By Iloti Mutoka
(I know this article is not centered around Inter, but its an interesting English view of Serie A's fall from the heights of the 1990s)
One of my earliest memories of football was the 1990 World Cup in Italy, when Roger Milla introduced dancing to the world’s most popular sport.
The significance of his and Cameroon’s achievements did not hit me until later; I just thought the thing with the touchline flag was just funny. At the time I was a budding dancer, and was gyrating to Franco and Kanda Bongoman with verve and vigour (unfortunately, as anyone who has seen me dance will know, I have miserably failed to fulfill my early promise) at every opportunity. But I digress.
The other thing I gleaned from this first entry into the football world was that Italy was the world capital of football. I had no clue that the World Cup was never in the same place, and besides, Italy themselves did make it to the semi-finals.
Looking back, my young mind wasn’t too far off the mark. Italy those days was the dream destination for any pro footballer, their teams were the cream of the world, AC Milan had the best of the best on their rosters, Van Basten alongside Reikjaard, and Juventus in that era had Michel Platini, the second best player to come out of France ever. Maradona, the great legend, plied his trade at Napoli.
Great times for Calcio (the Italian League), but it got better. Throughout the nineties their dominance was simply mammoth and grandiose. They bestrode the football landscape like a colossus, swatting away the flies that were the budding English Premier League and the Spanish La Liga and scooping up the world’s best with imperious entitlement. And then one day all this changed.
The Calciopolli scandal rocked Italian football in 2006, where Juventus was relegated, AC Milan decimated with a 8 point deduction that consigned them to the lower reaches of the Serie A (to the uninitiated, this was a scandal where the teams involved were involved in massive amounts of match fixing). AC Milan was football’s aristocracy, but their fall from grace was nothing short of dramatic in the extreme.
But I argue that Italian football was on its way down a long time before that. At the turn of the millennium Spain was the new destination for the glory hunting elite, Real Madrid with its ‘Galacticos’ project attracted the best and the finest, a large number of whom came directly from Italy- Zidane from Juve, Ronaldo from Inter, and Barcelona was where those who wanted to be part of a legacy went.
England was also on the up, and by the mid noughties the world’s best had a tough choice to make- the sun and glory of the Spanish league, or the fame and wealth of the premier league elite in weather-challenged Britain. Italy had been knocked off its f******g perch, to alter a quote by the most successful coach in modern times, Sir Alex Ferguson. Why the demise? Change.
The Italian league had made many groundbreaking developments in the mid to late eighties, giving the clubs the money that the league raked in from television and marketing rights, advertising itself all over the world, and using the national team’s rich legacy to promise the best players in the world that a move to Italy would only enhance their reputation, preying on the fact that the sportsman’s greatest motivation is glory. The huge salaries on offer did not hurt either. But back to change. You see, in this day and age, to survive, one must be able to keep up with their colleagues.
When Serie A was strutting around, England and Spain were laying the foundations for a format that would be flexible enough to adapt to the coming future - modern practices were quickly established, the painful breaks with tradition (increased club participation in the affairs of the Football Associations stands out here) were made with minimum fuss, profit sharing systems were clear, players, fans and managers had representation at the highest levels, which meant that all parties were equal stakeholders in the decision making processes. One would have thought their unlikely win at the 2006 World Cup would signal a shift in the world view of Calcio, but nothing doing.
If anything, people considered it a swan song for some of the aging stars who, admittedly, illuminated football a decade and a half ago. This reinforced the perception that Italian football had nothing to offer. After that World Cup even more players would prefer to move to England and Spain, the thinking being that Italy’s players had proved that though mega-talented, they were over the hill, and by association, so was the league. And who wants to be the best player in a mediocre league of pensioners?
A sad state of affairs, especially when one considers that just ten years ago a player as outstanding as....continued at Serie A - The fall from grace of the original superleague