Match-fixing. Relate this term with Russian football at will, but you all know where I'm heading with this post, and it does not concern the Russians - much to my fortune. Match-fixing is again circulating Italy with former Lazio legend, Beppe Signori, being one of 16 allegedly involved in a controversial betting scandal, where players were being paid to throw games. It's surprising, nonetheless outright stupid, that this crime is to be brought on Italian football yet again. It is at present a dying breed of football, and the accusations will no doubt enhance the rapid decline of the Italian game which is to prove a massive distraction to Serie A, of whom are desperate to show their worth again in Europe.
It isn't the first time there has been match-fixing declarations in Italy, as you only have to go back to 2006 to witness the event that changed Italian football ever since - the Calciopoli. It all came around when transcripts of recorded telephone conversations were published in a newspaper of then Juventus general manager, Luciano Moggi, of whom influenced the appointments of referees during the 2004-2005 season, which was a genuine concept to help the team win the Scuddeto, in which they did in the 04/05 season, and in the 05/06 season (with both titles being stripped off the Champions). Juve were later relegated to Serie B, along with a 30-point deduction, which is absolutely justified and deserved. Lazio and Fiorentina were also demoted for their part in the scandal, with AC Milan continuing in the top flight, despite their 15-point deduction.
Overall, it was a sorrow sight, not only for the clubs involved, but for Italian football as a whole. Not many football supporters have seen such a thing in the modern game, and the fans of those four clubs were made to pay the price for their club's incompetence and idiocy.
Italian football hasn't been the same since, no doubt about it. Sure, it is still a highly recommended league to watch, and boast great players who are among the best in Europe, but it just isn't the same anymore. Gone are the days where players wanted to play in Italy, and only Italy. Think back to the 80's, and some part of the 90's - all the top players wanted to play in Italy; Laudrup, Matthaus, Maradona, van Basten and many, many more. It was the league to play in, where the players would move a step up technique wise, and learn how to be an appropriate professional footballer - the Italian way.
What's the attitude now towards Italy? Not very good, apparently. Speak to a top player in today's game, and they'll say that they want to be competing in England and Spain, ultimately the two best leagues in the world. Why not Italian football? Again, it's just not the same. Brilliant players like Pato, Cassano, Di Natale, Montolivio will be able to grace any league in the world with the utmost ease, but the football being displayed isn't as fine and quick-paced as English, or Spanish football. Inter Milan under Jose Mourinho were brilliant last season, and rightly deserved their status as European Champions, but apart from them not many teams from Italy managed to make others sweat. In this seasons Champions League, we had a fifth placed team in Tottenham, beating Italy's future Champions, AC Milan, and nobody will forget a mid-table Schalke team thrashing Inter at the San Siro (and reaching the semi-finals).
You just didn't see that 20-30 years ago, but unfortunately Italian football is in free-fall, and may be tough to pick up. What can they do to change our opinion of their game?
Well, they are doing little by little as it seems. Next season, we'll be able to have a look at Napoli, and perhaps Udinese, in the Champions League, which is a welcome sight after years of watching Roma and Juventus participate in the competition. They can get back on track with competition, at the top and bottom of the league, but they must act on the political board-room structure which is detrimental to the success of football, and improving their standard of the game to repeat the glorious success of Inter last season. If Italian football find their feet, as well as amending their performances in International tournaments, then we'll see a new force in Europe- which is exactly what we want.