As Italian league continues to slip, fans look to China with hope

  • Sumil Sudhakaran, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 18, 2016 12:28 IST
Alvaro Morata, who has had a breakthrough season at Italian champions Juventus, has rejoined Real Madrid after the Spanish side exercised their right to buy back. (Reuters Photo)

The Paul Pogba saga continues with no end in sight, the latest bit of drama being Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri's claim that a move to Manchester United would be a step back for the Frenchman. However, hidden among the transfer stories that has fixated football is the a tale that speaks of the demise of the Italian league.

This summer has seen the continuation of what was observed last few years, the rich clubs of Spain and England strengthening their squads at the expense of the Italian clubs. Alvaro Morata, who has had a breakthrough season at Italian champions Juventus, has rejoined Real Madrid after the Spanish side exercised their right to buy back. Rumours are Real bought him with an eye to sell him for profit. The transfer of Pogba, arguably the best player in the Italian league, is only a matter of time.

Recruits of note have been Dani Alves and Mehdi Benatia. Alves was let go off by Barcelona in accordance with his wish to play for a different team after serving the Catalans for eight years, and Benatia was rarely used by Bayern Munich. These are not eye-catching transfers for Juventus, who won their fifth straight Serie A title last season.  In Milan, the Inter and AC continue their small pickings from Latin America and elsewhere while Roman giants AS Roma are content on buying within the league.

The Italian clubs, who have not won the Champions League since the surprise ascendancy of Inter in 2009-10, clearly have lost their financial power to attract top talent. This more or less go parallel with the decline of talent in the Italian national team, though former national coach Antonio Conte made them punch above their weight in the European Championship. If this is not reversed, Italian league would soon go the way the Dutch clubs went since 90s, content on recruiting young and selling them for profit.

In this context, the happenings in Milan are significant. AC Milan's longtime owner, former Italy prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi is close to selling the majority stake of the club to a Chinese consortium. Inter have already completed their sale to Chinese retailers Suning. A glance at the Chinese Super League will convince anyone where money lies in world football. Suning owns the Chinese club Jiangsu Suning, which early this year bought Brazilians Alex Teixeira and Ramires for a combined 50 million pounds (Rs 444.36 crore).

The hope in Italy is Chinese investment can reverse the talent drain in the domestics league. Investment from far-off is often viewed with suspicion, but the Ultras of the AC and Inter, that is the hardcore supporters, have been rather quite on the subject. They appear to have realised this is the only path their clubs have if they wish to regain their lost perch in European league.

But Chinese investment by itself may not end the sad tale. Will the Chinese investors pump in money to strengthen the clubs, or will owners such as Suning use Inter as a feeder to their home club? The latter, as atrocious as it may sound, cannot be ruled out as China, under the guidance of president Xi Jinping, aims to be a football superpower. Most club owners in China are known to be close to the ruling Communist Party. No one can fault them if their priority is clubs back home. No one except Inter Milan fans that is.

Such fears, however, may well prove unfounded as Italian league, and thereby European stage, will offer China a greater platform to showcase their might. Getting the Milan clubs back to the top would be a boost to the country's public perception in Europe. 

Nevertheless, what is certain is the future of Italian league will be decided in China.

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