In recent years the idea that Serie A should be reduced from 20 sides to 18, in a bid to make the league more competitive, has been gathering more and more momentum – particularly given the relentless domestic dominance of Juventus, Italy’s failure to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the inability of Italian sides to produce on the European stage and the continued presence of minnows like Benevento and Frosinone in the division.
In 2016 Carlo Tavecchio, the then FIGC president, proposed the plans as a way for the Serie A to close the gap with the likes of the Premier League and La Liga and the notion has gathered support since, as Italian football has experienced somewhat of a lull on the continental and global stage over the past decade.
Though there are numerous factors which can be attributed to this: the financial influx into the English game, the emphatic ascendancy of Spanish football, the cyclical nature of footballing success, there is evidence which coincides with the expansion of Serie A and its clubs’ failures abroad.
For example, in the 16 seasons between 1988 and 2004, when the league consisted of 18 clubs, Italy had more teams appear in the European Cup/Champions League final than any other nation (11). However, in the 14 seasons since, they have had just five finalists – half the number of Spanish teams and four fewer than England.
Similarly, though opinions of the UEFA Cup/Europa League differ, it is a good barometer in gauging the depth of a league’s strength and, again, there are striking contrasts in the stats. In the 16 seasons between 1988 and 2004 Italian sides reached the final on 13 occasions, in the fourteen seasons since, where there have been 20 teams in Serie A, no side has reached the final.
Now, one could argue that success comes in cycles and after a period of sustained supremacy, there will inevitably be a dip. In the 1970s and early ‘80s English sides were dominating European football, in the ‘90s it was Italy, now it is Spain, this pattern could almost be natural, and it may be only a matter of time before it swings back round to Italy. Yet, if Italian sides want to accelerate this process and close the gap back to Europe’s elite, a reduction in the number of teams in the league would only be beneficial.
If you have a glass of squash, for example, and you were to fill it up with water, the more water you add, the weaker the drink will be. In essence, this is applicable to Serie A. By adding two more teams from the lower divisions they have diluted the league making the overall quality weaker. By reducing the number back to 18 it stands to reason the quality and competitiveness will improve.
In the Bundesliga, they already have 18 teams and there has been talk in recent years of wanting to reduce this to 16, as is the desire to further improve the quality. It is difficult to argue the presence of teams such as Benevento and Frosinone in Serie A do anything to further the quality of the division.
A reduced number of teams would also result in a less congested fixture list which would allow for more recovery time, reducing the risk of over-exertion and injuries, and mean better preparation for upcoming fixtures.
Unfortunately, it would mean for fans of smaller clubs there is less chance of seeing their sides play in the top-flight, but if Italy are serious about bridging the gap to the rest of Europe, a reduction in the number of teams seems an obvious way of starting this process.