HOW DID IT COME TO THIS?

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - ANDREW DAMPF

ROME — The best play­ers in the world go else­where. The best coaches in Italy em­i­grate. Sta­di­ums coun­try­wide are fall­ing apart.

The lin­ger­ing prob­lems af­fect­ing Italy’s do­mes­tic foot­ball league might just be the rea­son for the coun­try’s fail­ure to qual­ify for next year’s World Cup.

“It’s time to make choices that per­haps in the past peo­ple didn’t have the courage to make,” Ital­ian Sports Min­is­ter Luca Lotti said. “This world needs to be re­vised from youth lev­els on up to Serie A.”

The Ital­ian league was once where the likes of Diego Maradona, Marco van Bas­ten and Ruud Gul­lit came to play in the primes of their ca­reers. It’s where Kaka won the Bal­lon d’Or award with AC Mi­lan in 2007 — the last time any­one be­sides Lionel Messi or Cris­tiano Ron­aldo claimed the hon­our.

Para­dox­i­cally, the start of Italy’s de­cline can be traced back to 2006 — the year Italy won its fourth World Cup. That was also the year of the “Cal­ciopoli” ref­er­ee­ing scan­dal that saw Ju­ven­tus stripped of two Serie A ti­tles and rel­e­gated to the sec­ond di­vi­sion as pun­ish­ment.

A num­ber of top play­ers left Ju­ven­tus af­ter the scan­dal and the “Old Lady” of Ital­ian soc­cer re­quired half a dozen years to re­cover.

In the mean­time, the Pre­mier League emerged as the sport’s rich­est do­mes­tic com­pe­ti­tion while Italy was elim­i­nated in the first round of the past two World Cups.

The Pre­mier League is where for­mer Italy coach An­to­nio Conte now man­ages at Chelsea, hav­ing won the league in his first sea­son. It’s where Carlo An­celotti and Roberto Mancini also won ti­tles at Chelsea and Manch­ester City, re­spec­tively.

Fabio Capello coached Eng­land from 2008-12 and said he would never be in­ter­ested in lead­ing Italy’s na­tional team.

Any Ital­ian coach who moves to Eng­land raves about the fa­cil­i­ties there and the packed sta­di­ums. It’s the com­plete op­po­site of Serie A, where most of the big squads play in di­lap­i­dated sta­di­ums that were last ren­o­vated for the 1990 World Cup, the last ma­jor tour­na­ment that Italy hosted.

Of Italy’s six big­gest clubs — Ju­ven­tus, Mi­lan, In­ter Mi­lan, Roma, Lazio and Napoli — only Ju­ven­tus has a new sta­dium it op­er­ates on its own. Mi­lan and In­ter play in the city-run San Siro, Roma and Lazio play in the Sta­dio Olimpico run by the Olympic com­mit­tee and Napoli plays in the crum­bling San Paolo Sta­dium.

Com­pli­cated laws and a lack of fund­ing have pre­vented clubs from build­ing new sta­di­ums. In 2014, the Amer­i­can own­ers of Roma pre­sented plans for a new sta­dium, but haven’t been able to break ground due to bu­reau­cratic de­lays.

“In the years of the fat cows, when the big re­sults were com­ing in, if there had been at­ten­tion, fore­sight and logic, prob­a­bly all of the clubs would have a sta­dium of their own,” said Ital­ian Olympic Com­mit­tee pres­i­dent Gio­vanni Malago, who over­sees all of Italy’s sports.

Al­though Italy is no longer the draw it was once for the best in the world, it still has a large con­tin­gent of for­eign-born play­ers. And that is stunt­ing the de­vel­op­ment of the coun­try’s tal­ent.

With cap­tain Gian­luigi Buf­fon, de­fender An­drea Barza­gli and mid­fielder Daniele De Rossi hav­ing an­nounced their in­ter­na­tional re­tire­ments, Italy needs a new gen­er­a­tion of Az­zurri to step up. And younger play­ers need space in an im­proved Serie A to be­come com­pet­i­tive.

LUCA BRUNO, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Italy’s Ciro Im­mo­bile, fore­ground, and An­drea Belotti, seated left, re­act to their team’s elim­i­na­tion from next year’s World Cup on Mon­day in Mi­lan.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

In the glory days, Paolo Rossi cel­e­brated scor­ing his sec­ond goal for Italy against Brazil July 5, 1982, en route to a World Cup vic­tory over Ger­many.

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