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Serie A failed Paul Pogba

August 10, 2016 - 3:39 pm

The saga is finally over. The most talked about, most rumoured, most scrutinised transfer deal in years came to a head this week when Juventus sold Paul Pogba to Manchester United. Juve picked up a cool €105m on a player they signed for €800k four years ago, and United gain a potential world beater who can often dominate games single handedly and has only just turned 23. Everyone wins, right? Wrong.

Fans of the Bianconeri have surely been wondering, why would Pogba go back to a side that rejected him four years ago? Why leave Juventus now when Beppe Marotta and Fabio Paratici have constructed a side that has a realistic chance of winning the most coveted prize of all, the Champions League, for a team who isn’t even in the competition? The answer is money and a worldwide attention so vast that Juventus currently cannot possibly match.

Serie A has been in gradual decline for full decade now, Calciopoli started the process and the league has never recovered a fraction of its global prestige since. To give an example of how strong Serie A’s reputation was little over a decade ago, Andriy Shevchenko won the Ballon d’Or in 2004 for winning Milan the league and netting himself the Capocannoniere award despite Milan being eliminated from the Champions League at the quarter final stage. That’s simply unthinkable in the current age.

Pogba wants to win that same award and feels that he cannot achieve that whilst playing in Italy (although by the same token there has only been one Ballon d’Or winner playing in England in the last fifteen years, so maybe not the best of choices for the Frenchman in that regard).

Average attendances in the league have fluctuated ever so slightly up and down over the past ten years but have usually stayed within the 22k-24k bracket, yet this only tells part of the story. Watching Serie A games on TV can be a depressing spectacle. Neglecting the spectator aspect of the visual, the poor state of the stadiums, combined with the almost amateurish-looking production values beamed across the globe by MP & Silva, does nothing to attract viewers to watching Serie A games.

To use pro wrestling verbiage for a second, Serie A has ECW-esque production values and the Premier League is akin to Vince McMahon’s all conquering, all consuming WWE glitzy presentation. It’s a striking juxtaposition.

The decline of the past decade can be best exemplified by the Milan duo; they’ve lumbered from one disaster to the next and have been blighted with years of short-term thinking. Both failed to capitalise on Champions League success by maintaining the aging core of their squads and a failure to reinforce with younger players. Silvio Berlusconi essentially stopped pumping money into Milan ten years ago and when the older players retired or moved on, Milan plummeted.

Juventus, as everyone knows, regained their stability following the Secco years via building the J stadium. This was the key to their current run of nearly unprecedented domestic success. They have shown the rest of the teams in the league the way forward, yet no one has tried to emulate The Old Lady.

Roma announced their ambitious Stadio Della Roma in 2013 with the aim for it to be open by the beginning of this upcoming season, well over three years later and not a single brick has been laid in the capital, with the planning of the stadium still mired in bureaucratic wrangling that is Italy’s calling card. Roma president James Pallotta has said recently he hopes to have the stadium opened by 2021, eight years after it was first announced.

Half a dozen teams in the league have all announced new stadium ‘plans’ but nothing has come to fruition, Milan, Fiorentina, Napoli, Sampdoria and Cagliari have all had proposals for new or renovated stadiums stuck in political quagmires.

The building of stadiums won’t fix all of Serie A’s problems, but it will financially aid teams significantly, this in-turn will have a positive knock-on effect of driving up TV deals. On the domestic front Serie A has a very good deal. €1.2 billion a season from 2015-18, but it’s on the international deal that the league is losing serious ground, not only to the Premier League but to La Liga and the ever-growing Bundesliga. The league’s international deal is €186m for 3 years, compare that to the reported figures of €300m and €600m a season for the Bundesliga and La Liga respectively and you begin to see how behind calcio is.

In the age of social media, Juventus are also leading the way, with their website translated into several languages and their use of multimedia on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook garnering millions of followers. Upon taking over at Roma, Pallotta was amazed Roma had virtually no social media existence.

The Roma president spoke this year of club owners all working together to create an improved, more transparent league with all boats rowing in the same direction, and used the Premier League as the model to which Serie A should look up to. However most of the presidents in the league all push their own agendas, more concerned with their own team and not having the clarity to foresee the bigger picture (Claudio Lotito, Massimo Ferrero and Aurelio De Laurentiis being the prime examples). How else would a racist such as Carlo Tavecchio be appointed to look after the league’s best interests, and not be removed after the banana-comment scandal? You couldn’t make it up.

Arguably the only modern-thinking presidents are Andrea Agnelli, Pallotta and Sassuolo’s president Giorgio Squinzi. There might be fresh hope in the shape of the Suning group who has control of Inter and the new Chinese conglomerate who have an agreement to buy Milan.

