Thursday, 12 March 2009

'English nightmare' haunts Serie A

Following the elimination of all three Italian sides at the hands of English Premier League clubs, newspapers in Italy were left to lament on "l'incubo inglese" – "the English nightmare".

The Italian JobFor the first time in seven years there will be no Serie A team in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League.

Fiorentina were first out, failing to get past Bayern Munich and Lyon in the group stage, before Juventus, Inter and Roma fell to Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal in the last 16 this week.

"Maledizione!" ("Damn it!") screamed the headline of La Gazzetta dello Sport this morning, with La Repubblica stating: "Our league has a disappointing quality, the average attendance at the stadiums is constantly decreasing and the results in Europe are unsatisfactory."

For the world's top players, Serie A is no longer the league of choice. Where once Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane entertained Italian fans, now the world's stars flock to the Premier League or the Spanish Primera Liga.

The German Bundesliga and French Ligue 1 now boast some of the country's top stars and are fast closing the gap on Serie A. Italy won the FIFA World Cup in 2006, but since then results for both clubs and country on the international stage have been disappointing.

The Calciopoli scandal in the summer of 2006 and the fan violence in recent years has hit Italian football hard, but that is not the only problem. Italian clubs simply do not have the same financial clout as their English rivals.

"The Italian teams are all out of the competition due to the financial crisis," Milan vice-President Adriano Galliani said. "English clubs own their own stadiums, which are nearly always full, and they make a lot more money than us.

"Around 10 years ago we were making more money than the Spanish or English clubs and we were dominant in Europe.

"If we don't buck the current trend then we risk losing our ranking as the third biggest league in Europe, which would be a disaster."

Inter, who are poised to win their fourth Scudetto in a row, turned to Jose Mourinho in the summer in a bid to bring their domestic dominance to bear in Europe, but just like last season the Nerazzurri were eliminated in the Round of 16 by an English side.

Turin sports daily Tuttosport said: "Special Zero. Just like under Roberto Mancini the Nerazzurri don't go far in Europe – nothing has changed with Mourinho."

The fact Inter, the best Italian side in recent years, failed to reach the quarter-finals for the second season in a row has set alarm bells ringing among fans of Italian football.

Inter put up more of a fight at Old Trafford than they did at the same stage last year when losing to Liverpool, which led to Roberto Mancini's dismissal. Inspirational striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic continues to let himself down in the really big games but if his first half header had gone in and not hit the bar, and Adriano's shot had sneaked in off the post, the result could have been different.

Roma were equally unlucky against Arsenal when they lost 7-6 on penalties having won the second leg 1-0. Coach Luciano Spalletti was without a host of first teamers and lost goalscorer Juan to injury in the first half.

The hosts had a good shout for a penalty turned down and had as many chances as the London club, who beat 2007 winners AC Milan in the first knockout round last term.

Juventus were also not outclassed by Chelsea when they went out to last season's runners-up on Tuesday. Claudio Ranieri's side could easily have grabbed a goal in the 1-0 first leg defeat at Stamford Bridge before drawing 2-2 in Turin.

Ranieri pointed out how far Juve had come given it was their first season back in Europe since their 2006 demotion to Serie B.

"England can be very proud to have four teams in the quarter-finals for the second year, but we have not to be fooled," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said.

"The games with the three Italian teams, Juventus, Inter and Roma, were very close and it looks like Italy is coming back."

However in addition, of the five Italian clubs that qualified for the UEFA Cup only Udinese remain.

The clubs know change is needed, but it is not easy to find a solution.

Ricardo Kaka's decision to spurn Manchester City's audacious overtures in January at least struck a moral blow for Serie A and the fevered support for Juventus on Tuesday suggests the passion is undimmed.

Juve fans displayed a banner that read 'Yes we can' before the return leg against Chelsea. It is from that kind of support and optimism that change will come.

Source: UEFA

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