Monday, 21 October 2013

Italy's North/South Divide and Its Effect on Italian Football

As a student studying in Italy I knew to some extent of how big a divide there is between the north of the country and the south. In fact, I found that almost everyone seemed to know about it as I prepared myself for a year in Florence, all the while being told repeated nuggets of information about the country's sorry state of affairs both financially and politically. Everyone knew about this dichotomy and everyone accepted it. That was just the way it was and the way it had always been. Well, at least for the last century or so. I wanted to take a closer look at this disparity within the country and also to see the effect that this might consequently have on football played in Italy, from club level right through to the national team.

Italy is with all respects in a pretty terrible situation and there are a number of reasons why Italy is still in this current state. For starters the country is in its longest economical slump since records began in 1970. The fact that there has been a failure of nearly every single Italian government to bridge the divide in the country is probably the No.1 catalyst for the poor climate Italy is currently experiencing. The economic disparity between the north and south is quite shocking and this does not look like narrowing any time soon what with the still very dominant presence of organised crime in regions such as Sicily, Calabria and Campania in the south.

In the last decade or so, 700,000 people have left from the 'mezzogiorno', (a commonly used name for the south of Italy, which literally means 'the middle of the day') in order to seek work in the northern regions of the country. They see opportunity and hope in more industrial and promising cities like Turin and Milan. There were 122,000 people who made this journey in 2008 alone. The fact of the matter is that economic crises hit the south much harder than the north, they are simply just not as well prepared and as secure in these areas as the north are. Quite astonishingly, only a 1/3 of the country live in the 'south' and yet half of Italy's 1.9 million unemployed come from there.

Italy may have been reunited since 1861 with the Risorgimento and the help of Garibaldi but it certainly doesn't feel like a reunification. The 'industrial' north cannot help but look down on the 'unclean, uneducated' south without a certain level of condescension. This fissure has evidently translated into all parts of Italian society and indeed football is no different. Since 1929 and the making of Serie A, Italy's top football division, has been dominated continuously by the north. The teams from Italy's industrial triangle: Torino, Juventus, Milan, Inter, Genoa and Sampdoria, have taken 81 out of the possible 108 scuddetti (titles) possible in the history of Italian football. This is in comparison with Roma (whilst Rome is the capital of Italy it is perceived by many as part of the south, indeed practically anything south of Tuscany is counted as fairly 'southern') who have won 3 titles, the most out of any southern Italian football team. A figure undoubtedly dwarfed by Juventus' 29, Milan and Inter's joint effort of 18 each and Genoa with a respectable 9 after they dominated Italian football in its early years.

No city south of Rome had won a scudetto until Maradona arrived on the peninsula in Naples in the late 1980's. But not even Maradona could really make much difference on the still ever present divide. If we look at Serie A, the top 20 teams with the most seasons in the league are predominantly northern with only 5 of that 20 coming from teams in the south. We count Cagliari as southern in this case even though they are from Sardinia because Sardinia, being an island that is separated from mainland Italy, like Sicily, therefore has its very own characteristics and also due to high levels of tourism has its very own southern feel to it.

Maradona transforming Napoli

Italy has the feel of two different countries, continents even. Only the name and the flag seem to be what's tying these two areas together. Though even then the flag is a very rare phenomenon seen in the Bel Paese. Even during events such as the World Cup. This territorial discrimination easily translates to the football pitch and to the many curvas around Italy where fans use any chance they have to rip into their team's rivals with slogans and chants.

Indeed a legal precedent has been made this season nearly a month ago when Milan played Napoli at the San Siro. Milan fans were charged after the game with racist abuse towards Napoli. But, of the 14 players that took part on the field for Napoli 13 were white whilst only 1, Zuniga, was of mixed race. To make matters even more bizarre, Zuniga was not even the player that was being targeted by Milan fans. The discrimination was a territorial one. Milanese supporters were abusing Neapolitans and the people of Naples and even then the only player out of the 14 that represented Napoli that day from Naples was Lorenzo Insigne.

The main Curva at the San Siro

Now I don't want to enter into any argument about whether this is racism or not or even whether it deserves punishment that the Italian authorities felt it did. This is not a solitary case and territorial rivalry and discrimination such as this has long graced the stadiums of Italy. It is not uncommon for teams from the south to travel for away games in the north and be greeted by slogans and messages in the crowd saying 'Welcome to Italy!' or 'Versuvius, make us dream!' (in reference to the volcano that overlooks the city of Naples and the hope that it will erupt to wipe out the city.) Of course the south too are just as keen to throw it back and their northern compatriots.

