On May 28th 2003 A.C. Milan beat Juventus on penalties in Manchester. Andriy Shevchenko’s winning penalty secured Milan’s 6th European title. The same season Juventus’s Pavel Nedved won the Ballon d’Or. This was the pinnacle of Italian footballs dominance.
14 years later Juventus are hoping to go one better by beating Real Madrid in Saturdays final in Cardiff. However Italian footballs dominance is a distant memory. The last Italian team to win the Champions League was Inter Milan in 2010.
Many factors contributed to the decline. The first being the mismanagement of Italian clubs. Owners didn’t invest in the future stability of clubs, choosing to simply profit from them instead. Stadia weren’t maintained and modernised leading to a lack of corporate sponsorship. The league didn’t react to the re-emergence of Spanish superpowers Real Madrid and Barcelona and the rise of English clubs in the early/mid-noughties. They hoped fans would just stick with them. Which they did until the Calciopoli match fixing scandal of 2006.
The scandal showed that numerous Italian clubs (Juventus, Lazio, AC Milan, Fiorentina) were coercing referees in to favouring them during matches. Juventus had 2 league titles stripped and were relegated to Serie B. Public confidence in football was shattered. Panic also hit players who fled Serie A in massive numbers. A tarnished Italian league was not an attractive option for footballers anymore and Italian clubs had to pay massive fees for players who wouldn’t be considered world class (Adrian Mutu)
Calciopoli took the competitive edge out of Italian football. When big clubs like Juventus and AC Milan were found guilty and handed hefty punishments it gave Inter Milan a massive competitive advantage in the mid to late noughties. This combined with the lack of world class talent in the league led to a lack of interest in the league. They could no longer command the same TV money that English and Spanish league matches could. Juventus were big enough to survive Calciopoli (financially and historically), and have re-emerged winning the league for the last 6 seasons. However, other clubs haven’t been so fortunate and the league hasn’t been truly competitive for a number of years.
Italian football is no doubt in a dark place but there are glimmers of hope. Udinese and Sassuolo are redeveloping their grounds and Roma plan on moving to a new football stadium in the coming years. Clubs are following Juventus’s lead and are revamping stadiums with the fan experience in mind. Investors are seeing opportunities in Italian football. American investors took over Roma in 2011, and Inter Milan have new Chinese owners since 2016.
If Juventus can win Europe’s premier competition it could be the catalyst to bring world class players back in to the league, and may signify the beginning of a shift in power.