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Old 03-12-2009, 11:52 AM   #88
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interesting read from the wsj, but it's not just the italians falling to the english clubs, it's the spainards too.
of course, the brits would love to see similar acheivement by the national team, but that's not been the case.
Why Can't Italy Beat England?
As England's Clubs Play With Brio, Italy's Get Defensive; All Eyes on InterArticle

Soccer is as much a part of the Italian identity as lingering meals, exotic cars and Fellini movies. The Italian national team won the last World Cup in 2006. So why is it that Italy's professional soccer league, the Serie A, is increasingly looking like the sick man of European soccer?

The question is sure to be on millions of Italian fans' minds as they line up in front of their TVs to watch tonight's battle royale between the top club in England's Premier league, Manchester United, and Italy's top club, Internazionale Milano. The teams are playing in the Champions League, an annual tournament that pits Europe's best soccer clubs against each other.

Not only did Manchester United win the competition last year, but only one Italian team managed to get as far as the quarterfinals. Italian fans may be in for another helping of woe: Oddsmakers favor Manchester United in today's game. In another Champions League contest Tuesday, England's No. 3 team, Chelsea, eliminated Italy's No. 2 team, Juventus.

In today's other game, Italy's No. 5 team, Roma, has to beat England's No. 5 team, Arsenal, to stay alive. Off the field, attendance at Serie A games has fallen dramatically in the past decade, in large part because of a nagging problem of fan violence and the fallout from a match-fixing scandal.

Many believe Italy's troubles on the field in European competition speak to deeper problems. John Foot, a professor in modern Italian history at University College London and author of a book on the Serie A, says "Italy hasn't modernized its state, economy, society or its national sport, so it's not surprising that it has lost ground to other countries."

The Perils of Catenaccio
In the 1990s, Italian teams were the toast of Europe, appearing in eight Champions League finals and winning twice. The best players in the world including Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane flocked to the Serie A where the wages were the highest and the best tacticians in the world served as coaches.

Now, the English Premier League is the destination for the best players, who have turned the once-stodgy competition into a showcase for a flashy, fast-paced physical brand of soccer. Meanwhile Italy's club teams often play with a more tactical, defensive approach, inspired by a strategy in the 1970s called "catenaccio," which means "door bolt" in Italian.

Since 2000, English teams have appeared in five Champions League finals and won it twice. Italy's teams have appeared three times and won twice. The nadir came in 2007 when Manchester United spanked Roma, 7 goals to 1, a national humiliation. Ever since, Italian newspapers refer to any match-up between a British and Italian team as the recurring English nightmare, or "incubo Inglese."

The different styles will likely be displayed today -- Manchester United plays aggressive soccer with five players constantly shifting position to try to score. Inter Milan are likely to play a more defensive and pragmatic game, trying to lock down on defense and score on the counter-attack. It's an inversion of the typical national stereotypes: the Italian teams playing in a less spontaneous and passionate style than the supposedly straitlaced English.

Gianluca Vialli, 44, a former star striker for Juventus and the Italian national team who went on to coach for Chelsea in England, thinks these stylistic differences have historical roots. "The British are islanders who conquered and colonized throughout their history. After the Roman Empire, Italians have always been invaded and dominated, so we had to learn how to defend ourselves. We developed a very shrewd mindset where I defend myself but in the meantime I quietly move my pawns underground."

The country is still reeling from a match-fixing scandal in 2006 in which local media published wiretapped conversations of club managers at top teams conspiring with league officials to assign "favorable" referees to their matches. Juventus was stripped of two titles it had previously won and demoted to a lower league, while A.C Milan, S.S. Lazio and A.C.F Fiorentina were docked points for their involvement.

"The scandal really disillusioned people and led some people to fall out of love with football," said James Richardson, a British TV commentator who spent 10 years covering the Serie A.

Italian clubs also have an infrastructure problem -- the stadiums are old and as a result it's very difficult to stamp out fan violence. Many of Italy's soccer stadiums aren't owned by the clubs themselves but by local municipal authorities who have little incentive to modernize them. By contrast, English clubs all own their own stadiums and have spent heavily to improve them to attract fans and get them to spend money on everything from sushi to T-shirts. For example, Arsenal spent about $439 million to build the Emirates Stadium in north London in 2006.

Falling Attendance
Even at Italy's most hallowed grounds like the San Siro stadium in Milan, the facilities are poor and whole sections are dominated by hard-core fans whose zeal can flip into violence. Average attendance at Serie A games has decreased 25% in the past decade, according to Deloitte's sports business group, while audiences in England increased by 18% and Germany by 20%.

Games at Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium are filled on average 95% to capacity, while those at Inter Milan's San Siro are only 65% full.

Italy's soccer league president, Antonio Matarrese, recently said in interviews that the Serie A needs to change. He said it needs to modernize and to learn how to look ahead. He emphasized that the "rotten apples" would be tossed out.

The league is also working to fix its TV rights situation. Italian soccer earns much lower TV revenues than others because Serie A teams still sell their TV rights individually. Simon Chadwick, professor of sports business at Coventry University, says that by selling the TV rights collectively, "leagues offer a much stronger product and can ensure the health and welfare of all the teams."

Although their team is the underdog today, Inter Milan fans are not giving up. Erminio Truncellito, 27, still thinks the Italian league is the world's toughest. "Players who used to play in England that have come to Italy have accomplished nothing," he says. Mr. Truncellito believes one of the Italian teams will advance to the next round of the Champions League.

"I would feel offended if none of them were to get through," he said. "And even more I would feel let down."

Last edited by Mavdog; 03-12-2009 at 11:53 AM.
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