Goal.com’s Managing Editor in Asia reflects on the sorry state of Italian football and the media’s role in it as the new season kicks off
By Cesare Polenghi
In recent days I had a bit of fun on Twitter, discussing tactics with some British chaps. The debate soon degenerated into the usual clichés:
“Italian football is boring, all games end 0-0!”
“But England hasn’t won the World Cup since 1966!”
“Still, an English team just won the Champions League!”
“Yes, and their coach is Italian, ha-ha!”
Truth is, the English game today is better than the Italian one, but that has nothing to do with tactics, number of goals scored or international trophies won. The English Premier League outclasses Serie A today because it is a better product and it is more fun to be around - it is as simple as that.
In the days surrounding the season’s opening weekend in England, Italy’s sports tabloids were reporting an interview with an inconsolable Walter Mazzarri. Napoli's helmsman was referring back to a largely meaningless game played more than a week earlier - the Italian Supercoppa in Beijing, won by Juventus 4-2 - describing how the game was “ruined” by some occult powers.
Poor old Mazzarri, who saw red during the game for insulting the referee, was so depressed that he allegedly said he had thought of quitting football altogether.
If truth be told, in the game Juventus were given a crucial penalty, but to most it seemed rather legitimate, likewise for the two red cards shown to Napoli players. Be that as it may, referees do make mistakes - it is part of the game.
Last Saturday's games involving Liverpool and Tottenham too saw a couple of soft calls in the box, added to which the fact that in Newcastle Jermain Defoe scored after being offside, just as Carlos Tevez had done a few hours earlier and Fernando Torres did on Wednesday against Reading.
But guess what? The BBC commentators, Gary Lineker, his buddies at Match of the Day and those involved on the pitch and interviewed later barely mentioned these episodes.
Brendan Rodgers did not threaten to quit football, Alan Pardew pleaded guilty for his silly sending off, and the newspapers in England the following day mostly celebrated one single event; the return of football.
Back to Italy and that purposeless Supercoppa; the game that was supposed to promote Italian football in Asia had instead been turned into a ridiculed feudal affair. Two of the three major daily Italian newspapers [pictured above] went with the following headlines:
Tuttosport from Turin went with: "ALWAYS JUVE," in capital letters and spoke of how the black-and-white dominated the game and rightly won it.
The Neapolitan edition of the Corriere dello Sport instead hoped to sell more copies with the headline: "SUPERSHAME," followed by an accusatory "They decided the game!" - referring, of course, to the refs and the linesmen all pictured individually on the front page.
Mind you, we are not talking about publications owned by Juventus and Napoli; these are standard daily sport papers that have been around since 1945 and 1924 respectively.
Football coverage in Italy has become so parochial that even the media have felt compelled to take sides, and their editors are no better than those supporters endlessly quarreling in smoky Italian bars.
The small matter of all the action; the goals, runs, sweat, tears, is often forgotten. What seems important is who cheated, which decision the ref got wrong and who allegedly 'bought' the game. It is just as fun as fixed wrestling, though it actually reminds me more of a chicken fight.
In other words, it is not something that somebody sane will enjoy, as it is exhausting and joyless.
Compare this again with the product delivered by the Premier League: On the pitch it might not be that much better - I actually believe that tactically the average Serie A side is still superior to their English counterpart - but by watching the Premier League, if only on TV, you breathe in a different air.
The stadiums are full, supporters flock from all over the globe, and so do players. It is the ultimate football product for the globalising 21st century - gosh, even Swansea City turn heads nowadays!
Alas, in Italy, the utter lack of reciprocal respect between the clubs, the supporters and now the media as well, combine for a decadent cocktail - an anachronistic surrogate for the neverending war between city-states I hope had finished some 150 years ago.
As we wait for this to change, the Serie A kicks off this weekend. From the [digital] pages of Goal.com, I will do my utter best every week to add some [needed] entertainment to what should still be one of the best championships on the planet, while also hoping to chronicle the beginning of a new dawn for Italian football.