Growing up in my house there was always Italian football on the TV on a sunday. I was engrossed by everything about the league. The passion of the fans, the flares and flag displays of the ultra’s and the quality of the players on show. In the 90’s and even up to the mid 00’s Serie A was the place to play. Italian Football was seen as the greatest in the world. A real powerhouse: the teams were feared all across the continent.
Last week saw the Derby della Madonnina, The Milan derby. As soon as you mention the name it evokes memories of two giants of the game in AC Milan and Inter Milan and a host of world class players that have graced the field for the two clubs. Baresi, Gullit, van Basten, Nyers, Lorenzi, Ronaldo, Ibrahimović, Kaká, Maldini, Nesta, Materazzi, Shevchenko, Cafù, Pirlo, Figo, Recoba, Rui Costa, Seedorf, Toldo: the list goes on and on.
Cast your mind back 10 years to 2007 and for this same fixture, a 4-3 win for Inter Milan in an explosive encounter at the San Siro. 7 goals, 52 fouls, 10 bookings and 1 red card (Materazzi): the game certainly, as always, lived up to its billing. Inter Milan went on to win Serie A that season and AC Milan exacted revenge on Liverpool in the Champions League final to rule Europe for the seventh time.
Now rewind back to 2010, 7 years ago. It was Inter Milan that was lifting the Champions League and the Serie A title under the guidance of José Mourinho. Once again Italy ruled in Europe. However since then things have not turned out as expected.
So what has happened to Italian Football? Well put simply years of corruption, match fixing, stagnation from owners and crowd trouble has all contributed to its downfall. Now Serie A currently sits ranked as the fourth most valued league in many people’s eyes, falling behind the Premier League, La Liga and the Bundesliga.
As football evolved, Italy and Serie A didn’t. Stubbornly it stayed as it was, believing that it still had the pull of being the best in the world. The early 00’s saw the start of the decline. Money was ploughed into other European leagues abroad like England and Spain making them rich and being able to offer increased wages and fees. Football was quickly becoming big business.
Real Madrid and Barcelona became super rich and Madrid went on a mission of creating the ‘Galacticos’ which meant the best players were bought from Italy. Zidane and Ronaldo both left Juventus and Inter respectively and more followed as the years rolled on.
One huge stumbling block for the Milan clubs as the years have rolled on, is the fact that they don’t own the stadium. it means they have little say on ticketing prices and match day merchandise, another revenue stream that the Premier League, amongst others, have grabbed on to successfully. Match day revenue in the Premier League is easily the highest in world football. There are also very little match day hospitality and corporate facilities available in Serie A.
The match fixing scandal that rocked Italian football has also had an effect and has seen an increase in crowd trouble and the attendances have slowly started to dwindle.
Milan and Inter have suffered and lost plenty of big names to other clubs in Europe and this has subsequently seen these two collosal clubs spiral downwards. Neither Milan club has featured in Europe’s premier competition since 2012-2013 when AC Milan were knocked out in the Champions League last eight against Barcelona.
The Deloitte money league in 2007 had AC Milan in 5th and Inter Milan in 7th. This year’s report is compelling and shows just how far they have fallen. AC Milan are 16th behind Schalke and Inter Milan are 19th sat behind Zenit St. Petersburg.
The most recent Derby della Madonnina had all the hallmarks of past encounters but comparing the line ups to ten years or so ago shows the resources just are not available to them both. You just couldn’t help but say to yourself, “some of the players these clubs have had”. However there is cause for (spectical) optimisum.
After 31 years in charge of the club, Silvio Burlesconi’s sale of AC Milan was finally completed on friday to Chinese businessman Li Yonghong and last summer Inter Milan were also bought by Chinese group Suning Commerce group. Much needed investment for both clubs but much work is ahead.
In order to get the clubs back where they belong the club must realise change is needed. Ownership of the stadium would certainly help, they could then introduce smarter ticketing prices like in the Bundesliga and offer increased match day hospitality. Juventus have done this and are reaping the rewards.
Marketing is where Serie A could really increase its stature and increase revenue. Exploring markets in the far east and America as the Premier League has done turns the product itself into a global marketplace rather than a national or continental marketplace. The Supercoppa was played in Doha this season between Juventus and AC Milan, similar avenues for some of the cup competitions and pre-season games could be explored.
This again goes for TV rights. Serie A’s TV deal is the second largest behind the Premier League and signing deals in untapped markets like the far east could see this increase. The Derby recently was played at 12.30pm for the first time so it could be showcased to the far east markets, with the hope of opening up new revenue streams.
The league itself is showing signs of recovery with the emergence of Napoli and Roma making it more competitive once again. Recruitment must be high on the list for both clubs. Both have ageing squads with some big earners.
Italy as a whole is still producing young talented players, and AC Milan have Donnaruma, Romagnoli, De Sciglio, Calabria and Locatelli, along with some exciting players from overseas like Suso, Pasalic and Gomez. Inter have a similar story with youngters from abroad, Gagliardini (currently on loan), João Mario, Kondogbia and Gabriel Barbosa.
Investment is needed and with the backing of new owners should hold some clout in the market, thats the only clout they can use at the moment. The clubs illustrious history in the Champions League counts for nothing at this current state. AC Milan and Inter Milan have 10 European cups between them but given the current state of affairs it wont hold much weight.
As unfair as that may seem, the realism of this must be well known amongst the fans. They can no longer attract the very very top players but that does not mean they can not be competitive at the very top. Look at Mourinho’s Inter team that won the Champions League.
One thing is for sure both clubs can expect a busy summer in the market and they both need it in order to wake up these sleeping giants.
Hopefully one day in the not too distant future we will see both Milan Clubs in the Champions League.