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CALCIO: The beautiful swan that has turned into an ugly duckling

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The season is nearing its end. Heck, for some Juventini, the season already ended the moment Jonas Eriksson blew the final whistle after a grueling 120 minutes of high intensity football in Munchen. I personally admit that without the Champions League, there's a big hole right in the middle of my weeks, and watching Juve games against Empoli and Milan weren't as exciting as it was before that cursed second leg tie against the Bavarian giants.

So, what to do now? What to fill the gap? Well I guess I could just sleep, considering that UCL games are normally broadcasted at 2 or 3 a.m. on weekdays where I live.

But, you know, it's been a while since I last contributed to BWRAO by way of writing an opinion piece. And it just turned out that I have a few topics that I think could be interesting to write about. For example, how have each Juve player fared this season? Which position(s) should Juve improve for next season? And, in relation to that, which player(s) should be sold? This is an interesting topic, even though it has been much discussed, because in my view there is a significant restriction that we often ignore when discussing it in the comments section — namely the four club-grown player minimum quota within the 25 player roster for the Champions League.

But before I delve into the above topic, I would like to try to tackle the bigger elephant in the room. Compared to Juventus' transfer strategy, this topic is about a much bigger problem that engulfs Calcio in general, and therefore by extension a HUGE issue for Juventus. It's about how Italy as a nation (not just FIGC, not just Lega, and not just the clubs) must go against its very nature and actually be inventive for once, in order to be able to prevent the rapid and continuous decline of calcio.

It's not a secret anymore: Serie A is no longer the crème de la crème of world football. It is arguably the fourth best league in the world right now, despite what Carlo Tavecchio, Adriano Galliani, and Claudio Lotito would have you believe. And no, preventing the likes of Carpi and Frosinone from being promoted to the highest division will not improve its quality. Serie A is no longer the best, and unless all parties involved start to do something radically different, the gap to the Barclays Premier League, La Liga, and even the Bundesliga will only grow wider. And the day when Serie A is perceived to be as weak as Ligue 1 will only come sooner. What after that? The Portuguese league? The Belgian Jupiler league? How far will Serie A fall before it gets its act together?

"So what?!!?" I hear some of you say. "I don't care about Serie A as long as Juve reigns supreme, and remain competitive in the European competitions against the so-called big clubs!!!" Believe me, I share the same sentiment. But I am also realistic in acknowledging that Juve cannot go against the current that is Serie A. It's true that Juve represents calcio in the eyes of the world, and strong performance by Juve would help improve the calcio brand. But the other side of the coin is also true, that calcio is part of Juventus, and weak calcio results in lower reputation points for Juve. In the world of globalization and digital media, perception absolutely matters. The impact for Juve is many and at multiple level, and all of them negative. World-class players (and, sadly, more importantly, "world class" agents) no longer prioritize Serie A as a destination; sponsors won't shell as much money for Italian clubs because the brand impact is not as widespread as BPL clubs; and any domestic successes, even record breaking achievements, are no longer considered as meaningful.

This is why Andrea Agnelli is supporting the idea of European Super League. For Juve to maximize its growth, it needs calcio to be stronger. If calcio as Juve's medium cannot grow anymore, then Juve needs to find another medium, and that is the ESL. At the very least, even though the ESL does not materialize, I think Agnelli hopes that by raising his voice and airing his concerns, he could garner enough support from within Italy to push for revolution in calcio. We all know how Juve have been pushing for reform in every opportunity. Unfortunately, the untrusting nature of the Italians makes every other clubs think that Juve is pushing for reform for solely its own benefit. And thus, those who benefit from maintaining the status quo can easily manipulate others to prevent reform from occurring.

Alright, enough of the doomsday talk. So what can be done about this? Now comes the disclaimer. I'm not Italian, I've never been to Italy, and I don't even speak, talk, or read Italian. I'm not familiar with the Italian culture in general, I'm not familiar with the judicial system, and I'm definitely not an expert in Italian women and how to romance them, alright, Chuks? So what I wrote here is purely the ramblings of a calcio fan. What I hope to achieve, however, is to instigate a discussion in the comments section.

Damn, I've written too much, and conveyed too little. So let's have a change of pace.