Moving away from actions taking place off the pitch and focusing once again to actions on it. Of the 20 teams playing in Serie A this season 15 are from what I will call the north and the other 5 are from the south (including the Sardinian outfit Cagliari). I described earlier what I deem to be the north and south divide in Italy. Serie B this year seems to be much more spread in contrast and of the 22 teams participating this season the make up of northern and southern teams is about 50/50. If we compare Serie A to the English Premier League and the geographical locations of its football clubs you will find a much bigger diversity, with English sides coming from all over the country. As is the same in the other big leagues in Europe where there is no real correlation between the teams' geographical location in either France, Spain or Germany.

Location of Serie A clubs 2013-14
Location of English Premiership clubs 2013-14

Location of German Bundesliga clubs 2013-14
Location of Ligue 1 clubs 2013-14

Italy’s 3rd tier of football is called the Lega Pro Prima divisione, or put simply: Serie C. Serie C is split into two levels with Girone A and Girone B. Girone A has the teams from the northern part of Italy whilst B has teams from the south. 2 teams are promoted to Serie B from each Girone each season. Thus, this is able to give us an excellent gauge between how teams from A or B fare when they make the jump to the higher division since they are directly being pitted against one another. I looked at the last 10 seasons in the hope of finding if there was some correlation as to whether teams from the south perform better or worse when mixed with the rest of the country and the results were pretty telling:

A table to show how the teams fared upon promotion to Serie B:

Girone A (North)                                                        Girone B (South)

Season 03/04                                                              

Treviso 15th                                                                  Avellino 23rd (Relegated)
Albinoleffe 18th                                                             Pescara 24th  (Relegated)

Out of 24 teams in Serie B, 12 from north + 12 from south.


A.C Arezzo 14th                                                           Cantanzaro 21st *
A.C Cesena 15th                                                          Crotone 16th

*Cantanzaro not relegated due to other teams falling into financial trouble and consequently being relegated.
22 teams, 13 from north + 9 from south.


Cremonense 21st (Relegated)                                        Rimini 17th
Mantova 4th (Play-offs)                                                 Avellino 19th (Relegated)

22 teams, 15 from north + 7 from south.


Spezia 19th (Relegation play-offs)                                 Napoli 2nd (Promoted)
Genoa 3rd (Promoted)                                                  Frosinone 12th

22 teams, 16 from north + 6 from south.


Grosseto 13th                                                               Ravenna 20th (Relegated)
Pisa 6th (Play-offs)                                                        Avellino 19th *

*Avellino originally relegated but were readmitted due to administration error by Messina.   
22 teams, 15 from north + 7 from south.


Sassuolo 7th                                                                 Salernitana 14th
Cittadella 17th                                                              Ancona 19th (Relegation play-off)

22 teams, 15 from north + 7 from south.


Cesena 2nd (Promoted)                                                Gallipoli 21st (Relegated)
Padova 19th (Relegation play-offs)                               Crotone 8th

22 teams, 13 from north + 9 from south.


Novara 3rd (Promoted)                                                 Portogruaro 21st (Relegated)
Varese 4th (Made play-offs)                                          Pescara 13th

22 teams, 16 from north + 6 from south.


Gubbio 21st (Relegated)                                               Nocerina 20th (Relegated)
Verona 4th (Made play-offs)                                         Juve Stabia 9th

22 teams, 15 from north + 7 from south.


Ternana 9th                                                                  Spezia 13th
Pro Vervelli 21st (Relegated)                                        Lanciano 18th

22 teams, 15 from north + 7 from south.

You can clearly see that by and large in each of the last 10 seasons the northern teams have outdone the southern ones. This is clearly shown by how over the course of the seasons the number of southern teams participating in Serie B gradually diminshed. There was not one season in the last ten where both teams from the south outdid their northern adversaries after promotion and barring 3 seasons out of the 10 a newly promoted side from the south went down. It would have been 2 was it not for the readmission of Cantanzaro in 04/05. This shows the north have outperformed their southern counterparts, or at least the majority of northern football teams in Italy fare better at club level than from the south. This has been proven by titles won, appearences made in the top flight and now this performance table in Serie B over the last 10 years. 

