Stars desert Serie A

The death of Italian football?

June 24, 2009
By Dominic Raynor
(Archive)

Italians once referred to Serie A as 'il campionato piu bello del mondo', the most beautiful championship in the world, but this summer there threatens to be an exodus of top talent that could mark the end of an era for Italian football.

GettyImagesKaka: Said good bye to Serie A.

The rise of the Premier League and La Liga has already impacted upon the standing of calcio in European football and the gap looks set to widen.

AC Milan have been the lone standard bearers for Italy in the Champions League in recent years and having already lost manager Carlo Ancelotti they are set to be decimated during the transfer window.

Former World Player of the Year Kaka has already signed for Real Madrid and his Brazilian successor, Pato, is angling for a move to Chelsea. Inspirational captain Paolo Maldini has finally hung up his boots and the Rossoneri are also open to offers for Italian international Andrea Pirlo.

Even scudetto winners Internazionale, who have dominated Italian football in the wake of the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal that hit rivals Milan and Juventus, look set to lose both of their iconic footballers in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Brazilian international Maicon.

Serie A was once the league in which all the top players in world football desired to play. In the 1980s Michel Platini inspired Juventus, Diego Maradona led Napoli to two titles; Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten were the driving force behind AC Milan's dominance of Europe. Over at Inter, German World Cup winner Lothar Matthaeus lifted the Scudetto.

Following the success of World Cup Italia 90, the rise of Serie A continued unabated with a new generation of stars heading to the league's big spending clubs; Ronaldo at Inter, Shevchenko at Milan, Gabriel Batistuta at Fiorentina, Zinedine Zidane at Juventus. Even in the early part of this decade, the world record transfer fee was consistently broken by Serie A clubs as Lazio, Inter and Juventus out bid each other for the likes of Hernan Crespo, Pavel Nedved, Lilian Thuram and even Gaizka Mendieta.

Any player worth his salt wanted to move to Italy; but those glory days are over and the pendulum has swung the other way. It now seems that any player with aspirations for fame and fortune are looking for a way out.

Kaka's £56m departure to Madrid seems to have been the catalyst for many of his fellow Serie A professionals to reassess their futures. The 27-year-old was the shining light of the Italian league, at least in terms of profile, and his departure has caused many of Italy's stars to seek new employment.

Hot prospect Alexandre Pato is eager to follow the example of his compatriot and leave the San Siro. The £45m-rated starlet, who scored 18 goals last season, wants to be reunited with former Milan boss Ancelotti at Stamford Bridge and said: "I would be interested if Ancelotti were to call on me to join Chelsea."

The Blues are also pursuing Pirlo and although Rossoneri owner Silvio Berlusconi initially said he would reject any offers for the midfield maestro, earlier this week he performed an unexpected u-turn. "If there's an offer, it should be considered," Burlesconi said.

At Inter, things are little different, with Nerazzurri owner Massimo Moratti desperately trying to keep star duo Ibrahimovic and Maicon at the scudetto winners.

Maicon is currently on international duty with Brazil at the Confederations Cup but the 27-year-old's agent seems eager to secure a move for the dynamic defender, who is attracting interest from Europe's top clubs, to either La Liga or the Premier League.

"He is open to offers from everyone," agent Antonio Caliendo said. "It's not just Real Madrid but Chelsea who also could make a move ... the possibility is open to every club."

With Kaka gone, Maicon's team-mate Ibrahimovic is the highest-profile star left in Serie A and if the Swedish striker were to leave this summer calcio would really be left in the doldrums. Unfortunately for Italian football Moratti rates the 27-year-old's chances of staying in Serie A as only "50%", despite slapping a €90m price-tag on the league's top scorer.

GettyImagesZlatan Ibrahimovic scored 57 goals in 88 Serie A games during a three-year spell at Inter

Ibrahimovic' agent, Mino Raiola, does not think Moratti's excessive demands will put off potential suitors. "It's not only Barcelona who can afford him," said Raiola. "But other clubs like Chelsea, Real Madrid and Manchester United as well as Inter, so that makes five clubs."

Over at Juventus, Ballon d'Or winner Pavel Nedved has called time on a trophy-laden career and at 34-years-old ageing icon Alessandro Del Piero is not the force he once was. Brazilian playmaker Diego has been brought in by chairman Giovanni Cobolli Gigli (a very smart piece of business at just £20m) but he is not yet of the same global profile as the veterans he will replace. The list of star attractions in Serie A is dwindling.

And against this backdrop of deserting players, the Italian national team, who rode to the rescue of a scandalised Serie A in 2006 by winning the World Cup, suffered the embarrassment of being beaten by Egypt and dumped out of the Confederations Cup in the group stage.

A humbling in South Africa was that last thing Italian football needed and in the aftermath Azzurri captain Fabio Cannavaro, who left Real Madrid to return to Juve for 2009/10 season, declared that the entire infrastructure in Italy needed an overhaul.

"We need reconstruction and not just the national team. Let's start with the infrastructure, the stadiums, but also the youth teams," the 35-year-old said.

The good news for Italian football is that there does seem to be a new genration of young talent emerging - headed by the likes of Juve midfielder Sebastian Giovinco, Inter striker Mario Balotelli and Cagliari forward Robert Acquafresca - but in an era of mega money football will that be enough to sustain Serie A?

Italian clubs are struggling to compete financially. They do not own their stadiums like English clubs and do not have the benefit of favourable tax laws like those in Spain. It could be a long road to recovery for Italian football.