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The Italian league's inability to compete financially is all too clear, with the world's top earners no longer considering the campionato as a viable option

ANALYSIS
By Kris Voakes

The Serie A pay figures published in La Gazzetta dello Sport on Monday are revealing only in their confirmation of what is already clear. Italian football’s decline from its position as one of the game’s superpowers continues apace, with the lack of financial muscle in the game on the peninsula leaving calcio flagging up against the pulling power of thriving rival leagues all across the world.

Four years ago, the game in Italy was already struggling. Three years on from Calciopoli, the stench of mistrust in Italian club football was apparent all across Europe but it hadn’t yet set in to such an extent that the game was on its knees.

That season Inter would go on to win an unprecedented treble, clinching the Champions League with a squad led by the likes of Samuel Eto’o and Wesley Sneijder, two players brought in for big money after the sale of the league’s top earner, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, to Barcelona.

But now the rot is setting in. Even Juventus, the reigning champions and the only club in Serie A who own their own stadium, have insisted that expectations need to be managed correctly. After elimination from last season’s Champions League at the hands of eventual winners Bayern Munich, many on the peninsula suggested the Bianconeri were close to challenging on the continent.

BELTS TIGHTENED | How Serie A has stopped paying big bucks
€4.5m earners in 2009-10 €4.5m earners in 2013-14
Samuel Eto'o (Inter) €10.5m Daniele De Rossi (Roma) €6.5m
Ronaldinho (Milan) €7.5m Gonzalo Higuain (Napoli) €5.5m
Patrick Vieira (Inter) €5.5m Diego Milito (Inter) €5m
Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus) €5.5m Esteban Cambiasso (Inter) €4.5m
Francesco Totti (Roma) €5.46m Carlos Tevez (Juventus) €4.5m
Andrea Pirlo (Milan) €5m Francesco Totti (Roma) €4.5m
Lucio (Inter) €4.5m    
Douglas Maicon (Inter) €4.5m    
David Trezeguet (Juventus) €4.5m    
Alessandro Del Piero (Juventus) €4.5m    

However, coach Antonio Conte was quick to dampen such talk, claiming Juve remain “light years” behind Europe’s best and that Italian football is in drastic need of reform. And only this week, Giuseppe Marotta, the club’s director-general, asked for Uefa to step in and help calcio to compete at the top table once more.

“The varying tax regimes in other countries are penalising Italian football,” claimed Marotta. “These need to be harmonised because otherwise they create disparity, which is why I hope Uefa intervene.”

It is unlikely that Uefa will see it the same way, especially given this is largely a problem brought on by Italian football itself. The inability to challenge has come about thanks in part to Italy’s previous reliance on self-made millionaire owners in place of any long-term structure built around sustainable revenue streams.

With avenues for income having been trimmed back so far over the last few years, it is the Italian game’s capacity to attract the game’s big-hitters which is being harmed the most. Yes, calcio continues to show a magnificent knack of attracting unpolished gems for reasonably small fees – low earners Paul Pogba and Juan Cuadrado being amongst the most obvious examples – but there is a significant lack of star attraction.

And until the trend is bucked, allowing Italian clubs to lure in neutral fans from all over the world with big name blockbuster signings, there will remain a shortfall between the clubs’ transfer dreams and the stark reality.

THE SPENDING GAP
Europe's top 10 earners
Italy's top 10 earners
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG)
€14m Daniele De Rossi (Roma) €6.5m
Radamel Falcao (Monaco) €14m Gonzalo Higuain (Napoli) €5.5m
Lionel Messi (Barcelona) €13m Diego Milito (Inter) €5m
Thiago Silva (PSG) €12m Esteban Cambiasso (Inter) €4.5m
Eden Hazard (Chelsea) €11.4m Carlos Tevez (Juventus) €4.5m
Wayne Rooney (Man Utd) €11.2m Francesco Totti (Roma) €4.5m
Robin van Persie (Man Utd) €11.2m Mario Gomez (Fiorentina) €4.25m
Yaya Toure (Man City) €11.2m Marco Borriello (Roma)
€4m
Gareth Bale (Real Madrid) €11m Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus) €4m
Fernando Torres (Chelsea)
€10.8m Mario Balotelli (Milan) €4m
    Ricardo Kaka (Milan) €4m
    Philippe Mexes (Milan) €4m

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva left Serie A only a year ago and already the former AC Milan pair are earning well beyond the reach of any Italian clubs at this moment in time. While Zlatan now earns €14 million net and the Brazilian is the world’s highest-paid defender on €12m, Daniele De Rossi tops Italy’s payroll at just €6.5m.

Even players such as Wayne Rooney and Fernando Torres are on eight-figure annual deals, yet many of the peninsula’s bigger pay packets go to the likes of Diego Milito and Esteban Cambiasso, representing the dying embers of a previous regime in which their €5m and €4.5m salaries were considered competitive in the wider scope.

Two more, Francesco Totti and Gianluigi Buffon, are players who once earned more but have accepted tapered earnings towards the end of their careers with clubs with whom they have emotional attachments, and even top earner De Rossi will be unlikely to command his present level of income when his deal expires just days before his 34th birthday in 2017.

Arturo Vidal may well sign a new contract at Juventus in the coming days which will take him into the bracket of Serie A’s top earners. But while he could well break the €5m barrier with his latest deal, the reality is that a big move to another country would likely see him earn around double that figure. With all the will in the world, Italy does not have that kind of spending power. If Vidal, or even Pogba or Cuadrado, continue to excel, their time in Serie A will surely be brief.

As Italy’s financial muscle wanes, so too does its ability to dress its bare windows with the finest products on the market, extending the most excruciating of vicious circles. Never has calcio needed serious attention as badly as it does right now. If the game is allowed to slide any further, then its fast decline can only continue.

While the rest of Europe is buying and buying big, Italy is currently little more than a sales prop.

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