So you might be asking, what has all this got to do with Paul Pogba? Pogba is a player with ambitions, and he rightly feels that plying his trade in Italy no longer matches said ambitions. Juventus, whilst currently being handcuffed by the dire straits of the rest of the league, can only give players like Pogba so much before they get itchy feet, just like Arturo Vidal before him.

The Bianconeri are like an A-list actor starring in a film with a poor supporting cast. Without Petrodollars or a Sheikh to entice players like Pogba to stay aground, their hands are ultimately tied. Serie A has failed Paul Pogba, not Juventus.

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  • Avatar
    Marc Palumbo August 10, 2016 at 5:38 pm

    I read half of the article and my takeaway is that Juventus’ chances of returning to form is based on how the 2 Milans, Napoli and Roma do for the next ~10 years. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel quite comfortable about that. Even if Pogba went to EPL to be a Ballon D’Or contender, I don’t think even being Manchester can get him as long as teams like Madrid, Barca and Bayern still run the same way. No doubt there’s marketing, but to go to EPL for Ballon D’or contention is a cop out for going for the real reason… MONEY. If it were the case, United could have signed for Pogba for much less or Pogba could have just gone to Real. I’m pretty sure he would outlive Ronaldo. Also, you think United would repeat the CR7 transfer???

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    Jas August 10, 2016 at 6:58 pm

    This is exactly what I have been saying for a while now. Even in the Pogba joining Man U post I’ve reiterated that nothing Juve did could’ve kept Pogba. The league is just so far behind the modern game in every aspect, only Juve stand as the exception. When you see the San Siro half empty majority of the season you realize how much the league is actually struggling, given all of A.C Milans prestige. These clubs are ran literally by dinosaurs!! Most of them don’t even have an online presence, there is no world tours. When have you seen Serie teams outside of Juventus visit Asia lately? There is soo much capital waiting there. Its old italian men stuck in their own ways, refusing to adapt to the world based on their own insecurities, afraid to be left behind because they don’t understand modern times. I do see some hope though, really outside of Juventus the only team doing anything meaningful seems to be Sassuolo and perhaps other few smaller teams but the rest of Serie is a shame honestly. Teams seem to be racing trying to offload their best talents for some short term capital. Look at Sampadoria and how many players they’ve just sold (eder, soriano, the other dm that went to russia). It only seems to be getting worse honestly.. I dont see why napoli isn’t building a stadium they have a solid team now is the time to push forward. The other biggest problem in serie is the lack of young talent or investment in……… Can anyone name a player besides Berardi and Rugani that actually have world class potential?? Perin maybe? Diawara maybe?? Again… this league needs an overhaul clearly the good times are over and now is time for brave owners to make brave choices.

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    elisadallomo August 10, 2016 at 10:03 pm

    I agree that Serie A is not where it should be.. certainly not at the same level it used to be. Calciopoli changed everything for the worst – except Juve, strangely enough. I think Italy in general is going through a rough patch and it’s reflected in the league. Until they get rid of the big guns at the clubs it’s going to be very difficult to see a change… but it’s gonna be even more difficult to get rid of the big guns, to be honest. We’re probably gonna have to wait until they die… or sell…

    But…… and I don’t know if I have a connection with the Juve powers that be or what because I totally called it during the Copa América scandal and my coworker said I was nuts and then had to eat his words, buuuut …. I have a hypothesis about the whole Vidal thing. I don’t think Vidal got itchy feet. Vidal was gently pushed towards making a move away from the club. Aaaaand it was for the same reasons Cáceres didn’t get a contract renewal.

    • Avatar
      Dar Black August 10, 2016 at 11:04 pm

      Agreed that Juventus management don’t tolerate anti-social conduct by players, and so Vidal was probably going to get cold shoulder treatment if he didn’t decide voluntarily to leave (which was something he wanted).

      • Avatar
        elisadallomo August 11, 2016 at 2:20 pm

        I think they probably have a strike system.. they were already miffed with the whole nightclub fight thing, specially since he alluded to it in a goal celebration, so he already had (that we know of) one strike … and then to do something so dangerous and reckless…….. I’m 85% sure he was told to look for a new club if he wanted to ’cause he wasn’t gonna get renewed. Thankfully for all three parties, BM came knocking. I hope Cáceres finds a good club with a great contract as well because he works hard. But I mostly hope they both deal with their personal issues.

