New Juventus stadium, old Serie A problems

MILAN - A new stadium for Juventus and AS Roma's ambitious plans to imitate Barcelona's playing style have injected welcome optimism yet Serie A remains beset by old, familiar problems.

Atalanta will begin the new season next week with minus six points for their part in the latest match-fixing scandal, Juventus are still bickering over the 2006 title and there is a risk that a players' strike will delay the league's start.

Decrepit stadiums, crowd violence and scandals have combined to drain Italian football's credibility over the last few seasons and Serie A has fallen way behind the English Premier League and Spain's La Liga in terms of prestige.

This season Italian teams will be playing for only two direct Champions League places instead of the previous three, having fallen below Germany to fourth place in the UEFA co-efficient which decides the allocation of berths.

Juventus will open their new stadium in September and, in many ways, it is ground-breaking - not least because they own it, the only Serie A side to enjoy that privilege.

While their rivals, including title holders AC Milan, continue renting out municipal stadiums, Juventus will be able to use their ground for other events to generate income.

It also gives them an advantage under UEFA's new Financial Fair Play policy, which bans clubs from spending more than their generated revenue but exempts money invested in stadiums from the calculation.

The stadium has been built on the site of the old Stadio delle Alpi. Its capacity of 41,000 is around half that of its predecessor and with no running track to distance the fans from the pitch, the club hopes it will provide an inspirational atmosphere.

"The new stadium will allow us to return to the highest level, not only in Italy but in Europe as well," said former CEO Jean-Claude Blanc, who remains on the board of directors.

"The key word is planning. We bought the old Delle Alpi 10 years ago now and we focused on saving the club after Calciopoli [match-fixing scandal]. Despite Italy not getting to host Euro 2012, we did not give up on the project.

"Inter and Milan are lucky enough to have a great stadium with a huge capacity but it is not a decisive factor in their turnover. Our stadium is ready and will help us generate a lot of revenue even if it will take time."

Juventus have never fully recovered from being stripped of the 2005 and 2006 titles in the Calciopoli scandal, and they have spent heavily in the transfer market.

They splashed out 37 million euros to sign previously loaned players Alessandro Matri, Fabio Quagliarella, Simone Pepe and Marco Motta, then strengthened the midfield with the signing of Chile's versatile Arturo Vidal.

They added Montenegro striker Mirko Vucinic from Roma for 15 million and replaced coach Luigi Delneri with former midfielder Antonio Conte in their bid to improve on last season's seventh place.

Roma have been rebuilding with new coach Luis Enrique hoping to use his Barcelona playing experience to mould them into a team with a similar style to the Catalans.

"When I spoke to the directors during contract negotiations, they told me the idea was to have an attractive side," he told reporters. "We'll see after a few months if we've achieved this but I don't know another way of playing."

LAMELA SIGNING

As a statement of intent, they signed 19-year-old Argentine Erik Lamela, a tall, elegant midfielder regarded as one of his country's brightest prospects, from River Plate.

Serie A has also allowed clubs to sign two non-EU players instead of one in a bid to make the league more enticing.

"The return of the two non-EU players is important for Italian football and to revive the competitiveness of the squads," said Serie A president Maurizio Beretta.

However, they have not managed to lure any big names, with Argentina's Sergio Aguero preferring Manchester City to Juventus.

All this has gone on against the usual backdrop of bickering, suggesting that a long, rocky road lies ahead for Italian football.

Juventus have promised to fight on in their attempt to have the 2006 Serie A title wrested from Inter after a Napoli court investigating the case heard evidence of more widespread attempts involving Inter to influence the selection of referees.

The Italian federation said it did not have the power to revoke the decision which stripped Juventus of the title.

A more recent match-fixing scandal has resulted in a six-point deduction for promoted Atalanta and a three-and-a-half-year ban for their veteran captain Cristiano Doni.

Of more immediate concern is a threat by the Italian Players' Union to strike if a new collective agreement guaranteeing players' rights is not signed by the league before the opening weekend of August 27/28.

Strike action was narrowly averted twice last season after negotiations stalled in the year-long dispute.

A new "solidarity contribution" tax announced by the Italian government this month, to be paid by anyone earning more than 90,000 euros a year, has also added to the discord.

The players and the clubs say each other should pay this while right-wing cabinet minister Roberto Calderoli described the players as "spoiled."


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