Date: 17th October 2011 at 9:24am
Written by:

The 2006 Calciopoli trial rocked Calcio and was undoubtedly one of the biggest scandals in the history of football. The subsequent demotion of Juventus ended the national dominance of the Bianconerri and re-shaped the balance of power within the Italian game.

Even now, five years on, the issue is far from resolved, as Juve continue to appeal against the sentences given against them and demand a re-trial, claiming to have evidence implicating that Inter- the main beneficiaries of the initial verdicts- were just as guilty of trying to influence referees (though clearly, if that is the case, without as much success) as Juventus.

It is still unclear as to exactly when, if ever, this case will be resolved. It would probably be best for Calcio if a definitive conclusion could be reached, as the constant reminders of Calciopoli merely serve to tarnish the reputation of the Italian game on a global scale.

Unfortunately, due to the strong feelings of both clubs involved, this is unlikely to happen. Juventus remain adamant they were harshly punished, and though not entirely innocent, were no more guilty than others involved, whereas Inter maintain they were the main victims of referee bias and therefore justice was done.

Rather than get bogged down in the politics of the issue, and instead looking at the effects of Calciopoli on a broader scale, it could easily be argued that, despite its negative nature, it has had a positive effect on Serie A as a whole. Although the immediate aftermath saw Inter go on to win four consecutive titles on the pitch, we are now seeing the most competitive league that Italy has had in a very long time.

In the years preceding Calciopoli, Serie A was indeed becoming a two horse race year in, year out. In the 14 seasons prior to 2006, AC Milan and Juventus took home six titles apiece. Only a brief rally from the Capital clubs (Lazio 99-2000 – Roma 00-2001) broke the monotony, but neither were able to repeat their success. In fact Lazio, having vastly overspent to claim the Scudetto, put themselves into a severe financial crisis and are only just beginning to recover and become a genuine force once more.

Had this trend continued, the gulf in class between Milan and Juve, in comparison to the rest of the league, would have only become greater, as financial rewards, particularly in Europe, rose at a staggering rate. This is evident when looking at La Liga, where the continued dominance of Real Madrid and Barcelona has resulted in the Spanish top flight becoming nothing more than a superior version of the Scottish Premier League.

Although it could easily be argued that Barca and Real are the two strongest teams in the world at this time, it is hard to give them too much credit for their domestic success, as there is no real competition within their league. We regularly see scorelines reflecting this, as the Spanish Heavyweights win by margins of four or five goals, home or away.

While this may be wonderful for the fans of the Capital or Catalan sides, it must be soul-destroying for the other teams involved, knowing that the best they can hope for is third place. Even the thought of a cup run is out of the question for most of La Liga’s representatives, as the bench-warmers of Real and Barca are still superior to their starting 11’s.

Statistics show just how large the gap in Spain is becoming. In the last four seasons the closest anyone has got to the ‘Big Two’ was in 2008-9, when Sevilla finished third, but were still 17 points adrift of winners Barcelona. In the last two seasons, the gap has widened significantly, with the deficit being 28 and 25 points in 2009-10 and 2010-11 respectively. Some serious reconstruction is needed within La Liga to avoid it becoming pointless.

Fortunately, teams within Serie A would now appear to be competing on much more of a level playing field, more comparable to the leagues of Germany and France, where the points gap separating the top five teams is less than 20. In recent seasons, we have seen different title winners year after year- Lille, Bordeaux, Lyon in France, Bayern Munich, Dortmund, Wolfsburg in Germany- and many others getting close.

For the fans and players involved, this adds a true feeling of excitement at the start of each season, knowing that success is not just a possibility for the chosen few. Even with their far superior television revenue and wealth of Billionaire owners, the English Premier League remains similarly competitive within its top five or six teams, which is why it is so exciting to watch.

Going back to Italy, it would now seem that we have at least four or five teams capable of sustaining a title challenge, with others not too far behind. Despite winning five Scudetti and a Champions League trophy, Inter Milan were unable to distance themselves too greatly from the chasing pack. This was probably due, rather ironically, to owner Massimmo Moratti’s huge ‘shopping sprees’ in the years prior to Calciopoli itself. This lavish spending left Inter heavily in debt, and the club have therefore had to use the money gained from those victories to balance the books, especially with financial fair play around the corner.

Looking into the future, it would be fair to say that Inter, Milan, Juve and Napoli all feel that they can compete for the Scudetto this season, and closely following them would be Udinese, Roma, Lazio, Fiorentina and Palermo. If all of these teams can continue to improve (none are in any majorly significant financial difficulties any more) it can only benefit Calcio, both on the domestic front and abroad, and it will surely only be a matter of time before Serie A is back where it belongs at the top of European Football.

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