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OPINION: Too many foreigners are a piece of the puzzle in the Azzurri’s decline

Ever stop and take a look at the starting lineups for Italy’s top five teams? There lies the elephant in the room nobody wants to address.

The best part about writing this article is the fact that one fan base won’t feel targeted over the other. Because all of Italy’s top teams, and frankly most of the league itself is guilty.

Regardless of Monday’s result, serious questions need to be asked about the future of Italian football. Is scraping by to qualify for the World Cup (or paradoxically crashing out of the playoffs in stunning fashion) really the new standard? Gone are the glory days where the Azzurri fielded a lineup made up of players who are in the Champions League, even more so, it seems that many players aren’t even in European play!

Monday’s result won’t dictate the long-term future of the Azzurri. The reforms that come afterwards will need to be aimed towards success in the 2020s. It’s been a decade of misery and pain at the international level for Italy, and missing out on it all in 2018 would be, well, catastrophic.

The topic of foreigners in Serie A has long been a center of debate among those in the calciosphere. In the past, Italy had banned or strictly limited the amount of foreign players allowed in Serie A, especially after the 1966 defeat to North Korea in the World Cup. After banning foreign players, Italy went on to win Euro ’68 and finished runners up in the World Cup in 1970. They would later go on to win it all in 1982, 16 years after the most infamous defeat in the Nazionale’s history.

Circling around to my talking point, Italians are no longer a part of the main setup of the top five teams in Serie A. This is easily demonstrated when taking into account consistent starters for each club. The following have started in at least 50% of the matches played thus far.

Statistics

  1. Napoli – Insigne, Jorginho (2)
  2. Juventus – Buffon, Chiellini, Barzagli (3)
  3. Inter – Candreva, Gagliardini, D’Ambrosio (3)
  4. Lazio – Immobile, Parolo (2)
  5. Roma – De Rossi, Pellegrini, El Shaarawy, Florenzi (4)

That’s 14 starters out of the 55 from the top teams. 25% of the starters for Italy’s best performing teams this season are Italians, and all of them are on the current national squad.

Percentage of foreign players on roster per team:

  1. Napoli – 76%
  2. Juventus – 64%
  3. Inter – 63%
  4. Lazio – 75%
  5. Roma – 81%

Percentage of foreign players on each U-21 (Academy) roster per team:

  1. Napoli – 12.5%
  2. Juventus-  25%
  3. Inter – 35.7%
  4. Lazio – 57.1%
  5. Roma – 33.3%

Teams with more Italians on roster than foreign players. Position in table also denoted.

AC Milan (9th)

Cagliari (11th)

Crotone (15th)

SPAL (16th)

Sassuolo (17th)

Hellas Verona (19th)

Benevento (20th)

Current players on Italy’s roster participating in this season’s UEFA Champions League: 48%

Spain (64%)

France (68%)

England (50%)

Germany (71%)

Strikers (who have appeared in the last 12 months, excluding wingers) by each national team playing in this season’s UEFA Champions League.

Italy (0)

Spain (5)*

France (5)*

England (4)* Including Kane and Sturridge

Germany (3)* Including Muller and Schurrle

Note: Data derived from last 12 months due to the other national teams playing in friendlies, not competitive matches this month.

Average age of current players on Roster

Italy (28.0)

Spain (27.5)

France (26.0)

England (25.4)

Germany (25.9)


By every metric, Italy is behind the major European powers. While it’s assured that golden-era’s do not last forever, the decay of the last 10 seasons has been massive. Somewhere in the pipeline of producing Italian talent, something has gone wrong.

Banning the purchase of foreign players would be a start, or a conceivable positive step for the reproduction of Italian talents, but that is frankly impossible and would be detrimental to the long-term image of the league. Whilst I support extreme measures in the aftermath of Monday’s game, it’s likely other reforms, or at the very least proposals, will be cast.

Other possible, less extreme actions would be to cap the amount of foreign players per squad (such as in some national cups around the world) or mandate a certain amount of citizens on the roster. Of course, that doesn’t mean the coach has to pick the player, but at the very least he would be on the roster.

Starting in the 2016/17 Serie A season, clubs were required to have at least four homegrown players on the matchday rosters in Serie A. Homegrown doesn’t necessarily mean Italian, but rather a youth academy prospect.

At the problem starts up again from there. Only Milan and Lazio have more than 5 homegrown players on the roster with the former being the only one who plays them consistently. Meanwhile, Juventus and Napoli have zero, the rest have barely any impact at all.

In the end, Ventura’s mistakes very well may cost Italy from reaching the World Cup. But the reality is this team is far from World-class and there are very few replacements coming through the pipeline. Spain has Asensio and Isco playing for Real Madrid while Juventus have… Nobody under 30 besides Bernardeschi who rarely appears for anything other than cameos.

The stats are clear. Foreign players occupy the vast majority of slots on the field at any given time. Italian players simply don’t have the space needed to develop, especially in Europe’s most elite competitions. Pre-2014, the bulk of Italy players had international experience with their clubs, now it’s largely provinciale.

Over the past few years, many Italian players and coaches have called for foreign player caps. Fabio Quagliarella in 2014 told Gazzetta dello Sport, “foreign players are great for Serie A if they add something extra, but a lot of them are superfluous. There are players in Lega Pro [Italy’s third division] that are better. Everyone knows it, but no one does anything.”

Matteo Bianchetti told reporters if he had a Spanish last night he would be a starter week in and week out by in 2015.

Serious reforms need to be enacted if Italy are to ever challenge for a title again. Pirlo and De Rossi made their last stand in 2012, from here on out we’re in the new era.

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