The crisis in Italian football is a bit like climate change.
The crisis continues. Some remedies are obvious but expensive, no one is prepared to take action on their own, and the major powers continue to point fingers at each other.
Also, like climate change, the crisis seems to be reaching another tipping point. In past seasons, the moment of truth tended to dawn in spring or in February, or at worst, just before Christmas. This time it came before the clocks went back.
“We can win and go through,” announced Daniele de Rossi, the Roma captain, on the eve of their match against Bayern, although he admitted “even a draw would not be bad, provided we produce a big-match performance”. It was the cue for the biggest humiliation an Italian side has ever suffered in front of its own supporters. Not just beaten, destroyed.
Juventus took on Olimpiakos the following day like a club on a mission, determined to justify their status as serial champions. They dominated the game, had lots of shots, but still went down to the Greeks, who produced one of those dogged defensive displays that used to typify Italian sides in Europe, with their Spanish goalkeeper Roberto outstanding.
Defeat for Napoli in Bern and an Inter stalemate at home to St Etienne added to a sobering week for Serie A. Fiorentina were the only side to secure a win, against PAOK in Salonika.
Juve and Roma can still get out of the group stage, and Italy’s Europa League sides are well placed. Fiorentina have won three out of three.
Better than some years, so far at least. But last week’s failures tell an ominous story. Italian sides, even Juventus, now seem to lack know-how and confidence in Europe, against opponents they ought to be beating. Even their top foreign players, such as Carlos Tevez and Paul Pogba, both outstanding in Serie A, seem to shrink.
“We have to change our mentality,” said Pogba after the Olympiakos defeat. “We know something is missing in the Champions League, in our league we are more relaxed.”
Roma’s defeat against Bayern was not a huge surprise, for all De Rossi’s bold pre-match talk, but the manner of it was. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge had been wary before the game. Fresh from his audience with Pope Francis, he seemed genuinely surprised: “I think Italian football is suffering against the rhythm of the top clubs in Europe.”
It was an exceptional display by the German champions: fast, direct, full of menace. Very different from the overelaborate embroidery which so frustrated Rummenigge and Franz Beckenbauer last season.
Rummenigge himself admitted that he “almost didn’t know what to think” about the speed of Bayern’s attack, above all Arjen Robben.
“When Robben’s like that, even extraordinary ability can’t stop him.”
But Roma were found wanting for pace all over the pitch, recalling the words of Ciro Immobile, who moved from Borussia Dortmund in the summer. “The training is different: technical and physical work combined in the same sessions. You’re keeping up tactically and you’re running more.”
Immobile is struggling to make the transition to the Bundesliga after being so successful with Torino.
Meanwhile, the endless bickering continues.
It has been a dismal experience for fans so far this season, starting with the election of the 71-year-old Carlo Tavecchio as head of the Italian Football Federation. Never mind the racist remarks which earned him a six-month Uefa ban, the vote for Tavecchio demonstrated exactly the backward-looking approach that has bedeviled Italy for years, with the clubs casting their votes despite the opposition of players and managers alike.
And with renewed public sniping between the top clubs at boardroom level — Juventus against Roma, Inter against Juventus — the chances of agreement about serious reform seem as far away as ever.
Finally on Sunday night, Sampdoria president Massimo Ferrero apologised for calling Inter’s Indonesian owner Erick Thohir “that Filipino”. Speaking on TV, Ferrero said he told Massimo Moratti, Thohir’s predecessor as Inter president who stepped down as honorary president in the week, to “kick out that Filipino”, in reference to Thohir.
Off the pitch, as well as on it, Italian football looks destined for more seasons in the doldrums.
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