New structure and kick-off times for Lega Pro
18 August ~ The Italian professional leagues are due to kick off on August 29 and yet apart from Serie A we still do not know their final composition, even though the fixture lists have been published. This is because when cash-strapped Siena were excluded from Serie B it was decided not to replace them, but to continue with 21 clubs as part of a plan to reduce this league to 20 clubs as soon as possible. However, orders have gone out that Serie B must revert to 22 clubs, and so now the question is who will take Siena's place.
It could be Novara, losers of the relegation play-offs in June, except that due to their recent involvement in the match-fixing scandal they are in theory currently not eligible for a reprieve. So it could be either of the other two relegated clubs, Reggina and Juve Stabia, or one of the Lega Pro promotion play-off losers, Lecce and Sudtirol.
The decision will probably be taken today, and even then it might be challenged. But even if it isn't, it means that 11 days before the start of the season a team that has been built for the third-level Lega Pro will find itself in Serie B. Equally a team preparing for life in Serie D will find itself in Lega Pro, and so on down the pyramid.
Meanwhile Lega Pro prepares for its new life as a single league with three groups of 20 teams. Getting out of it will be very difficult. There will be one automatic promotion from each group, and one other from an eight-team play-off. Four promotions for 60 teams is even harder than the Conference. There will also be nine teams relegated, the bottom team in each group and the two losers of play-offs. So in one way or another 15 teams out of 60 will be involved in the relegation roulette.
One thing you used to be able to say about Lega Pro was that with the odd exception all matches were played on Sunday afternoons. Not any more. As part of the revamp, and to enable matches to be screened on the league's own television platform, the 30 matches will now be played in no fewer than 13 different time slots. Two on Friday, four on Saturday, six on Sunday and one on Monday.
The first question that this prompts is who on earth will buy a season ticket when nobody will have any idea when their club's matches are going to be played. It is bad enough in Serie A, but this is infinitely worse. Most clubs at this level do not have a lot of season ticket holders anyway, and it is hard to see that trend being reversed.
The playing of matches at so many different times could have other serious consequences. The more you start spreading matches around, the more opportunities you open up for corruption, whether it is just two teams realising that other results mean that a draw will suit them both fine or whether it is more sinister than that. Given Italy's reputation for match fixing and illegal betting, what is about to be unveiled in Lega Pro seems to be an open invitation to those who wish to profit from it. I am sure that I will not be alone in perusing the results with more than a passing interest. Richard Mason