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The Resurrection: Serie A and Its Rebirth

The Path from Irrelevancy, to Attracting Talent, and Reclaiming Its Place Among the Elite in the UCL (10-15 min)

For years now, all I have heard is how far superior the big three leagues of Europe are compared to the rest of the continent, specifically the Italian Serie A. I'm referring to the Barclays Premier League, La Liga, and the German Bundesliga. All the major US soccer outlets bang away about how these three leagues style of play is far and away better than Serie A. While I will concede that of the big three, the EPL is the best right now at being able to attract the huge names within the sport. It does make me wonder how good that is for the EPL as a whole due to the fact that many players who go there are then forced to sit on the bench who would otherwise star for another team in the very same league, La Liga/Bundesliga or the other leagues of Europe. Therefore, I will focus primarily on the EPL in relation to Serie A. Everyone is allowed their opinion. But this is why yours is wrong about Italian football. Let me take you back and show you how far Italian Serie A has come from a mere ten years ago. I will focus primarily on the current Top 6 within the league and hopefully reshape your definition of what makes a league a "great league."

Rewind ten years ago from today. We are in the open salvo of the new 2008-09 Serie A TIM season. Now someone asks you "who is the favorite was to win the league this year". Many a modern fan I'm sure would have said Juventus. The name synonymous with greatness in relation to this storied league. Year in and year out they are the name on everyone's lips to lift the league cup in Italy. But I challenge you to name another team who could challenge their might, their dominance, the almost preordained right to the title...

That silence in you might have is an affirmation that the league in recent years has been a joke in regards to competition for the top spot. Financially many of the big name clubs are only now recovering from the scandals and or poor financial dealings gone wrong from this period. It's taken an influx of wealth from Chinese business owners to resurrect teams like A.C. Milan and Inter Milan from the domestic and UCL irrelevancy of the past ten years. Even still this money has its own caveats and drawbacks. 

Take for instance A.C. Milan. Most recently they looked set to lose their ownership due to underpinnings that the money the ownership claimed to have was, in fact, an elaborate farce.  In fact, falsified would be a better term. Their net worth is no more solid than the ground on which the Piazza del Duomo stands. Yet, on the field, Milan has seemed to turn the page and shaken off the shackles of mediocrity. Their squad headlined by the newly acquired Gonzalo Higuaín and anchored by the likes of the sure-handed and promising talent Gianluigi Donnarumma, Mateo Musascchio, and Ricardo Rodríguez looks set to reignite the glory days of old. They are balanced by the elder statesmen Ignacio Abate and Ricardo Montolivo who are carryovers from the early 2010s. However, between the years of 2008-2018 the team managed to finish in the top 4 five times. Yet, in the UEFA Champions League, a competition where it counts the most, they only made it once to the Quarter Finals out of five attempts. A marker that many pointed to as an indicator of the shortcomings of the Italian league against the rest of Europe.

Elsewhere, Napoli and Lazio have come into their own. Napoli had been for all intents and purposes an outlier of sorts in a sea of upheaval. Which is amazing for a club who four years prior to 2008 had declared bankruptcy in August of 2004. The 2008 season thus marked the infancy of what we as fans are currently experiencing today with S.S.C Napoli. In this year the barely escaped relegation to Serie B, finishing twelfth in the league. But two years later the tide would shift under the new manager Walter Mazzarri who would lead the club to a sixth-place finish. The current success can be said to have been kick-started under his reign, in which he won the Coppa Italia and in 2012 brought the team to a second-place finish on the back of a one Edison Cavani. Name which does not need an introduction to those who follow the sport closely and speaks to the league's ability to recognize and cultivate talent. A knock I have against the Premier League and German Bundesliga which in my mind seem to severely limit the ability for youth to shine on the field because of a lot of clubs' buy first mentality.

I'm not suggesting that clubs in the Serie A are immune to this trend but the vast majority seem to give importance to younger players and are more focused on youth development. Lazio is a prime example of this youth movement with 22 of its 32 players under the age of 26. This has paid dividends lately, with the team currently sitting in fifth.

Then there is A.S. Roma, the most promising side of the league as of late. Seemingly always poised for greatness but unable to capitalize on the prior year's progress. For instance, since 2008 they have finished in the Top 4 six times missing out on winning the league title in 2009-10 season by 2pts and again in 2016-17 season by 4pts. This heartache has become synonymous with the team and of late. It's not like Roma hasn't had a quality player. Totti is the name that should come to mind but other players like Phillipe Mexes, Luca Toni, Danielle De Rossi, Julio Baptista, and Rodrigo Taddei led the charge in 2009-10 only to come agonizingly close to glory. However, even now the Giallarossi(Roma)might be experiencing the same wave of excellence they enjoyed in 09'-10'. Young faces are heading there roster again. Winger Justin Kluivert, son of Netherlands legend Patrick Kluivert is making a name for himself. His dynamism combined with his counterpart on the other wing, Turkish international Cengiz Under, has been a breath of fresh air. Buoyed by the lethal Eden Dzeko has made them a force to be reckoned with in the domestic and UEFA Champions League, currently situated in second in their group.  

Lastly, there is my team, Inter Milan. Since winning back to back titles in 2008 and 2009 they have not sniffed the title since, usually hovering between fifth and eighth place. But no more, the team is now backed by significant wealth and have arguably the best Italian manager, in Spalletti. He was the catalyst for Roma's most recent charge at the title until he left the Italian capital and has an impressive squad this year at Inter Milan with Maro Icardi and Ivan Perisic leading the charge. Also, the addition of Radja Naingolan has given the team the hire they've been lacking and dynamism they had a decade ago.

Now, what about the English Premier League, you might ask. You've droned on about the state of Italian teams but how do they compare whatsoever to the English game. In that regard, it's somewhat simple. Humor me in this. I have looked at EPL teams comparable to the teams I have mentioned and matched them with a team from the Serie A that roughly match's their profile. Take Juventus for example. Their equivalent should be easy. Manchester City. Both teams have bags of money. In the past five years alone they have won a combined eight times with Juventus winning a stunning five in a row. Now it should be said that Manchester City is only recently become a super club thanks to the financial takeover coincidentally in 2008 by the Abu Dhabi United Group. Up until that time they had been a mid-level club in the English game. A nobody interns of silverware aka trophies. But this brings me to my sticking point about the EPL and why I find it's game a mockery of true football. 

Teams like Burnley and Bournemouth who have for the most part strictly domestic squads are forced to compete with not one but at least eight super clubs within their league whose ownership is as fluid can be as fluid as the river Thames for some among them. How can you say that is competitive? How can any of us truly appreciate this style of football? Where mercenaries for hire come with no allegiance or heartfelt desire to bleed for the club. I'm not saying the Italian Serie A is devoid of this clubs and many of the clubs I have named in this article are just that but they also seem to prioritize the development of their own homegrown talent more so than their equivalents in the EPL. And, my dear, this trend in the EPL will trickle into the other leagues to a greater extent and further undermine the youth in those leagues. This is why the Serie A is my choice for the best league on account of its balanced approach to team building, superstars mixed with youth to form the greatest version of the world game in this modern era of the super clubs. Only time will tell what model will hold up. Put my bets on the Serie A!

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