If we now change are point of interest to the national team and look at the make up of the Italian football squad. What clubs the players are called up from and the region they are in and also the birth places of those that have in the past been called up to Italian squads so that we can get an idea about the proportion of where Italy's footballers come from. 

Of the 28 footballers that were recently called up to represent the Azzurri in their final 2 qualifiers against Denmark and Armenia, 23 plied their trade within Italy. Furthermore, only 6 out of that 23 were called up from clubs that are situated in the south of the country. Two from Roma and Lazio, one from Napoli and one from Cagliari. Even then it is two big footballing cities, the capital of Italy and Naples which together are the 1st and 3rd biggest municipalities in the country. The rest of the southern teams evidently do not possess the quality that is required of an Italian footballer if he is to represent his country. 

Below is a list of the 23 man squad that played for Italy during the 2012 European Championships in Poland/Ukraine. 20 of that squad played for Italian football clubs and of that 20 only 5 were players at clubs from the south of Italy. But in this case I want to show where these footballers were born and therefore see if being born from the south of Italy is as damaging to your prospects in football as being a club that is situated in the south.

G Buffon  -  P.o.b  Carrara, North
C Maggio  -  P.o.b  Montecchio Maggiore, North
G Chiellini  -  P.o.b  Pisa, North
A Ogbonna  -  P.o.b  Cassino, South
Thiago Motta  -  Brazil
F Balzaretti  -  P.o.b  Turin, North
I Abate  -  P.o.b  Sant'Agata de' Goti, South
C Marchisio  -  P.o.b  Turin, North
M Balotelli  -  P.o.b  Palermo, South
A Cassano  -   P.o.b  Bari, South
A Di Natale  -  P.o.b  Naples, South
S Sirigu  -  P.o.b  Nuoro, Sardinia (i.e not north)
E Giaccherini  -  P.o.b  Bibbiena, North
M De Sanctis  -  P.o.b  Guardiagrele, South
A Barzagli  -  P.o.b Fiesole, North
D De Rossi  -  P.o.b  Rome, South
F Borini  -  P.o.b  Bentivoglio, North
R Montolivo  -  P.o.b  Caravaggio, North
L Bonucci  -  P.o.b  Viterbo, South
S Giovinco  -  P.o.b  Turin, North
A Pirlo  -  P.o.b  Flero, North
A Diamanti  -  P.o.b  Prato, North
A Nocerino  -  P.o.b  Naples, South

From this we can see that out of the 23 representatives of Italy in the Euros, 12 players were originally from the north, 10 from the south and one, Thiago Motta, was not born in the country. 

It says a great deal I think that clearly a players footballing ability is not determined from where he was born. You are not put at a disadvantage simply from being born in Reggina rather than from somewhere like Verona. Balotelli, who was born in Palermo in Sicily was arguably the best player for Italy in those championships and he hails from the south. However, it does show that a hefty number of those good footballers born in the south of the peninsula do eventually end up playing in the north. Just as those figures showed how many many southerners leave the south to seek work in the more industrial northern cities so do the footballers who seek the richer and more accomplished teams of Turin and Milan. 

It  may not be all doom and gloom for the south though. In the current Serie A season things are going extremely well for the likes of Napoli and Roma. Roma top the table this season with 8 wins from 8 games and Napoli trail behind them in second. It may well be the start of a sudden resurgence from the south but it won't be the sort of tide that can just swing in a year. This needs to be a series of dominance. If Napoli or Roma go on to win the title this season they cannot simply sit back next season and feel that the job is now done. They must replicate Inter's form of the last few years under Mourinho where between 2006-10 they won 5 successive league titles.  

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Totti, Gervinho and African gazelles

What a start to the season Roma are having!! It might be a bit early to start mentioning the possibility of a scudetto, but as Gabriele Marcotti pointed out in his column for the 'Wall Street Journal': 'Nobody wants to get too excited, but of the seven teams that have won their first seven matches to start a Serie A season, just one, Inter in 1966-1967, failed to win the title' and this is exactly what Roma have done so far. 7 wins from 7, a +19 goal difference having scored 20 and only let in 1. This gives them the joint best defence alongside Olympiakos in the whole of Europe so far this season. It is also worth pointing out that Premier League side Southampton are joint second with Atletico Madrid having only let in 2! 

