By Daniel Gaffney
In the early 2000’s Italian football was at the peak of its powers. Italy’s Serie A boasted world-renowned names like Beckham, Ronaldinho, Pirlo, Maldini and Kaka; while the national team won the FIFA World Cup in 2006.
But in the years following the world financial crash, Italian football dwindled. Formerly titanic Italian football teams like AC Milan and Juventus were embroiled in corruption scandals and struggled financially. Rather than move to Rome, Milan and Turin, footballs biggest names instead chose Barcelona, Madrid and Munich. Italy, previously the peak of European professional football, instead became a retirement home for has-been footballers looking to prolong their careers.
Juventus have won every Serie A title since 2012, while an Italian side has not won a European cup since Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan side in 2010. Italian football had been left behind by the unpredictability of the English Premier League, while Spanish teams ran wild on the European stage.
Has Serie A finally bounced back?
This season, the top 3 in the league (Juventus, Lazio and Inter Milan) are currently separated by 6 points. By comparison, last year Juventus finished the season with a lead of 11 points.
But more importantly, the big Italian teams are attracting the world’s best players again.
The most obvious example is Cristiano Ronaldo, who is arguably the best footballer that the world has ever seen. In 2018, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner transferred to Juventus from Real Madrid for €100million.
Aged 35, Ronaldo is still at the peak of his powers, he currently has 42 goals in 52 appearances in the league.
On the other hand, under Antonio Conte, Inter Milan are signing players who are in the prime of their football careers. In the Summer, Romelu Lukaku signed for Manchester United, while Christian Eriksen signed from Tottenham Hotspur in January; both players have found good form on Italian soil.
Footballers who have fallen out of favour in big European leagues have also moved to Italy in hope of rejuvenating their career in a top league. Both Chris Smalling and Alexis Sanchez are on loan from Manchester United at Roma and Inter Milan respectively. While struggling English goalkeeper Joe Hart had a loan spell at Torino in 2016. Equally, world class managers like Antonio Conte, Roberto Mancini, Carlo Ancelotti and Maurizio Sarri have returned to Italian clubs in recent years.
Overall, the Italian league has retired its image as a safe haven for ageing footballers who are looking for a final season in the sunshine. Football in Italy is fast, competitive and exciting to watch. No doubt more world class players will be buying a ticket to Italy in the future, and Italian teams will be featuring in European finals again very soon.