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Opinion: Capping or Restricting Foreign Players in Serie A is NOT the Solution


Okay. There has been plenty of discussion, and lots of reaction, to the proposition made on social media that, on the heels of Italy missing the World Cup, the FIGC should institute rules to limit or restrict the number of foreign, non-Italian players in Serie A. This would, in theory, set the priority of the FIGC back to Italians in an Italian League. Non-Italians would occupy fewer spots on Italian teams, therefore allowing Italians to take spots in rosters and develop. It would be like the system that was once in place in Italy.

I do not agree with the assessment that the decline of the Italian National Team is correlated to the increasing number of non-Italians in the league. Football is a global game, and the market of players has become increasingly international. Teams in leagues all over the world have an increasing number of foreign players. This is not an Italy-exclusive statistic.

In Spain, Real Madrid has 13 non-Spanish players. Barcelona has 15. Bayern has 13 that are not German. Paris Saint-Germain has 14 non-French players. These are teams from Spain, Germany, and France; three favorites to take home the 2018 World Cup. Just because players in a team are not from that country does not mean the team’s performance is hurt. Prime examples: Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Juventus the past three years.

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Just because Italy has failed in their quest, even their obligation, you may say, to make it to the World Cup, with a talented squad and an incompetent manager, does not mean we should look to cap the number of foreigners in squads so that Italians can be the “focus” of the league again.

The focus of the league is not to develop Italians. It is not to win the World Cup. What is the focus of Serie A and the clubs within? It is the same as every other league around the world. To make money.

If a team develops young Italians, and then sells them off, and uses that as their business model, alla Atalanta, they will continue to do so. Why? Because the developing of the youth is a sustainable business model for that club. They can continue to focus on talent, get that talent into the squad, and keep them until they are at such a high level that they are bought by a larger club, bringing profit to the club.

If a team focuses on scouting young foreign players, because they have a good scouting system or want a certain style of play, it is the same reason. Either that player can be sold for a good amount of money, as a return on a not-very-large investment, or the club can keep him as he develops (think Manchester City and Gabriel Jesus), and he can help them win (also known as making more money). This is the same principle.

If a club decides to buy players when they are big, and use those players to win a lot (the Real Madrid model), that increases TV revenue, attendance, commercial revenue, and winning money. The whole game centers around money, which is why there are seemingly endless trials for allegations of corruption and bribes of millions of dollars in the governing body of the sport.

Saying foreign players should be capped or banned is not feasible. You simply cannot look at the rosters in Italy and say that they have to sell off their players of non-Italian origin, save for three or four. For example, if a rule was instituted, let’s say hypothetically that AC Milan decided they would keep Suso, Andre Silva, Ricardo Rodriguez, and Franck Kessie as their non-Italian roster spots. This leaves Nicola Kalinic, Hakan Calhanoglu, Gustavo Gomez, Matteo Musacchio, Cristian Zapata, and Lucas Biglia as players who would have to be sold. I will use Calhanoglu, as he was the highest transfer fee out of that group of players. Milan spent about 22.1 million euros on Calhanoglu. What would they be able to sell him for, given that they are required to sell him?

No team would come to the club and offer even close to market value. If you NEED to sell, you will be in a position where you have to take what you can get, which means Milan would lose millions on their investment. This would happen to plenty of teams, including Juventus. Using this same scenario, pick one that MUST be sold. Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala, Miralem Pjanic, Douglas Costa, Alex Sandro. Whatever their real value is, even in an inflated market, will not be filled by whoever comes to snatch them up. It will cost millions from several teams and leave them in a worse position than before, and take a hammer to the quality of the league and the ability to compete internationally.

In addition, Italians, like every other player, benefit from playing against high-quality competition. The ball does not know how old you are or where you are from. That does not matter on the pitch. Italians train and compete with talented players of all nationalities- if a player on the squad is good and helps another develop by pushing him in practice, that might not happen if there are foreign player restrictions, further hurting the quality of the league. That causes less money to go to the league, and puts more clubs in bad positions.

I do not agree with the idea that there should be a cap or restriction on foreign players in Serie A. The clubs and owners and stakeholders would never sign onto it, and I believe it would be detrimental to the clubs and league.

I do believe that on the heels of missing the World Cup for the first time since 1958, Italy and the FIGC have to take a look at themselves and re-evaluate what is going on in the federation.

Solution number one: Gian Piero Ventura must resign or be fired. End of story. Carlo Ancelotti has already been extensively linked to the job.

Two: Carlo Tavecchio must resign. His administration will be replaced by his successor. Demetrio Albertini has been linked to the job.

My idea for a sort of reform in the federation, which I feel is less provocative and controversial, is aimed at getting more chances for youth players without excluding players of non-Italian origin.

How do get teams to make playing the kids a focus? You incentivize playing kids from the youth sector. How? It comes back to the same point I made earlier. Everything is about money. If you make it worth the while of the clubs to pay more attention to some young talent and getting them in rosters, they will take advantage.

Either make a rule with a minimum number of youth players that must be active in the roster for the club, or reward teams financially that have more young players in their roster. Give them a bonus per player, or require them to fill a certain number of slots. This sets aside spots specifically for the kids that these clubs have used resources to develop, and encourages clubs to put time and energy, more so than before, to look at advanced scouting and youth sector development and promotion.

If teams want to have players in their youth sector from outside the country, and can do so within the laws of the country, these incentives would push them to establish scouting networks to get those kids in early, to have some of those players in the youth system.

If a player is not good enough for the roster, he either gets sent back to the youth team, with that in mind that he needs more time; or he goes to a smaller club for time on a loan or permanent basis and contributes to that club. If a player succeeds, he can move to a bigger one. It is the same as before, but clubs have additional financial motivation, truly one of the only major motivations in the sport, to make it happen. Either put incentives or a minimum, but incentives are an easy way to reward some without penalizing others who are in a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” situation.

Italy missing the World Cup is a National tragedy. No doubt about it. It is shocking to have a World Cup without the Four-Time Champion Azzurri in the picture. But with a player pool that has exceptional talent, and a clear direction for the federation to go in terms of administration and coach, we can look to some other steps. Banning or capping foreigners in Serie A, in the World’s Game, is not the solution, and is not solving the problem that got Italy to this point. That is misplaced, misinterpreted, and not the right approach.

I don’t claim to have the answers, but I do claim to have another opinion on a situation that has not taken place for several decades. And I certainly claim another opinion on what has become a very heated discussion over the past few days.

@ItalianFD

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