As long as A.C. Milan win and the rest of Italy doesn't, the EPL will continue to have the last laugh.
To EPL enthusiasts’ disbelief and their fans’ delight, Milan recorded an emphatic 4-0 win against Arsenal on Wednesday night in the Champions League. After several seasons of being made to play second-fiddle to EPL clubs, with memories of Milan 0 – Tottenham 1 the previous season worth mentioning, the whole of Italy broke into celebration greeting the result, with much of the media sensationalizing the achievement as a new era of success for Calcio in Europe.
Signs of a revival have indeed been present, with Milan themselves having fought out two very credible games against reigning European Champions Barcelona during the group stages, whilst Napoli went about putting Manchester City through its paces in the knock-out stages of the Champions League. Nevertheless, bar the signs of a renaissance, Calcio has to get its head down and back to working on catching up with its rival leagues if there is to be any hope of matching them consistently on a sporting level.
Still a long way to go for Italian football.
Unfortunately, Milan’s win is not a sign of things to come, as their strong performances on the European stage should not be used to predict the fate an success of the rest of Italy’s present and future contenders. Rather, it would be more accurate to take Lazio’s 1-3 Europa League home loss to Atletico Madrid, two clubs that adopt similar sporting profiles in their respective leagues, as indication of where Calcio stands on at European level as of today.
To begin, Milan are head and shoulders above the rest of Serie A in terms of technical quality and, what often proves the key to success in Europe, international experience. Helped by the acquisition of world-class players who know what it takes to play at the top level such Ibrahimovic, Robinho and Thiago Silva, the 4-0 scoreline for Milan flatters Italian football, but should not be read into as more than a good result. It could even be claimed Arsenal lacked the international experience against a battle-hardened Milan line-up, a flaw not shared by most other EPL or European teams.
Other Italian clubs tend to turn in performances that sadly can be characterized as naive. Serie A is turning into a feeder league, where its established and talented players opt for big money moves abroad. Italian clubs no longer have the pulling power, partly due to the state of financial meltdown Calcio is in as well as the lack of attractiveness of the league, to bring in players who can make a difference.
Italian clubs on all levels lack the type of player who can create something out of nothing, a game changer to take the match by the scruff of its neck and make a good result of it. Calcio has no lack of talent, just a killer instinct and mentality to suit. The slow pace Serie A is played at contributes to an unhealthy player attitude that carries a lack of energy and dynamism necessary to succeed in modern European football.
Due to a culturally lackluster playing style, teams generally lack a certain ruthlessness and cutting edge in seizing opportunities afforded to them despite relatively dominating possession and territory. The Udinese-Arsenal Champions League qualifying match best illustrates the issue this season, where Udinese tormented the Arsenal defence yet paid for their indecisiveness when Arsenal did what counted, score goals despite the run of play. The reason for Milan’s success against the same opponent are due to their signings made of international calibre.
Whilst its Milan neighbor is associated with the brighter side of Calcio in Europe, the struggles of Inter Milan, former European champions of 2010, symbolize aptly the rest of Italy is in a phase of transition. A new crop and generation of players is beginning to turn out for their clubs; Andrea Ranocchia, bright, talented, yet not truly tested, is an example of the inexperience that cannot be allowed to plague an upper-echelon league representative for much longer for its sake. The loss of top stars, Samuel Eto’o in Inter’s case, leaves Serie A scraping the bottom of the barrel on who to mould in taking on the mantle of playing at the highest level.
Italian clubs are made to work much harder than their counterparts to secure what is in essence the same end product, that of scoring goals, defending results and winning their games. Put aside Milan’s drubbing of Arsenal. As much as they win, and the rest of Italy’s representatives don’t, the dreaded European ranking coefficients are going to have the final say.
A solution to boost the international profile and attractiveness of Calcio has to be found. Do not be fooled by the temporary respite to the humiliation that Serie A has suffered on the continent in recent seasons post Calciopoli, it is not the light at the end of the tunnel for Italian clubs, with other leagues perennially on the ascendancy. While Italy basks in the pleasure of exacting revenge against its nemesis the EPL, they will find it is they who will have the last laugh.