Football Italia – Why they are where they are
Calcio is not ready for a change, yet! Gino de Blasio analyses what ails Italian football in the first of his three part series
Match fixing. Mercurial mad men of football. Zemanlandia.
It reads richer than a Federico Fellini script, where the main protagonists find themselves wondering “where’s the bit where I get to kiss Britt Ekland again?” But this is calcio, in its current incarnation. A diaspora of talent, a quagmire of old ideologies coming to terms with a new football reality.
Why they are where they are
It’s too contrived to think that I have the answer to this particular dilemma, but I have some thoughts on the matter. For me, I see three things that have curtailed Italian football development and things that have got them into this mess to start with.
Culture. Systems. Lack of investment.
All three are related, two are easier to change, but it comes down to the powers of calcio. The movers and the shakers are such that, they need to ask the question, “Do we really want it to change?”
Let’s take culture. When Spain play, they are credited with their national culture for the way that tiki taka has enabled them to win so much; they have, however, had to work on this. They have had to take an introspective look and ask themselves, “What’s going to work for us?” Their style of play is to be admired; no one can deny that some of the football seen in the national game is breathtaking. However, their business side, much like their economy is in a mess. Once again, culture strikes at the heart of their problem, this is no different to the Italian game, in my opinion.
In Italy, it’s easier to get things moving, done, completed, if you know the right people, in the right places. The system of getting planning permission for stadiums isn’t a public tender issue, but a private one. Take for example, football ground ownership. It’s all public, aside from two clubs – Udinese and Juventus. Ironically, look whose books are in better order!
Once the culture of the national landscape waddles its way into the nooks and crannies of the national game, then you have to accept that, it is ultimately one of the greatest barriers to the game from ever developing into a new “super power of football”.
Take calcioscomesse, a problem that has affected the Italian game more than any other league. Is it true that all Italians are corrupt? No, they aren’t. But do Italians believe that they can get away without paying taxes, jumping queues, getting their things seen to first? Unfortunately, most do believe that, that is the way. It’s taken years to get there, so don’t be surprised if it doesn’t disappear overnight.
Systematic changes are a different kettle of fish, but they are affected by the culture indefinitely. Ok, put it this way: FIGC, the Italian football commission is so archaic that whilst the board has changed several times over the last 20 years, the people that were there 20 years ago hold massive veto powers. That’s basically like saying, “Hold on guys, what does Mussolini think?” Granted Mussolini is dead, but if he were alive and still in parliament, his decisions would continue to sway the system.
The recent calcioscomesse issues have brought up the problem for everyone to see.
Antonio Conte was found guilty of not reporting match fixing. He has claimed since the start that he was innocent. 23 witnesses have claimed that he was innocent. One man has claimed he was guilty. Who wins? The one man, and the system goes completely against the sense of logic and fairness in the whole case.
The reason why the system is the way it is, is actually simple. The culture hasn’t allowed for the change to occur. In a nation where people are judged upon title of study rather than what they can contribute to society, there is always going to be an endemic problem of changing something that embodies that whole spirit. Put another way, if someone likes being called doctor and enjoys the benefits of being labelled so, why would he or she change it? Simple, they most certainly wouldn’t.
And then we come to investment, or rather lack of it.
All but one club in Italy is wholly owned by a single foreign investor, AS Roma. And yet that investor has Italian heritage – Thomas DiBenedetto. When foreign leagues such as that of the Premiership have multiple foreign owners, you notice a massive difference in how the club is run.
I’m not saying that it is indeed a perfect system in the EPL. Actually, I think it’s far from perfect, you only have to look at the number of clubs which have financially failed because of such ownership, and when you compare that to the Italian league, it is a different story.
But opening the doors to foreign investment has allowed the EPL to develop grounds, to get the ball rolling, into making it a more open, friendlier and most importantly, more commercially viable option as a league. The expansion of the Premiership over the last 20 years has come about because not only are the investors interested in seeing their new ’toy’ in action, but they also see a business future somewhere down the line.
More and more pre-season tournaments happening in foreign countries are only the start; who is to say we won’t get some sort of NFLesque model where a game a season is played in America or China to help expand the reach of the Premiership? This could only happen because foreign owners see the value in it, perhaps not the fans.
What about other leagues? The German Bundesliga has the highest ownership of clubs by fans. Bayern Munich is 70% owned by the fans; they have such a rewarding system, that club ownership is seen not only as a duty to keep the books in order but to ensure stadia are looked after and fans are at the heart of key decisions.
The point to all of this is, the Italian system is not willing to open itself up to such changes, yet. But when it does, how will the Italian game cope? I think culturally, not well.
Look at Olivetti computers. In the late 80’s they were Italy’s IBM, then Hewlett Packard launched an attack for ownership, it took eight years to see them change hands, eight years! I’m pretty sure I finished high school in eight years and started college when it did eventually happen.
The Italian game needs to identify its own problems, but surely this is a good starting point for them.
In my second part, I will be looking at what the Italian game can change and how they should go about doing it, in my eyes.