If there is one man who has been an integral part of Roma so far this season, as he has been for the last decade or so and more, then it is that man Francesco Totti. Totti, bearing in mind that he is 37 years of age, is still starting games up top for his beloved Giallorossi and is still putting in the performances that made him into such a successful footballer all those years ago.
 At the weekend Roma travelled to Inter, no easy game despite Inter's poor finish of 9th last season. Yet they made light work of it and walked away from the San Siro with a 3-0 win and Totti bagged himself 2 goals in the process. After the match Totti had this to say: "Winning seven straight matches isn't easy. I don't think anyone expected this start to the season."

Still Roma's go to man?

This sensational form shown from Totti has seen him create 27 goal scoring opportunities for his fellow teammates, more than any other player in Serie A this season. The performances he has been putting in have even led to calls for him to be selected for the national team and possibly even a place on the plane to Brazil next summer. I don't see how that could be a bad thing for Italy at this stage, especially if Totti keeps on putting in performances like this for the remainder of the season. Italy boss Prandelli also seems to agree saying that 'If the tournament was in 2 months time then Totti would be on the plane.' 

But it would be unfair on a few others if all the credit was directed at Totti for Roma's astonishing start to the season. Praise must be given to new manager Rudi Garcia, formerly of Lille, and who many thought was somewhat of a daring acquisition this summer. Certainly because he has not achieved all that much in France after winning the title there with Lille 3 years ago. But he has definitely made an impact upon this Roma side so far this season and his arrival is no coincidence in the correlation with the results on the pitch.

Nor may I add is it a coincidence with the arrival of former Arsenal player Gervinho. The African footballer had a torrid time in North London for 2 years but has been outstanding since his move to the Italian capital and he has relished joining up with Garcia, his former coach when he played at Lille. In fact, his performance after Saturday's game in Milan led an Italian journalist to write in Sunday's Gazzetta dello Sport that: 'Every day in Africa there is a gazelle that wakes up and wishes that he could run as fast as Gervinho so that he can blow raspberries at lions.' It is such a hilarious and brilliant description and is also typical of the different style of writing that is found in the sports papers of this country compared to those in England. This is also coupled with the comment I found on Totti's man of the match performance: 'The years pass for everyone, but not for Totti... If he was poetry, Totti would be ‘L’infinito’ by Giacomo Leopardi.’ Another wonderful example of the romantic style that is ever present in Italian journalism.

The African gazelle in action

One other surprise package of Serie A this season has been Hellas Verona. A team that I have always looked out for having read Tim Parks’ wonderful book ‘A Season with Verona’. They are currently 5th in the table after they thumped a meagre Bologna side 4-1 at the weekend.

In other news, I went to a bar on Sunday night to watch what I thought would be a very good game in Lazio – Fiorentina. Sadly it finished 0-0 and both sides never really looked like inning it from the word go. The result could be explained by the fact that both teams featured away from home in Europe on Thursday night and were just too tired come Sunday. The game certainly lacked energy and any sort of spark that could have resulted in victory for one side.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Mind The Sack

We are only 6 and 7 games into Serie A and B respectively this season and already we have seen FOUR managers dismissed in Italy's top two divisions. It is a very short period of time for the upper echelons of a club to decide that a change is needed for their team to better themselves during the rest of the season. Yet, it is a decision that we have seen taken all too often in Italian football over the last decade or so and even beyond. Two of the men in question are ex-Milan star Gennaro Gattuso who was given the chop by recently relegated Sicilian side Palermo and another fairly well known ex-Italian footballer, Fabio Liverani, who also was given his marching orders. In this case, however, it was by Serie A outfit Genoa.

Some may point out that in the last week or so the same has happened in the top two tiers of English football, where we have seen managers Di Canio (Italian) and Nigel Clough both removed from their posts. Whilst this is a similar length of time into the new season there is no comparison between them. It is true that Di Canio was only in charge for 13 games on Wearside after he took over the club in March of the previous season. But Di Canio seems to be an exception to most cases. It could be argued that his methods did not go down too well with the players, the fans and ultimately even the board. Results and off the field antics seemed to force their hand in letting the enigmatic Italian go. Clough is almost an entirely opposite case since he spent nearly a healthy 5 years with the Rams and in the end the club must have decided that he was not going to be the right man to get them up this season. He may have left Derby in better shape than Sunderland since they lie 14th in the Championship, however, the board obviously felt that no signs of progress were being made.

