mercoledì 16 ottobre 2013

John Foot: Serie A is still the best league to watch

 
Exclusive interview with the author of "A History of Italian Football", columnist of The Guardian and professor of Italian History at University of London

Professor Foot, how did  you get to love and study Italian soccer?I moved to Milan in 1987 to work on my PhD (world war one in Milan) and I started watching Serie A and going to San Siro. Those were the years of the great Milan team. It was extremely exciting.

Parochialism is something that is deeply ingrained in Italian culture, and fans sing chants against Naples, Milan, or Rome every Sunday: what do you think about this year's decision to disqualify the groups of fans that sing chants that are defined by the sporting judge as “territorial discrimination?”
I don’t think this is particularly helpful, as these chants have been going on for years and nobody has done anything about them. The important battle is the one against racism. The ultra, however, tend to get what they want. If they win this battle they may also undermine the struggle against racism, which has been a big problem for a long time.

The crisis of Italian soccer after the 2000s is self-evident. Yet, Serie A, after the Premier League, according to Unibet's data, is still the most followed league on TV and the one that earns more money from TV rights: do you think Serie A still lives off from its glory days in the 90s or do you see signs of a recovery?
I think things are slowly – very slowly – starting to change. The stadiums are still a big problem, but Juve have started a trend. The football itself is very entertaining and there are lots of good young players and coaches. However, there are still serious structural problems – the ultra, the old stadiums, violence, corruption, match-fixing, conspiracy theorizing. There is a long way to go. Foreign ownership will be interesting, as with Inter.

Do you think it's still possible for a kid from Indonesia or Singapore to fall in love with Italian soccer? What are the aspects that, in your opinion, still make Serie A an interesting league for a foreign audience, especially outside of Europe?
Yes, it is possible. Italian football is the most technical, the most tactical, the place where tactical and technical innovations are tried out time and time again, and also the most passionate and crazy. The best defenders are in Serie A. All of this makes it still the best league to watch. It may not have the most goals, but goals do not make a good football game. But Italian teams need to start winning again in Europe to challenger more on the global front.

How's Italian soccer seen in England?
For years it has been marginalized. It has been difficult to see it on TV. This year, more of the games are available. There has been a globalization of football watching, and I think Italian football is moving out of the ghetto in that sense. There are still stereotypes of course but most people who understand something about football are interested in Serie A.

After two years of Juventus' dominance, do you think the fight this year's title will be more competitive? What are the teams that could break Juventus' dominance?
I assumed that Juve would win easily this year – with Tevez and so on. I am very surprised by Roma. Inter look stronger than last year. Fiorentina are competitive. Juve will still win I think but things are very fluid. I don’t think Roma will be able to keep this up for the whole season but they are playing extraordinary football so far. I predict that the referees will have a say at some point.

Roma's American investors, and now the Indonesian Erick Thohir at Inter: among a lot of diffidence, Italian soccer is opening up to foreign investment too. Is this the road to Italian soccer's revival?
It could be, but this can also create a lot of problems – detachment from history and tradition, short-termism etc. However, if these foreign investors can overcome the problems in the system and also the issue with the stadiums, I think they will have an important impact. Italian football desparetly needs to compete financially. It is way behind Germany, Spain and the Premiership in this sense at the moment.

From  Ravanelli, Vialli and Zola, to Balotelli and today, Giaccherini. And the coaches, De Canio, Ancelotti, Mancini and Capello as manager of a national team. How did Italian players and coaches contribute to the Premier League?
For a time we were so lucky, as all the fantasisti came to the Premiership (after being squeezed out be excessive pressing games in Italy) – Zola above all, who was fantastic. I think the Italian players brought high technical levels of skill and the managers had high levels of tactical sophistication. It’s a shame Capello left before the European championships. He should have seen the job through. Balotelli was huge in media terms, and he won a championship, but he was unhappy and this showed on the field. Ancelotti was very harshly treated, as was Mancini. Di Canio simply wasn’t ready for a big club.

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