People currently look at Italy and see a hugely declined footballing league. Where once we had Zidane, Ronaldo, Vieri, Nesta, Maldini, these are instead replaced by Giovinco, Cavani, aging players such as Milito, Zanetti, or players who are very late bloomers - such as De Rossi, and to some extent Chiellini. This was further reinforced by the loss - and non-replacement - of players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva in the summer.
Salaries in Italy are being cut, big name players globally such as J. Cesar & Maicon are leaving - indeed being released - where a few years ago they were worth £20m, £30m, and Italy's european performances have resulted in the loss of one of the highly prized Champions League spots.
But, does this ring true?
Italy always has been - for decades - a very attractive place for people to play. Between growing up watching stars such as Meazza, Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic, Kaka, Zidane forge their careers in Italy and still being one of Europe's hottest leagues (Spain promote their own youngsters, as do Germany, and England prefer to overpay for mediocre English players), and one of the ones the 16-20 year olds of today will have grown up watching. Today's 20 year old was 8 when some of the world's best players were in Italy - and the big names they ended up idolizing and emulating will have been Serie A stars. Indeed, it is this bonding that results in Serie A's large international support, particularly for the headline 3 teams.
So, let's consider what this all means for Serie A, one of the few leagues in professional football which makes profits in the transfer windows. It means that there is a strong emphasis on the youth.
Why?, you might ask. Well, the answer is simple.
The amount of money Inter spend on its youth academy is approximately £8 million a season, as a side note - which is nothing compared to the £55 million Barcelona and Real Madrid spend - and with this figure in mind it quickly becomes obvious. The sales of Santon & Balotelli fund the Inter Youth academy for at least 3.5, 4 seasons. That's everything, facilities, development, players.
With this, creates space for other youth development. Internally, Inter now contribute more youth players to Italy's teams aggregating to U-21 than any other club in the country. The money that Balotelli & Santon put towards the youth team pay for people like Obi, Livaja, Benassi to come through. The average cost for some of the players, for example, Longo or Benassi, is less than a few hundred thousand euros. Massive overhauls in the youth system is not only at Inter, however.
Average ages in Italy have dropped rapidly - particularly in its two oldest teams, with Inter & AC Milan. Milan's El Sharaaway and De Sciglio deserve their credit, as do Roma's upsurgance of late in youth players (such as Marquinhos or Lamela). Inter speaks volumes for itself with the promotion of JJ from a complete unknown, at the price of approximately 3 million euros, to one of the best young defenders in world football today.
With wages being slashed, for the more expensive players like Sneijder, Lucio, Maicon, Forlan, etc, money becomes freed up for the younger players. Where 12 million euros might only pay for Sneijder, or Forlan, it covers the price of 12 people on Juan Jesus' salary. The freedom of cash flow, as is reflected in most Serie A benches barring Juventus, has brought down the average age of teams significantly, and where squad players used to be Muntari, Flamini, Cordoba, etc, the cost of the youth players who are being given their chances are sometimes less than even 10% of the price of the more experienced player.
So, the short answer is No. Serie A is not in decline. It may lack the big name stars it used to have, but where these stars would previously be brought in ready made, the emphasis now is finding good young players and developing them. Alexis Sanchez, Edinson Cavani, Juan Jesus, Stevan Jovetic, even Thiago Silva are good signs of this.
Serie A will, in the course of the next few years, develop its stars once more. Players like Ranocchia, Quintero, Pogba, "SES", Insigne, are all signs of this. And this time, this rise will be done far more financially viably than previously, and it will spurn on the next cycle.
Football is cyclical, with La Liga going broke and the Premiership arguably in quite strong decline, Serie A will rise to the top again in the next 3 to 5 years.
One stat to add in. If I remember correctly, of all the big leagues in Europe, Italy have given the most starts to players U-21. It has the 2nd most minutes given to players U-21, just fractionally behind Germany. The notion that Serie A is just a washed up home for mediocre players, or people who are over the hill clearly doesn't match the stats.
What FFP will ultimately do in Italy - who are still the biggest criminals with respect to financial regularity in football - is to bring clubs into a profitable line again, and allow them to grow from there. It's a hard line, as we've seen with massively reduced salaries at both Inter & AC of late, as well as vastly reduced spending, but moves are afoot in the Lega to expand the product massively internationally, and trying to run fiscally in-line from being VERY fiscally OUT of line means that this young revolution is enforced, rather than voluntary.