During the 1990s, Italy was the epicenter of the world’s best football. Serie A, with such teams as AC Milan, Juventus, Napoli, Roma, and Inter Milan took over Europe with their dazzling play. Tactically, these teams were smooth on the ball offensively but their outstanding defense was the main reason for their winning ways. Throughout this decade, Italian teams all combined to have an astounding 21 appearances in both the European and UEFA Cup Finals. If one wanted to prove himself as the world’s best, Italy was the prime destination to go. From having such players as Zinedine Zidane, Ruud Gullit, Hernan Crespo and other stars playing week in and week out in Serie A, the Italian league made the rest of Europe look totally inferior.
However, when the mid-2000s came along, Italian football was beginning to fall down the ranks and soon enough, it lost what made it so great. There are several reasons for this, from the Premier League’s monopoly of TV deals which has seen the English league gain billions of dollars to Spanish football staking its claim as Europe’s best with Real Madrid and Barcelona outclassing the rest of Europe. But the true downfall of Italian football can be pinpointed with one disaster: the Calciopoli (match-fixing) scandal in 2006.
The scandal, which involved AC Milan, Juventus, and Fiorentina amongst others, revealed that these teams fixed matches with favorable referees to get the desired results. Juventus was the worst offender and suffered punishments ranging from stripped titles to instant relegation to the second division. This saw the team’s reputation suffer immensely and it still leaves a black eye on the legacy of one of the world’s best teams. Besides the teams that were punished, Serie A lost many of their best talents and the on-pitch quality of the league plummeted. Former Italian giants AC and Inter Milan have both fallen into mid-table mediocrity and Juventus are the only true European heavyweights of the division. It seemed that the chance for Italian football to reclaim the spotlight of the world was never going to come.
But yesterday the spotlight was back as the football world stood in awe as Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Turin to play for Juventus in a $100 million-plus move for the 33-year old. What seemed like a run of the mill rumor turned into one of the biggest news in the history of Italian football. Ronaldo’s famous number 7 jersey has already flown off the shelves in Turin and there is serious hype for the upcoming Juventus season.
Ronaldo is widely considered one of the best players in the world and it is hard to argue otherwise. From his five Ballon D’ors to his five Champions League titles of which he has won three in a row, the Portuguese forward is as proven a superstar than one can find. From starring for both Manchester United and Madrid, he now wants to stake his dominance in another top European league. Having this sort of superstar who can score at a moment’s notice can push Juventus into finally breaking their Champions League hex which has haunted the club. But beyond serving Juventus with loads of goals and possible European trophies, Ronaldo will help save Serie A.
This superstar power has been lacking in the Italian league ever since the scandal that shook the country was brought to light a decade ago. Ever since then, superstars have avoided the league like the plague. But now, Ronaldo’s move to Juventus will instantly boost the credibility of both Juventus but also the teams in the league. While some believe Ronaldo can do more harm than good for the league through his presence already boosting a fantastic Juventus team, this will not be the case.
Soon enough, the world’s elite will want to prove their worth in the Mediterranean country, just like the stars of 1990s Italian football fame. They will want to take down Ronaldo and Juventus by perhaps moving to a Roma or a Napoli or even a Lazio. With more star power, there will be more competition between the teams in Serie A which can potentially lead to another golden football age in Italy. Yesterday could mark the moment that Italian football is truly back in the global football landscape.