So what can be done to stop the decline of Serie A, and hopefully maybe even reverse the trend? In no particular order:

  • Calcio has to be more open to foreign investors. Not just the clubs, but also the fans, the regulation, and the country in general. The clubs, and by extension the owners of the clubs right now are not in good financial condition. Outside capital will be critical if we want to achieve the goal in the shortest timeframe possible. Postponing action by one year will result in additional 3-4 years of gap with the top leagues. They are moving forward, improving every year, while we are moving backward. Yes, it could result in loss of cultural identity of the clubs, and yes it could very well lead to over-commercialization of calcio. But this is the trend in world football, and fighting against it is futile. We adapt or we die.

  • In relation to the above, FIGC and Lega and whatever body that is relevant, MUST be better in conducting due diligence on these investors, foreign or not. These new owners must be able to prove that they are in it for the long run, and have the necessary capital to walk the talk. No more of Parma-like fiascos, please.

  • The investment climate must be friendlier. By this I mean the regulation must be less bureaucratic for clubs that actually wants to invest in building new stadiums, etc., PROVIDING that they can prove that they have the money and willingness to spend that money for the investment. This is very difficult, if not impossible, because it is ultimately more than just football-related. It demands the involvement of people outside of the footballing world. But what use would it be to attract investors if you fight against capital spending for investment?

  • A minimum standard must be introduced for youth development. If not by enforcement or regulation, then at least by sharing best practices. Germany, Holland, France, and lately Belgium have shown that you can actually improve the quality of youth by improving infrastructure, introducing a common core philosophy to the system, and actually incentivizing the clubs to bring its own youth products into the first team. This needs to be a centralized action, an orchestrated effort instead of individual initiative by each clubs. FIGC should send teams to other countries, learn how they formulate the youth system development as a holistic approach, and share the practices to the clubs. Finally, they should incentivize the clubs who proactively improve their youth system.

  • Have a reserve league for God's sake. Again, best practice sharing from other European league could be an easy answer.

  • This might be a radical idea, but FIGC and Lega should start introducing English as a mandatory second language to the elements inside calcio, particularly those involved in the media. For example, clubs can be encouraged — or enforced, whatever — to have an English website. English language can be made mandatory for the education of young players, and even for would-be managers in Coverciano. Broadcasting package can be prioritized for TV stations who have global reach with English coverage, etc.

  • Match scheduling to be reconsidered to adjust to the main market globally, instead of just to suit Italian lifestyles. Week-by-week match schedules should also be adjusted to avoid clashes with big matches from other European leagues.

  • Change the format of Coppa Italia to make it more exciting, so that big clubs pay more attention to it. Italian clubs are not used to knock out competition, and it shows. If possible, try to schedule the Coppa finale abroad, just like Supercoppa. Give the broadcasting revenue back to the participating clubs, otherwise the clubs won't be interested and whine like crazy.

  • Reduce the number of Serie A clubs from 20 to 18. Give more room for a more exciting domestic cup competition, and more rest between games to get higher quality games of football.

  • Amend the regulation so that Serie A is more in line with UCL/Europa league in terms of player registration as well as club management. If UEFA applies FFP, then Serie A should apply an even more stringent standard. If UEFA requires 4 club-grown players, then apply the bloody same standard at least. You know, something of that ilk. The thinking is to have the clubs as adjusted with continental standard as much as possible.

  • Help the clubs fighting in the European competitions in terms of scheduling. Give them an extra day for resting their players and travelling. Like it or not, they ARE fighting for the reputation of calcio as well, directly and/or indirectly. If they do well, they will bring more money into calcio while giving less to other leagues. But make it clear, I don't believe that improving UEFA coefficients should be a priority. To me, UEFA coefficients are the result, not the cause.

That's as much as I can think of right now. Even if not all can be done, and even if those that can be done can't be done immediately, at the very least SOME of them are done, and SOME of them done immediately. Sadly, I am to be honest very pessimistic that the people in power will do anything right to improve the situation that we are in. These are the people that want to, and maybe NEED TO, maintain the status quo. For a change to happen, these people need to go. In the case of Tavecchio, Galliani, and Lotito, I think they will be replaced within 3-4 years by the likes of Agnelli, Palotta, and other forward thinking executives. And maybe after that, we will start to see some changes happening. I just wonder if it would have been too late by then.

How about you, what are your ideas? How can we stop the decline of Serie A and calcio in general?