I’m not going to start my first post with an exhaustive examination of Italy’s poor performance and early exit from the World Cup; instead, I’m moving on (mainly because it’s too depressing and, at times, physically painful) and looking towards the future – the youth.
Being an internationally renowned and prestigious league has its benefits and its pitfalls. Benefits for the clubs and pitfalls for the national teams. Over the past twenty years, the big three leagues (Premier League, Seria A, and La Liga) have seen an influx of players from all over the world which has resulted in the sidelining or exporting of many homegrown players. Foreign and greedy owners have taken over and the goal has become winning championships not by developing players and building a solid team but by buying it. In the end, it’s the kids that suffer. Owners have lost patience with youth programs that don’t produce results or profits quick enough. It’s much easier to just buy the best player in each position and then try and get a coach (aka Mourinho) to teach them to play together.
Five nations represented, none are Italian.
Case and point is the “Italian club” Inter FC. This year they joined the ranks of an elite few after winning the treble and have the opportunity of winning the “sextet”, a feat accomplished by only one other team, Barcelona. But can they really expect Italians to be proud of what they’ve done. THEY HAVE NO ITALIANS ON THE TEAM! That’s not entirely true. There are five – two of whom are goalies that have to hope that Julio Caesar gets seriously injured if they want to stand between the posts (but if that happens Inter will probably just buy another goalie) and three field players whose playing minutes are like Cristiano Ronaldo World Cup goals – few and far between. The tragedy here is that two of those benchwarmers (Santon and Balotelli) are young players that came up through the youth program but have not been able to gain experience. As a result, they are missing out on opportunities to improve and grow as players in the hope of bringing their talent and potential to the international stage.
It’s not just Inter though. The transfer market in Italy is headlined by the possible transfer of foreigners into Italy while more and more potentially (and actually) phenomenal young Italians are fleeing the country in the hopes of garnering more respect, experience, skill, and money. As more capital is spent on these high profile players, spending on the youth programs plummets, leaving these kids to search for a club that’s willing to invest in their future and talent: within the last five years, Lazio lost Frederico Macheda to Manchester United, Parma’s Giuseppe Rossi to Villareal, Roma’s Alberto Aquilani to Liverpool, Juventus is about to lose Sebastian Giovinco, and Inter will probably lose Mario Balotelli and Davide Santon if things don’t change soon. I’m sure there are many more that I’m forgetting right now too.
Paolo Maldini's son Christian (left) and father Cesare (right)
If left to the clubs, nothing will change. Even though all the owners of the major clubs in Italy are still Italian (unlike in England), their greed has placed the club’s success over their own country’s. This is where the FIGC (Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio) needs to step in. Youth promotion starts by regulating the number of foreign players that are allowed to be in the starting eleven as well as on the club’s payroll. This way the clubs are forced to produce homegrown talent that will develop and mature to be stars for not only their club but hopefully also their country like a Maldini, Totti, Nesta, or many others. In 2010, it was the young guns of Germany that carried the team while Spain has to credit the Barcelona youth program for their first World Cup and Euro wins.
In the end, it’s a domino effect. Managerial greed and self-importance leads to buying foreign “stars” (primarily South American) which leads to reducing investment in club youth programs which leads to poor national team performances and finally results in angry and frustrated fans (myself included). Italy’s future on the international stage for both the national team and the domestic clubs depends largely on how well the FIGC can restructure its youth initiatives so that once again a city’s pride can become a national treasure.
, Seria A