Growing up in the late eighties cum early nineties with developing keen interest and love for sports generally especially Football,I was quick to realize that Italy held the key to the Sport on a global scale at both World and League stage after hosting the World Cup during that period coming third in that Mundial even though they were probably the most exciting team that year with players like Roberto Baggio,Salvatore Schillaci,Paolo Maldini,Real Madrid’s current coach Carlo Ancellotti to name but a few.Italy produced the player of the tournament in Salvatore Schillaci and later that year the Balon D’Or winner in Roberto Baggio.
Italian Football was so great in that era cos even the Clubs in the country practically dominated every other teams in European Competitions like the European Cup which was later rebranded and renamed UEFA Champions League,UEFA Cup,and Cup Winners Cup before both were merged and renamed Europa League especially AC Milan,Juventus and Napoli.Every good and outstanding player of the game wanted to play in the Serie A as the Italian first division league is called.
Great players of that period like Diego Maradona,Ruud Gullit,Marco Van Basten,Frank Riijkaard,Gianluca Vialli,Ian Rush,Michel Platini-the current UEFA president all graced the league making it the most viable,most lucrative and most watched league in the World.I remember just like yesterday watching AC Milan destroy FC Barcelona in the final of the 93/94 Champions League by four goals to nil.They(AC Milan)came back the following year only to lose to a George Finidi and Patrick Kluivert inspired Ajax Amsterdam.So good were Italian Club sides then that they were always in the finals of competitions year in year out with Juventus defeating Ajax in the final of the 95/96 season Champions League on penalties.As an African and Football fan,I still give kudos to the league for helping to produce the only African to win the Balon D’Or in the person of Liberia’s George Opong Weah.
The serie A continued to dominate European football up till the early millennium when there was the all Italian Champions League Final between AC Milan and Juventus which AC Milan won on penalties.After that year,Italian football began losing it’s grip on World Football even though AC Milan did appear in the final of the 04/05 season and winning the 06/07 both against Liverpool.It was obvious Italian Football was seriously on the decline and we ardent Football fans were beginning to see the death of once the game’s “Mecca” of sort.So what can we say is the cause or attribution to this decline or capitulation?
Though there was serious emergence of other teams who have become World Powers in Europe like FC Barcelona,Bayern Munich,FC Porto,Manchester United and Liverpool then,the Calciopoli scandal of 2006 really acted as the “Achilles Heel” in the decline of Italian Football.Police in Italy had intercepted series of calls between Club officials and referees which led to match fixing.Juventus,the current Serie A Champions were a key actor in the ring and were indicted with some other strong teams like AC Milan,Lazio,Fiorentina and Regianna.
Subsequently,the governing body of Football in Italy meted out various degrees of punishment to the teams found guilty.Juventus were demoted to the Serie B and initially docked thirty points which after appeal was reduced to nine,AC Milan got fifteen points deduction but maintained their Serie A status while the likes of Fiorentina and Lazio were also demoted to Serie B and won’t take part in European competitions which they have qualified for the previous season concluded.
Though Juventus won the Serie B despite the point deduction and ultimately returned to the Serie A,it took a while for the other teams indicted to regain their foot but as of today are playing in the top flight league in Italy.Of all the teams,the Old Lady(Juventus)have been really astonishing cos despite the Calciopoli pitfall,they have come back stronger and won three Scudettos(Italian League Title)on the bounce since 2011 having seen the one they won before the scandal awarded to Internazionale.On the other hand,AC Milan too haven’t been bad until this season where they’ve been woeful.They managed to qualify every season and compete with Europe’s elite Football Clubs but just like Juventus haven’t been able to find that lost spark of the late eighties to early millennium majorly cos they have sold key players like Thiago Silva,Kaka who initially left for Real Madrid but now back due to financial incapabilities,problems facing owner,Silvio Berlusconi on mismanagement while in office as Italy’s Prime Minister and some who have had to retire due to age like Cafu,Paolo Maldini,Filllipo Inzaghi and goalkeeper Dida.After Internazionale’s triumph under the self acclaimed “Only One”,Jose Mourinho in the 09/10 season,Italian teams have totally found it hard to get past the quarter finals of the Champions League which is been dominated by teams from Spain and England with this year’s final due to be played by an all Spanish team and in proximity from the same City!
Rather to the Football “Mecca” it was before,the Serie A is now more like a stepping stone for footballers just getting their careers kick started like Paul Pogba and Sebastian Giovinco,those who have kick started but need rebuilding like Kaka and Adel Taarabt and those in the twilights just like Carlos Tevez and Miroslav Klose.As a neutral I’d so much like to see the Serie A back where it used to belong which is top but a lot of things have to be reshaped and done for that to happen again but only time can tell.
Written by Omolabi Anuoluwapo Igbayilola.