Italian federation boss tasked with introducing B teams into Serie C
New Italian Football Federation boss Gabriele Gravina will have just two years in office to make a difference – a time-frame considered far too short by ex-Milan star Demetrio Albertini, who has been active in football politics for over a decade.
A deputy president of the federation from 2007 to 2014, Albertini argues that much longer is needed for meaningful change, and he is probably right, but at least Gravina will be able to oversee the completion of one reform already started, namely the creation of Serie A “seconde squadre” (reserve or B teams) playing in Serie C this season.
Italian clubs have always used their under-19 Primavera sides as a sort of reserve team, but a problem comes with what to do when a player turns 19 but is judged not yet ready to join the first-team squad. In another culture the player might be thrown into the senior squad on a sink-or-swim basis, but that is not always the Italian way, with coaches much slower to blood young talent.
Until now, such players have either been sold – with a buy-back option – or loaned out. If all goes well, the player gets invaluable, genuinely competitive
experience so that if and when he returns to his Serie A club he is a more valuable player, both on the pitch and in the transfer market.
A buy-back option is fundamental. Take Roma and Italy international Lorenzo Pellegrini, who at 22 is one of the brightest stars in the Italian game. In June 2015, at 19, he was sold by Roma – where he had been since the age of nine – to Serie A side Sassuolo for a reported € 1.25million with a first option, buy-back clause of € 10m. Two summers later, having proved himself a more than useful player in 47 Serie A appearances for Sassuolo, he rejoined Roma.
But was that bad business, as Roma had spent € 8.75m to buy back their own player, one who they had originally nurtured and developed?
At first glance this clearly looks the case. Yet in order to persuade a Serie A rival to take on a player like this you have to offer some sort of incentive, otherwise there is a risk that the club will take your young player and leave him on the subs’ bench all season. They will argue that if they do make good use of a promising player, and in the process increase his market value, there is nothing financial in it for them, whatever his on-field contribution to their cause. With a buy-back clause, the smaller club has a serious financial incentive to make a good job of developing the young talent.
The idea of the seconde squadre is to avoid this situation and allow the big clubs to hold on to their youth-team talents rather than sending them off to the provinces for competitive football.
An alternative would be for the big clubs to either buy a Serie C club or come to an arrangement with one. But not everyone can afford to buy a feeder club, while such “arrangements” could run foul of federation regulations.
With B teams playing in the tough and very real environment of Serie C, clubs can look after their own players’ development and ensure they get that desperately needed experience. They have much greater control over the destiny of budding youngsters who, if they develop well, can be introduced into the first-team squad at no cost.
That, at least, is the theory. So far the practice has proved rather different, with only Juventus under-23s opting to play in Serie C.
Other clubs have adopted a wait-andsee attitude, with many arguing that the decision to allow Serie A reserve sides to enrol in Serie C has come too late, leaving them with not enough time to put together the relevant infrastructure of a B team, including coaching staff, training facilities and a stadium.
Juventus under-23s are playing their home games at the 8,000-capacity Stadio Moccagatta in Alessandria, a stadium owned by the municipality of Alessandria and until this season used exclusively by Serie C team Alessandria, who were members of the top flight in the 1930s. Obviously, you are not going to stage reserve-team games in 70,000plus seater stadia such as San Siro in MIlan or Rome’s Olimpico.
Albertini argues that the B-team project needs time to be assessed, but adds: “I would be very surprised if other clubs did not sign up for it.”
Underlining his words came a promise from Torino owner Urban Cairo, speaking at a Gazzetta dello Sport- organised forum in October, to the effect that “next year, Torino too will have a B team”.
If Albertini is right, and if Cairo keeps his word, then others may follow the Juventus and Torino example.
For Gravina the seconde squadre concept offers a useful opportunity to prove that he means business when he speaks of reforming Italian football.
“I would be very surprised if other clubs did not sign up for it” Demetrio Albertini
Serie C...Juventus under-23 Matheus Pereira in action against Pro Patria
Support...Demetrio Albertini (left) and Gabriele Gravina