    • Avatar
      Carlinho August 13, 2016 at 9:45 pm

      Yep! And the reason was …: totaling a Ferrari! 🙂

  • Avatar
    JuveMarchisio August 11, 2016 at 8:44 am

    I agree, a specially when it comes to be part of the modern ages. English clubs, looking at the latest Europa and Champions League results, are not better the German clubs. But everybody goes wild about the UK teams. In history they have a greater fame than for example Wolfsburg, but no many teams are better. The plusside for Italian teams is that they have like the UK teams a great fame. But they lack in marketing and management, the revieval of our beloved Juve,started with the new stadium. Not that a stadium is responsible for a great team, but it is responsible for a new believe, a new attitude. Italian teams should focus more on giving youth a chance. The Rugani’s, Romagnoli’s are the future, they should be given a chance to play, I hope Juve will give Rugani more chances, and I hope other teams follow that example. On the other side we are thinking to less of the Serie A, if you watched the European championship, Italian players weren’t bad at all. Guys like Eder should be given more credit, more fame, they should me more in the spotlights. A better marketing should do that trick. Look at Dybala, he is fantastic, but if you talk to a common football enthousiast, but not in special Serie A or Juve, they will hardly know anything about him. That is a real pitty. So Juve should be more exposed as well. And again show the other teams in serie the way.

  • thegutterpoet
    thegutterpoet August 11, 2016 at 10:24 am

    A welcome and well composed read. Though I am of a different opinion, on many scores. For the major reason for the success of the premier league was the huge investment made by SKY and the re-organisation of the top flight which they financed and directed. The transition from the weekly Saturday games all at 3pm with the odd Monday or Sunday fixture was completely overhauled, whilst a global marketing campaign was underway. By moving away from the traditional kick off times, the product was multiplied. Fans did not have to wait a week until the next game, they could watch top class football every day of the week and at different times with fixtures played late morning, afternoon and night. The investment was too well planned and hefty in gold and highly experienced marketing to fail and the premier league has not looked back since.

    It has become by far the most popular football product in the world, which has drawn huge investment from afar. Long before the 2006 debacle, Chelsea were transformed from a decent cup side never likely to win the title to champions elect. Similar stories appeared elsewhere and have continued to appear, yet always with foreign investors. There has been a price to pay for this. As well as the riches on offer drawing to england a multitude of foreigners eager for gold. Clubs have lost their soul, their identity and the national team has been poor since 96, the last time we looked like a top side brimming with passion, pride and talent.

    The high octane spectacle of english football remains exciting, and often more exciting to the masses than the more tactical approach of Serie A. The economic horrors of Italy have also contributed to the growing disparity, for players are drawn to where there is more money. Absent of the huge foreign investment (which seems slowly creeping into Serie A) the league stood no chance. Yet that was more down to the SKY project been focused on England as much as the ever worsening economic downturn and crisis nationwide, well beyond the confines of football in the peninsula.

    Tavecchio seems more ignorant than seriously racist, yet it is laughable that he was allowed to take the top spot, given his comments. That in itself sends a message to coloured players that whether unintentionally awful or otherwise, such comments are acceptable at the top of the league structure.

    Part of Pogba’s thinking may have been that he was convinced that Mourinho, not the premier league, could help improve him as a player and become the world’s best. For the same reason that some players wish to play under Guardiola. They are superstar managers of our era and only a half wit would suggest that Pogba improved in any way last season. Which I do not see as a failure on anyone’s part but the player himself, and to move now, become part of what Mourinho is clearly selling as a project with infinite resources, staggering global reach and one of the greatest managers of all time at the helm, as well as the immense wealth on offer, was too good to refuse.

    And our own success has come from the decision to invest substantially, yes in the infrastructure but also the playing squad and through putting the right people in the right roles in upper management. Beppe and Fabio have been more responsible for our success and return to the elite than any other part of that management structure. The amount of wonderful players signed for very reasonable fees is outstanding. And now we find ourselves taking the next step, moving from cunning signings on the cheap which come good to plundering huge signings alongside the likes of other top clubs. I shall wait to see how the new side forms. I dislike too much change, but we have not lost as much as we did last Summer and we have signed better players and finally we have not succumbed to the same horrid injury issues.

    Our future remains very bright indeed.

  • Avatar
    Dar Black August 11, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    A great piece on the state of Italian football, but I think it’s way off the mark with the accusation that Serie A let Pogba down. Just to add that you missed out the negative influence if ultra culture and the violence that surrounds it. You can’t underestimate the damage that football violence and thuggery does to attendance figures by wiping out a family friendly environment, and the reduction in ticket sales that brings. The EPL could NEVER have existed and become so successful until the authorities tightened their belts and set about destroying that culture in England that had and was killing our game.

    The absurd faux north/south club rivalries that are promoted by ultras and indeed club owners down south are destructive, and fanning the flames of these hatreds deliberately by some club owners to entrench their power base amongst the clubs fans needs to stop – now. If I recall our own TGP had a spat on The Guardian newspaper website with someone who had posted an article explaining Ultra culture in an attempt to both glorify and justify it. A lot of work still needs to be done by the FIGC on this.

    I remember the banners that used to hang in the old Delle Alpi;
    la violenza è stupido.. and so it is.

  • Avatar
    Moderator August 11, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    Herein lies the beauty of the such an article – I agree with much of Emmet has written, but there are very strong arguments to be made that it was Pogba himself (and other factors) that let him down.

    Time to dip into some of these replies and read the contrasting views…