THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Serie A is no longer Italian football but "football played in Italy"

icon italyclubloss4 May ~ On April 23, Inter and Udinese took the field with not a single Italian in either starting line-up. This had never happened before in Serie A and has been the subject of much comment in the media. When I first came here, Serie A teams were limited to three non-Italians and the football was much better than it is today. Now Serie A is weaker than it has ever been despite being awash with non-Italians.

I used to think that Brazil and Italy produced the best footballers. I cannot speak for Brazil, but in Italy the flow seems to have dried up. There is not a single great Italian footballer today, and I cannot see any with the potential to become so among the current crop of young players. All we are left with are the 39-year-old Francesco Totti, Gianluigi Buffon (38) and Andrea Pirlo (36), who is now in New York and being dropped by Patrick Vieira.

I think this situation is largely due to the number of non Italians now playing in Italy. But not entirely. One commentator has suggested that children no longer playing improvised football could be a factor, instead they are enrolled in scuole calcio from the age of about six.

These are organised by local clubs, and they mean that from an early age children are not honing their skills spontaneously but being “taught” by coaches, some of whose methods are counterproductive. The son of a friend of mine gave up because he hated the way they were being drilled all the time. He was about ten. Below my flat there is a play area for children, and in 13 years I have never seen an impromptu game of football taking place there.

Another suggestion is that clubs in Serie A and Serie B are neglecting their youth sections and concentrating on looking for cheap imports. They are obliged to field a team in the Under-21 Primavera championship, but of the 42 clubs involved in three groups, only about ten are really competitive, which means that the young players are learning very little. Many of them, if they do not give up the game, finish up in the amateur leagues. It is also the case that even at Primavera level in some teams Italians are a minority.

My own club, Atalanta, are far from the worst in terms of using non-Italian players, but of those that they have got, only two have really made a difference this season. They are Dutch midfielder Marten de Roon, one of the revelations of the season and a bargain at just over €1 million (£790,000), and Argentinian forward Alejandro Gómez. Of all the others, I am sure that there are Italians around who could do just as good a job if they were given the chance.

Atalanta, like most Serie A clubs, also have lots of young players out on loan in Serie B and Lega Pro, ostensibly to gain experience. Most, but not all, are Italian. And I think this might be another of the causes of the apparent dearth of Italian talent these days. Often these players are left in the lower divisions for too long, and if you play for long enough in Serie B or lower, you will inevitably become a Serie B (or lower) player.

In Italy many clubs lack the courage to give young players their head, and the risk then is that they are lost for ever. On local TV, De Roon expressed surprise that at 25 he is still considered “young” in Italy when before he moved he was captain of Heerenveen.

I suppose the globalisation of football is here to stay and is unstoppable, and Italy is not unique in suffering its consequences, but it is destroying the unique identity of many football cultures. Serie A is no longer Italian football but "football played in Italy".

If I could I would introduce Sepp Blatter’s “six plus five” rule, which would force clubs to look at local talent. At least in Italy we can console ourselves with the fact that, apart from Fiorentina, all Serie A clubs currently have Italian coaches. It is just a pity that they have so few Italian players to coach. Richard Mason

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