The late, great former Liverpool manager Bob Paisley is quoted to have said on his time with the Merseyside club that, “still we’ve had hard times too – one year we finished second.” While this may speak to the dominance of Paisley’s Liverpool side, it is also the hall mark of a time when to be successful you must finish top and nowhere else would suffice.
Football has changed ever so much from Paisley’s time, abundance of money at the top level has seen second go from being the first of the losers to a respectable position. There is even now prestige in finishing in fourth place, something that Arsene Wenger and Arsenal seem to take great pride in as they achieve another year of Champions League football. Even the name of the competition itself is somewhat of an oxymoron, Champions League, not even half the clubs that compete at the group stages are actual champions. Football now though is big business and a competition can’t be had without your Real Madrid’s, Arsenal’s and the like, a place must be found for them if possible that is why the fourth champions league spot in places like England, Spain and Germany has become so important.
As such it has also become something of ever increasing lust for those who do not possess it, namely Italy. There is this sense among some followers of calcio that if we can just reclaim this fourth spot then Italy will be back on its way to European club dominance. And while there may be a small bit of truth to this, more money will enter the Italian game and the chances of winning instantly improve, in the grand scheme of things the importance of Italy achieving a fourth champions league dwindles in comparison to more important matters facing the Italian game.
Far too often we see Italian sides put out week sides in Europe simply so that they can play a stronger team in the league and thus re-qualify for Europe. A fourth champions league spot will be of very little use if the side who gets it are not motivated to give their all in the competition but rather simply just spend their time trying to get back into for the next season.
As already alluded to however the fourth champions league spot is not what is needed, if Italy really wants to advance its clubs must look at their infrastructure. Now this may be against the norm here but I love Italy’s old dilapidated stadiums, there is a sense of it being more real football and not just being the shrill of a corporate era. Yet even I know modernisation must come if calcio is to advance. Insane new futuristic stadiums are for now out of the budget of most Serie A clubs but money has to be spent on improving facilities in whatever way possible enticing more people back into them. Merchandising must be expanded and developed upon to gather more income for clubs who occupy the lower ends of the table.
Also, if calcio is to get back into a position of strength it must give the players of the future a chance in the present. For too long Serie A has been seen as the league of the geriatric’s, this has been changing a little in recent seasons and if clubs see Milan make a success of it then they are more likely to give it a go themselves. Competitiveness must also be increased, no more should Juventus be allowed stroll away to the title year after year, what’s more the three teams down the bottom should not be nearly already be decided by the new year as it seems this season.
Only then, when infrastructure is improved, finances set on more stable footing, quality of players upped and competitiveness increased can calcio start looking to achieving that fourth champions league spot and holding onto it for a meaningful period of time. Only then can Serie A push on to achieve its rightful place at the top of the pyramid.
This may seem a near impossible task but it can be done without selling our soul to the money devil like the premier League, it can be done without having to suffer a perennial champion (Munich in Germany) and it can be done without pushing aside the lower reaches of the league and leaving them feed off scraps (Spain).
Fourth place and champions league football would be oh so very nice for Serie A but why aim for fourth when with a bit of tinkering and hard work we could rule the world.