Italian Football must learn from the Bundesliga

Cesare Polenghi explains how Italian clubs should put their enmity aside and come together to revitalize their football...
 Cesare Polenghi
 Feature | Italian Football
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Juventus and Lazio have been eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Champions League and the Europa League respectively; out of Italy’s seven teams that tackled Europe this season, none made it to the semifinals.

Among those who fared better, besides Germany and Spain, were England, Portugal, Turkey and Switzerland. The Portuguese are now closing the gap in the UEFA rankings. Thou this won’t make a difference to the number of Italian clubs admitted to the Champions League, it should make those who manage and own the Italian football franchise sit up and pay attention.

After Juventus were outplayed by Bayern for the second time in nine days, Antonio Conte and Director General Beppe Marotta, spoke little about football during the press conference, but more of financial issues, pointing out how Bayern are a much richer club and clearly at a higher stage of financial development.

The fact that Juventus are at least acknowledging the importance of economics in modern football is surely a good sign, and hopefully a message that will filter through to the rest of the Italian clubs: times seem to be ripe for some thinking.

Whereby in the past Italian supporters have enjoyed mocking each other and celebrating their rivals’ eliminations at the hands of foreign clubs, this was not much the case after Juve were booted out unceremoniously by Bayern Munich.

Without a clue | Juventus weren't able to generate an apt enough reply

Seeing the team that has dominated Italian football in the past two seasons taken for a ride on their own pitch was an ominous message for all Italian supporters.

Historical issues aside, Italians and Germans have a long history of love-hate, and while the Germans will still appreciate Italian art and cuisine, it is now time for the Italians to be envious of German achievements--in football.

Despite the alleged lack of star players, Bundesliga stadiums are packed, tickets are reasonably priced and a day out at the match can be an enjoyable family activity.

In Italy, with a few exceptions, we are still seeing desolate stadiums, week in week out. This comes as no surprise considering the inflated admission prices and the fact that Italian football is still marred by hooliganism and racism.

The question is: what are the clubs and the federation doing to improve the situation? The answer; mostly nothing. The last Serie A round, for example, ended with both Inter and Milan’s top management denouncing an alleged conspiracy because of a few dodgy refereeing decisions.

This childish picking on referees, the federation and each other, rather than forming a united front, is in my opinion the real problem at the heart of Italian football. As is often the case in politics, it takes a few good men to improve the situation, but considering the state of the art, it is hard to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Borrusia Dortmund | The other German Champions League contender

Back to our comparison, in Germany as well there might be some skirmishes between clubs, but they are usually minor issues dealt with swiftly. The common interest is to push the Bundesliga product, and the results are there for everybody to see: two teams in the Champions League’s semifinals and a healthy, vibrant league.

The English Premier league has been showing how to manage corporate football successfully for more than a decade. But South of the Alps, few saw the writing on the wall.

In Italy, changes won’t come from supporters or the media. It is the federation and the clubs that should be sat around a table, put personal interests aside and work together toward a rebranding of Italian football.

Juventus, despite their domestic success, should be part of this discussion; their domination of Italy is clearly not enough for a club that has clearly European ambitions, and a weak Serie A makes for a rough awakening when facing European superpowers such as Bayern Munich.

The alternative is to continue this puerile surrogate of a civil war, and spend midweeks watching teams from Germany, and now also Turkey and Switzerland, play semifinals in packed stadiums.

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