Juventus are an astoundingly dominant force in Italian football. They are on course to win their 7th Serie A title in a row and, while Roma might have put in the more memorable turn in the Champions League, the Bianconeri are untouchable on their own shores.
Success is often viewed as cyclical, and Italy has often been a good exemplar of this. Teams have had periods of dominance, only to fade away and be replaced, though there have usually been three big players – two of which, and sometimes all three, are there or thereabouts when trophies are being handed out.
Dynasties of sucess
Juventus are one, obviously, along with Inter and Milan. It is worthwhile and important to note that while these are not the only successful sides, they are the only ones who have been able to enjoy dynasties of success rather than sporadic triumphs; Roma themselves, as well as Lazio and Napoli, Fiorentina, even Sampdoria – all have had good teams for spells, but none have quite broken that three-team hegemony.
Personally, I’d argue that the disaster at Superga denied Torino the chance to be in that group, especially with the influx of immigrants from Southern Italy to Turin in the 1950s, but that’s for another day; history happened the way it happened.
Things are changing in Italy. Milan are currently on course to finish outside the top five for a fifth consecutive season, the longest such spell in their history (that stat including seasons they’ve been relegated outside Serie A). Inter are slightly above them, but have slipped from title challengers to also rans.
Both sides are promising overhauls in the summer, but false dawns have come and gone regularly at San Siro in recent years. Next season will see both looking to return to the Champions League, and its cash, rather than fighting out at the top of Serie A.
The Giallorossi have lost their way
Does Italy need one of them to recover? While the Milanese sides have been away from the top table, their spots have been taken, largely, by Roma and Napoli. Both have put up spirited challenges to Juventus without really threatening the Bianconeri trophy machine when it really mattered.
The Giallorossi have lost their way a little domestically this year, but their European campaign can only be judged to be a triumph, however they fare in the semi-final. Napoli have had their moments in Europe before, reaching a Europa League final. Their eggs are in the Serie A basket this year and they may still be able to haul in Juventus.
Yet the pretenders to the throne look to be reaching the extent of their powers. Neither Napoli nor Roma has the spending power to strengthen their squads significantly without selling some of the silverware – indeed, James Pallotta’s Roma have built their team almost on a ‘Moneyball’ concept. Pallotta may be a billionaire, but he has put his heart rather than his bank account into Roma. He was last seen jumping into a fountain after his side defeated Barcelona.
Would the same be true if Milan or Inter were in their shoes? It is difficult to say. One thing that has always happened in the past is that Italy has had what felt like a pecking order of clubs. When a players succeeded at one team, they are bought by a team of higher stature. The aspiration was always towards one of the big three. Quite often news reports of rising stars would highlight which of the clubs was favoured.
The biggest teams play the biggest games
We knew long before he started setting Serie A ablaze that Domenico Berardi favoured Juventus, and sure enough, he ended up signing for them – despite never leaving Sassuolo (co-ownership is a strange thing).
In this, it is worth noting that neither Roma nor Napoli added any Italians to their squad this year; meaning that those who might have made the step towards the top (Andrea Belotti, perhaps) stayed where they were. Perhaps the fact that there isn’t the same historical and global stardust about those two clubs has meant that the chasing pack in Italy has gathered together at a similar level.
It is heartening to see Atalanta so high, but it is difficult to imagine them making a huge impact in Europe. The biggest teams play the biggest games, and the biggest players are involved in them.
A second side needed to challenge regularly
In that context, is it coincidence that while the two Milanese clubs are slumping, the Azzurri failed to reach a World Cup Finals for the first time since 1958?
The most recent Italy squad had just six players taken from Milan and Inter; that isn’t necessarily a problem in and of itself, but the most successful international sides of recent years are generally those who are able to call upon club-mates; look at the Bayern members of the Germany squad, and the Barcelona and Real Madrid contingent of the Spanish side.
The Rossoneri actually had four players in Luigi Di Biagio’s squad, the highest of any team (Juventus had 3) but with Patrick Cutrone’s 1 cap to date, Giacomo Bonaventura’s 8 and Gianluigi Donnarumma’s 5, they can’t be said to have played a huge role in the Azzurri recently – though, of course, Leonardo Bonucci has been a mainstay, just not with Milan.
Perhaps from that point of view, a second side who are able to challenge regularly would not be a bad thing for Italy.
So does Serie A need a strong Inter or Milan? It needs a challenger, a viable alternative to Juventus, and historically that has always come from the city of Milan. Does it have to again? Perhaps not, but one team needs to force themselves into the reckoning regularly, or Serie A will suffer, and Italy will continue to suffer.
Who will it be? Who can it be? We’ll have to see. Forza Napoli, Forza Roma, Forza Torino!