Monday, November 17, 2014

The Serie A Old Boys’ Club


Milan fans know that Berlusconi and Galliani have been stuck in their ways and have not kept up with all of the changes in football, hurting the club extensively. But what you may not realize is that they are part of a large group of similarly minded owners, club presidents and more who control much of Serie A. While there have been many factors that have contributed to Serie A’s demise, one of the most impactful has been the death grip that these old men hold on the league and their unwillingness to change or prepare for the future. Serie A is being held hostage by the Old Boys’ Club.

Three Champions against Change


In an interview with Milan legend Zvonimir Boban ahead of Italy’s match with Croatia on Sunday, the player-turned-pundit had some scathing remarks about Italian football:

“Italy's mistake was to not invest and plan for the future when it was at the top, both in footballing and economical terms, when it boasted Ronaldo and Zidane among its ranks… Italy has no improvisation, plans or creativity.” (via football-italia.net)

As is often the case with Boban, it is a frank and honest assessment that rings all too true for Serie A fans.

These comments were shared just days after Silvio Berlusconi talked about too many foreigners in Italian football. Not just players, but also within the club franchises. One can only assume he was implicating Roma and Inter, both purchased by foreigners within the last two years. While Inter’s Thohir is only just beginning to show his hand, his acquisition of Mancini ahead of the Derby shows that he is at least paying attention to the club and is open to change. Roma, owned by a group of American investors, has done amazing things in their transfer markets as well as marketing the club worldwide. Additionally, they look to be the second club to build their own stadium, which will be ready in a couple of years.

From the outside looking in

Juventus set the gold standard for change by vanquishing the bureaucracy and biting the bullet financially to build a new stadium of their own. The dividends have not only exceeded their projections financially, but they have three consecutive Scudetti to show for their investment as well. For years before they built their stadium, people spoke of the growing importance of clubs owning their own stadiums, but clubs became easily discouraged if they even attempted to have new stadium plans approved or whatever. It wasn’t until Juve’s stadium was up and turning a profit that these “Old Boys” began to realize the necessity. But will it be too late?

There are plenty of reasons for Serie A’s decline, and no one person or group of people can take all of the blame for it. There was Calciopoli, which brought the league to its knees and permanently damaged its reputation worldwide, even as the Italian National Team was winning its fourth World Cup. There was the collapse of the economy, with Italy hit very hard, which made it difficult for clubs to operate the same way that they usually did and diminishing fan attendance, too. Those two contributed significantly to the drain of talent from the ranks of Serie A, sending not only world class foreign players to other, more profitable leagues, but also the drain of Italian talent that we are seeing now, too.

Who knew that doing things differently could be so successful?

But it’s not just talented Italian players like Cerci, Immobile, Verratti and so many more playing abroad instead of in Italy. It’s also Italian coaches. Boban also touched on this in his interview: “You keep teaching the world your family secrets because they're being used all over the world, and your Coaches are working all over the planet.” So when it came time to name a new coach for the National Team, choices were limited, as all of the really good coaches were working outside of Italy. And who would want to come home to this mess?

As much as there are so many factors that have contributed to Serie A’s rapid decline, I can’t think of a bigger contributing factor than the Old Boys’ Club. Doing things the same old way because 'they know football and they’ve been doing this for 30 or 40 years' has caused a league-wide stagnation while other leagues have progressed both financially and in their methods of operation. Stadium revenue for clubs who own their own stadiums provides the financial means for them to pay the transfer fees for quality players. Clever marketing and growing fan bases which are built through innovative social media have also helped to recruit and fund and keep talent for these teams in other leagues.

Racism and sexism are requirements for club membership

Meanwhile, we watch Galliani and Preziosi drinking together using their same old “cooperative” transfer techniques to bring players of lesser and lesser talent to their respective clubs. They’re like drunk grandpa after a party, passed out in his chair, not even aware that everyone else has moved on. And we fans are the reluctant recipients of the remnants of that party… trash and empty beer bottles where once was laughter and joy. Our football matches are painful to watch, and our transfer windows feel more like we had a kidney removed than any kind of improvements made to our squad. And all of this because of a bunch of old men who are so stuck in their ways, they cannot see that they are destroying that thing they claim to love.

Perhaps the biggest sign that these men are unwilling to change or stop the nosedive they’ve put Serie A in was the election of Carlo Tavecchio as president of the FIGC this year. Not only did that also launch Lotito’s self-proclaimed new role as untouchable meddler in all things and his desired political career, but it was a clear signal to people like Milan’s former Albertini, who ran against him on the platform of change. Or Milan’s co-CEO, Barbara Berlusconi, who has been single-handedly trying to jump start Milan, despite having been the victim of sexist remarks from the self-same Tavecchio. Not only did Tavecchio win the election despite having made racist comments, but also Galliani, Barbara’s co-CEO (whose father is also his boss) voted for Tavecchio, despite his attack on her. There are no words for such lack of loyalty or for having one’s head shoved so far up their back side that they support a man who is not only lacking in character, but also ideas for how to bring the Serie A glory days back. And not ironic that he lashed out at one of the few people in the league trying to bring innovation and new ideas to grow her club.

De Laurentiis’ scooter ride may have been hilarious, but shows the perceived favoritism and corruption even amongst the Old Boys’ Club itself

Until enough clubs eradicate the death grip these old men have on the league and are willing to make changes and bring their clubs into this century, Serie A will likely get worse before it gets better. Which is such a crying shame for all of us fans who simply want to watch the best football. But the best football is no longer calcio. There are at least two or three leagues ahead of Serie A, and it looks to get worse before it gets better. For a lot of different reasons, sure. But the reason that should be the easiest to change is the Old Boys’ Club. And yet it’s the hardest to change, too.


This post inspired by the music of The Smiths’ “Back to the Old House”

Our next match is
il Derby della Madonnina
Milan vs. Inter
Sunday, November 23 • 20:45 CET (2:45pm EST)