Italian clubs plan their own Premier League

May 3, 2009
Jonathan Harwood

The big guns of Serie A have voted to break away from Serie B - but where does that leave Italian football below the top tier?

The Premier League's stranglehold on European football continues with three of the four semi-finalists in this year's competition hailing from England - and the very real prospect of a second consecutive all English final.

Nowhere is the pain of this domination felt more keenly than in Italy. The Azzuri - the national team - won the World Cup in 2006, but instead of standing proud at the summit of the game, Italy's club sides have failed to stamp their authority on the rest of Europe.

But now the top Italian clubs have hatched a plan that they hope will allow them to challenge the Premier League, by aping its structure.

Last week 19 of the 20 teams in Serie A voted to break away from the rest of the league and form their own competition.

Unsurprisingly the decision was based on money, and in particular the distribution of TV revenue. At present Italian clubs are allowed to negotiate their own deals, and contribute a set amount to the second tier. Traditionally this stood at around 20 per cent of the total.

But from the 2010/11 season the rights will be sold collectively, meaning a drop in income for the bigger clubs. To offset that loss they lobbied for an end of the payments to Serie B, and when no deal could be reached they elected to break away and form the new Lega Calcio Serie A.

"We have created a new league for Serie A," Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini announced last week. "This time it's for real. I'm not happy but it was necessary."

The deal may allow the top flight to maximise its revenues and challenge the Premier League in terms of financial clout - but it could equally undermine the future of Italian football.

One major and significant difference between Italy and England is the strength of football below the top tier in England. Clubs in the third division can still pull in crowds of 20,000, and the Championship could quite reasonably claim to be one of the top 10 league's in Europe.

Not so in Italy. Serie B is the only other professional league in the country and and its attendances are only a third of those in England. For years the smaller clubs have been kept afloat by payments from Serie A. Indeed Serie B had no TV deal last season and only secured one on the eve of this season.

Cutting the league adrift puts it in danger of going under, and that will leave young Italian players without a route to the top.

And unless the bigger clubs invest in youth programmes they will be building their castles on sand. The likes of Juventus, Milan and Inter will be able to tackle the Premier League's Big Four financially - but where will they find their homegrown talent?

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