Dubai: From being the only league in the top-four that went right to the wire last season, to now landing the signatures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlo Ancelotti, it’s clear, Serie A is now finally creeping back after years in the doldrums.
Five Champions League titles in a decade for Italian clubs from the mid-80s to the mid-90s made the Scudetto the original best domestic prize in Europe, and all the best players in the world flocked to play there from Marco van Basten to Diego Maradona.
Then disaster struck in 2006 - ironically the year that Italy lifted the last of their four World Cup titles - when the Calciopoli scandal saw Juventus, Lazio and Fiorentina relegated from Serie A, and AC Milan deducted 15 points, after police discovered games were being rigged between clubs and officials through the selection of favourable referees.
The repercussions of this were horrendous for Italian football, not only were Juventus stripped of two league titles from the period of investigation in 2004/05 and 2005/06, but it also led to a mass exodus of players.
Although AC Milan won the Champions League the season after, Italian teams largely disappeared from the competition’s latter stages thereafter, only to return with Juventus losing two finals in 2015 and 2017.
During this time, the Italian national team failed to get out of the group at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups and even failed to qualify for the first time in 60 years this summer in Russia.
Parma’s 2015 bankruptcy and reformation, having to start again from Serie D, was symptomatic of this sick era in Italian football, having gone from two-time Uefa Cup winners in 1995 and 1999 to the bottom of Italy’s entire league system.
They are now back in Serie A for the first time in three seasons from the new 2018/19 campaign and with their re-arrival it seems the party is finally recomplete.
Spurred by five-time Ballon D’Or winner Ronaldo’s €100 million move from Real Madrid to Juventus this summer, and three-time Champions League winning coach Carlo Ancelotti’s return to Italy with Napoli from Bayern Munich, almost a decade after leaving AC Milan - it seems Serie A is on the up.
On top of this, Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain has snubbed Chelsea to join AC Milan on loan, and there are also reports of Ronaldo’s former Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane joining him at Juventus, while his ex-teammates Karim Benzema and Luka Modric have both been linked to AC Milan and Inter.
Chinese ownership of both Milan clubs and Parma has no doubt helped fuel this resurgence, putting Juventus under pressure to invest.
Further proof of Serie A’s recovery has been the reinstatement of its Champions League qualifying slots from three to four clubs this summer, six years after it was downgraded.
Despite all this, there are still reasons to fear that the arrival of 33-year-old Ronaldo to Juventus is just a short-term fix for Italian football and that the path to full recovery has only just begun.
AC Milan may have had their Europa League ban for spending beyond their means overturned last month, but there remains doubts surrounding their financial stability.
Serie A also fails to attract the same TV money as Spain’s La Liga and England’s Premier League, and a recent three-season deal worth €1.05 billion with Mediapro has just fallen through.
Gate receipts also lag behind the rest of Europe and only four clubs actually own their own stadiums, with many having not been upgraded since the country’s hosting of the 1990 World Cup.
Another factor that sets Italy back is the government’s recent approval to ban advertising by betting companies – an industry that other European leagues and clubs depend heavily upon.
Despite last season’s right-to-the-wire dash between Napoli and Juventus, which entertained us while all other leagues in Europe were already wrapped up, the gap between Italy’s top clubs and the rest of the league is still burgeoning with promoted sides usually going straight back down.
The worry is that, although Ronaldo coming to Juventus will have huge positive knock-on effects, it won’t do anything to redress the disparity of a league where Juventus have been the champions for the past seven seasons running.