense that the German top flight has emerged from the 2008 economic downturn as a European leader, rightly joining England and Spain at the top of the coefficient heap.

Still, the balance of power could shift again.  As Hyde mentions, Italy could find the national impetus to renovate her mostly municipally-owned stadia with a successful bid for the 2016 Euros.  And she doesn’t (nor have any pundits thus far, really) mention what sort of longer term financial effects we might see with the Serie A’s split from Serie B this coming season.  But for now, Italy arguably has some serious body work to do on that Ferrari.

Quick Hits

  • Point number 14 from Rod Liddle’s 15-point advice plan for Greg Clarke, the incoming chairman of the Football League: “Ban the sale of Chelsea or Manchester United shirts from club shops. Yes, Northampton Town, I’m talking about you.”
  • James Corrigan echoes a growing sentiment on how best to oust the Glazers from Manchester United: “On Friday, the Red Knights, that consortium of would-be saviours, pleaded with supporters not to renew their season tickets. It was another way of saying boycott the matches. As hard-bitten millionaires themselves, the Red Knights realise the Americans will not be swayed by damning chants or the symbolic waving of wool. If the Theatre of Dreams turned into an echo chamber, the Glazers would soon be on their way. The protest on the balance sheet is something they would most definitely understand.”
  • Turkey’s TFF First League consigns Ankaraspor to a series of 3-0 losses for the entire season as punishment for “anti-competitive” links.