Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How to reform Italian football…

Various club Presidents have ideas to restructure the Italian game. David Swan puts some of their suggestions under the microscope.
Saturday’s edition of La Gazzetta dello Sport featured a report that asked a number of Serie A Presidents and owners to offer three ideas each that they would like to see implemented in Italian football, in a week where FIGCPresident Giancarlo Abete stated his desire to see Serie A return to 18 teams. Here, we analyse some of the more interesting options and their viability.
Introduce B teams into the professional system (Fiorentina owner Andrea Della Valle)
A call that you hear often in England has started to seep through to Italy, possibly due to the success of Spain, where this has been present for years.
Della Valle’s reasoning was that B teams would be made up primarily of young players and allow them a greater chance of growing by playing against pros and not youngsters of the same age.
A large part of the feeling on this will depend on the extent to which you believe youth football in Italy ‘works’. Italy Coach Cesare Prandelli now has a number of young players to pick from across the squad, many of whom, though not all, started in the youth teams of Serie A clubs, so the system is not all bad.
The Lega Pro may hold the key to this being introduced at any point in the future. The third tier of Italian football has just been reduced to 60 teams due to so many clubs struggling to stay afloat financially, but Lazio President Claudio Lotito openly pondered whether there were 60 teams that could maintain competitiveness over a season. If he turns out to be right, and if more struggle to keep their position, the option of B teams filling the spaces could become viable.
Introduce UEFA’s Financial Fair Play into Serie A (Andrea Della Valle and Torino President Urbano Cairo)
The two who suggested this felt it was a necessary step to balance the League. The glaring problem is that while it will give many teams a greater chance of competing near the top, it will place the top clubs competing in Europe at a competitive disadvantage relative to the rest – not somethingSerie A needs at the moment.
It represents a conflict for both the FIGC and the Lega. They would probably love a competitive and balanced League, but if it comes to the detriment of Italy on the European stage then it is difficult to see how this would help in the long-term.
Reduce Serie A and Serie B to 18 teams (Lazio President Claudio Lotito)
An increasingly popular idea, with backing from the very top after Abeteexpressed his wish to see Serie A reduced to 18 teams.
Parma President Tommaso Ghirardi suggested something similar, though his idea was to keep Serie A at 20 teams and reduce Serie B to 20, from 22.
Just by looking at Ghirardi's counter-suggestion, you can see this is going to be difficult to pass. Clubs unsure of their Serie A status on a yearly basis, or who could get drawn into trouble, are going to fight a reduction at the top level that limits the number of opportunities to generate more revenue from a presence in Italy's best League.
But the biggest issue with the idea in the short-term is the new TV deal. Sky have paid a lot of money to show every single Serie A game live for the next three seasons and a reduction in the number of teams means fewer games for TV.
As such, do not expect to see this implemented until after 2014-15. But with the backing of the man at the top, and a number of Presidents, there is a very good chance of change occurring within both Serie A, from 2015 onwards, and Serie B.
Stop broadcasting every match on TV (Urbano Cairo)
Often ignored as one of the reasons for the bad attendances in Serie A, with the focus instead on the quality of the stadia. The fact is that, leaving the stadia aside, fans in Italy do not actually need to go to a ground to watch football. With every match screened live they only need to find a bar showing it or take out a subscription themselves.
Cairo referenced the "English model", but did not specify whether he wanted a protected kick-off time, as England has with the traditional Saturday 3pmmatches.
Again, this comes back to the TV deal. Protecting kick-off times like the Premier League will undoubtedly see Sky substantially reduce the amount they pay to screen Serie A matches. What they offer now is crucial in keeping some clubs in business – both in Serie A and below thanks to the parachute payments and mutuality agreement that filters down to Lega Pro and the amateurs in Serie D – and a reduction in that could hit them hard financially.
With the stadia owned by local councils, driving fans towards the ground is not going to make up for the loss of TV revenue. Once the clubs have done the maths, it is unlikely many of them will be in favour of this.


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