Italy’s Euro 2012 fairytale final may have ended in tears, but Cesare Prandelli and his men deserve credit for what they managed during their three-week stay in Poland and Ukraine.
It would be fair to say this was unexpected, as pre-tournament odds for Italy to win the competition were typically around 9/1, with some institutions offering as low as 11/1.
The fact that almost everyone forgot how good the Italians can be when they play to the best of their abilities is indicative of Serie A’s decline among Europe’s top leagues. The English Premier League, Spanish Primera Liga and Italian Serie A were once viewed as a sort of “big three”—you were either playing in one of these three leagues, or you’re nowhere.
This is no longer the case, and in fact many people see the Bundesliga as the third “power league” in world football at the moment, with fantastic teams such as Borussia Dortmund emerging in the public eye.
Ten years ago, the opinion was that if you were to play in the Bundesliga, it better be for FC Bayern Munich, or it simply wasn’t worth your time. This is too no longer the case, as the Bundesliga has propelled itself forward at the possible expense of Serie A.
The 2010 World Cup played a part in forming this opinion, as Italy crashed out bottom of their group after losing to Slovakia and drawing with then-78th ranked New Zealand. That torrid week showed the world what Italy were without Pirlo pulling the strings, as the injured pass master was unable to influence matches in his usual way.
This tournament’s showing, however, should go a long way to restoring the pride the Scudetto trophy once held, and reinstating the belief and confidence of Italian teams in Europe.
When Juventus secured the signing of world-class playmaker Andrea Pirlo from AC Milan on a free transfer in the summer of 2011, not many outside of Italy took too much notice.
It would be fair to say the furore surrounding the Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka to Real Madrid deals was far more intense, yet Pirlo stands the better player when compared with Kaka right now. This reaction—or lack of in this instance—is indicative of Serie A’s fall from grace in the eyes of Europe.
Serie A needs to re-establish itself on the world map and become the league everyone wants to play in again. It needs to do this by boasting some of the best players on the planet who play some of the best football—not by yet another match-fixing scandal.
And again, I reiterate, this tournament has helped this cause. Whilst the Italians arrived under the clouds of a re-opened scandal, the details and facts were so alien and complex to the lay football fan most simply dismissed it.
While La Gazzetta dello Sport‘s front pages will have been ablaze with the story, most other domestic broadsheets ignored it.
So it’s just Juventus…but in blue?
Many news outlets, especially in the United Kingdom, were quick to cover their tails when Italy surprised the world and went so far in this tournament. They pointed out that Italy’s team was basically Juventus’ team, and since they were unbeaten in Serie A during the 2011/2012 season, why would you expect anything else?
Again, this is an example of how Serie A has started to go unnoticed, as many were rendered surprised at the ‘revelation’ that Antonio Conte’s team had repeated Arsenal’s feat from 2004.
But in employing their own self-defence mechanisms, the press again dealt an injustice to Serie A’s quality.
Federico Balzaretti, one of Italy’s best players during the Euro 2012 final, really only found his way into the side due to Domenico Criscito’s withdrawal, yet the Palermo player acquitted himself in a fine manner throughout.
Christian Maggio, another who was a joy to watch, played an important role as a right wing-back in Italy’s 3-5-2 system employed against Spain and Croatia.
But one of Italy’s best players this summer, behind perhaps only to Mario Balotelli and Pirlo in the stardom charts, was Roma midfield Daniele De Rossi. AS Roma, too, have fallen off the map slightly due to a succession of poor managerial appointments, and have some mightily talented players with a lot of entertainment value to offer.
In addition to those impressive three, Alessandro Diamanti, Antonio Di Natale and Sebastien Giovinco, all played important roles during this tournament and shone, yet none of these players play for Juventus, AC Milan or Internazionale.
This proves the depth of talent Italy have at their disposal—a talent pool England and Roy Hodgson would be grateful for—as Italy outclassed the vast majority of teams at Euro 2012 by rotating the squad well and using all the options available, the vast majority of which play for Italian clubs.
For the first time in several years, players will likely be looking to secure a move to Serie A this summer. That’s not to say no one would move there before, but now they may look to move there at the expense of English Premier League or Bundesliga options.
Conte has built a stunning team at Juventus and their league campaign last season was hugely impressive, however there is one observation that sums up the reputation Serie A teams have.
The vast, vast majority of Juve’s summer signings in 2011—the signings which allowed them to go 38 games unbeaten and secure the Scudetto with ease—were from sides based in Italy already.
Mirko Vucinic, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Reto Ziegler, Emanuele Giaccherini and Pirlo all came from Serie A/B clubs, whilst the only transfer of note from outside Italy was Hamburg SV’s Eljero Elia arrival.
The same template can be applied to AC Milan, who’s significant signings were Internazionale’s Sulley Muntari and Palermo’s Antonio Nocerino, while Inter themselves took on Mauro Zarate from Lazio and and Angelo Palombo from Sampdoria.
These examples are far removed from the 90′s, which saw big-money deals between the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan and Internazionale make the clubs appear level on footing and reputation.
Ronaldo had no qualms in signing for Inter from Barcelona, whilst the 2003 AC Milan team boasted luxurious imports in the form of Andriy Shevchenko and Rivaldo—something you wouldn’t see at this moment in time.
Internazionale have gotten the ball rolling by signing Fredy Guarin from FC Porto in an €11 million deal. Will others follow? My guess is a resounding yes.
Italy’s triumphs in Euro 2012 competition has sparked an unprecedented amount of interest in Serie A’s happenings. The traditional Italian passing game is now being heralded as tactical genius, yet 12 months ago it was labelled “boring.”
The 4-4-2 diamond is once again a viable formation, while the 3-5-2 doesn’t sound like such a bad idea after all. Prandelli said he wanted to change the image of Italian football and Gianluca Vialli called him mad at the time.
It would be fair to say Prandelli has achieved his goal, and whilst Italians suffer the depression that comes with being stuffed in a final, they can look ahead to a brighter future for Serie A.