There was a time in the 1990s when Italian football was king. WC Milan (then known as AC – before they started playing silly buggers) in particular had the most stunning side that played fluent exciting wonderful free-flowing football. It was Total Football II.
In those days it was all so good you could watch the matches live on Channel 4, and everyone was talking about the Italian game. English football looked about 2 centuries behind.
Today Italian football can hardly get itself a TV deal in Italy let alone in the UK. A year or two back it had the ignominy of being dropped half way through a season by Bravo of all channels. The grounds have emptied, and no one talks of the “big 3” of Euroland any more – its all England and Spain.
So what went wrong? And could the collapse of Italian football as an exciting game happen here?
The answer to the second question is certainly yes – because of the answer to the first.
What went wrong was that the smaller clubs who could not complete year or year with Inter, AC Milan, and Juve, came up with two strategies. For a number of years they imported players of brilliance to see if they could take the team up – flamboyant purchases such as Brady, Gascoigne, Maradona some of which worked some not. But where they couldn’t do that, or the money ran out, they returned to the earlier era of grinding out draws. If you want to survive, sit back, hold on, go for the point.
And that is what we have here now in the EPL. Just look at these results…
Middlesbrough 3 Arsenal 11
Tottenham Hotspur 6 Manchester United 12
Liverpool 9 Hull City 3
These are actual figures from yesterday’s games – the number of on-target attempts. In each case the team you might expect to win from its position in the league won the goal attempts on target, but each game the result was a draw.
So it goes week after week, because the lesser teams are holding back, holding back, holding back, and waiting.
There is a way to stop this – by banning such tactics as rotational fouling, rotational time-wasting, the push in the back and so on (I did a list of these a little while back). But of course the EPL and the FA and those idiots at UEFA won’t act. (Did you see this week they fined a player twice as much for deliberately getting himself booked as they fined Croatia for its fans’ racist activities? You can’t expect any sense from that quarter).
Thus it is that the spiral has started and is quickly heading down and down. Give it five years and the money that any TV company will want to put into football will be about 25% of what it is now. Of course that will benefit Arsenal, as the only major team that is solvent, but it won’t do much for football.
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