Gattuso finding life in management tricky 

These two cases are in stark contrast to the sackings of Gattuso and Liverani in Italy. Let us start with Gattuso and his now former club, Palermo. Gattuso lasted only 6 competitive games in Sicily before he was let go by club owner Maurizio Zamparini, a.k.a 'The manager eater'. Gattuso had only been in charge of the side from the beginning of July after their relegation from Serie A last season. He left the club with them only in 9th position and whilst that is not the best start to a campaign for the league's promotion hopefuls it is also most certainly not the worst with still a hefty 35 games or so to go in the season. Yet, it still comes as little surprise to those in the know.

The facts that follow Zamparini are quite astounding. It is also hard to determine whether they are all completely correct or not because of his liberal use of the term 'manager' and the fact that he has sacked some coaches more than once. It is possible that during his time in football, Gattuso, who won 73 caps for Italy, has become the 43rd manager to be sacked by the 72 year old. He also becomes the 20th manager to be dismissed since Zamparini took charge of Palermo 11 years ago and also the 32nd manager to leave the club since the year 2000. Breathe.

Zamparini plotting his next managerial move

Even in last years fateful season he sacked 3 managers, 2 of which were re-hired at some point later in the year making the figure actually 5. One of those managers was a man called Gasperini who was hired in February of this year, promptly sacked and then rehired 20 days later only to be sacked again. It all sounds like stuff of legend and one begs to think of what the English media would make of it all if this habit came much closer to Britain's shores. Gattuso went off the back of two home defeats in a row and rumour has it that that is all it takes in Italy now. Two home losses on the trot and you are out of there. Next manager please.

Liverani is another manager to have been given his marching orders this month. The first and only sacking in Serie A so far this season I believe, unless someone goes whilst I am writing. He has been replaced by that man Gasperini again who has funnily enough already managed Genoa a few years ago when he was at the helm for a mammoth 3 years. Liverani, like Gattuso, was only hired this very summer and lasted less than 2 months into the season before he was shown the door. In this case though Genoa really have had a poor start to the season with only a solitary win in their opening 7 games. This includes a shock Coppa Italia defeat but is also strangely coupled with the fact that Liverani did lead the team to a 3-0 thumping of fellow city rivals Sampdoria less than 2 weeks ago. However, a 2-0 loss to Napoli at the weekend proved to be the tipping point and the merry-go-round of managers continues.

Fabio Liverani on his way out at Genoa

This is not an issue which is solely concerned with Palermo or even Genoa. Every Italian club and owner is at it. Since the beginning of last season in Serie A to the start of this season there were 27 managerial changes. 27! Baring in mind that there are only 20 clubs in Serie A. This is also compared with the comparatively small number of 10 changes that have taken place in the Premier League in the same amount of time. And even many of those changes have been not because of sackings but of managers like Martinez and Moyes choosing to take their talents to a better club.

What is also quite noticeable in Italy is how many of the well known managers have by and large each managed a number of the 'Big 4/5' clubs in the country. Or some who have managed more clubs than they could probably care to remember. By no means is it their own fault. More often than not they are sacked after a single season at a club with very little chance of proving their real worth. Here is a list of a select few managers and their credentials.

Massimiliano Allegri: 46 years old. Current club AC Milan. He has managed 7 clubs in 13 years of management.

Fabio Capello: Has managed Milan x2, Roma and Juventus.

Franco Colomba: Not a famous manager but I wanted to include him for the sake of his managerial career. I honestly don't understand how he keeps on being hired. He is currently 58 and out of a job. He has managed 19 clubs in 23 years.

Antonio Conte: Regarded as a very good manager and doing a great job at Juventus now. But has managed 7 clubs in the 8 years since he turned coach.

Luigi Delneri: Has managed 9 clubs in the last 9 years.

Claudio Ranieri: The tinker man is a well known and respected manager. He is now doing very well with Monaco although the resources available to him are incredible. In Italy he has managed Napoli, Fiorentina, Parma, Juventus, Roma and Inter. Nearly every big club there is in Serie A. That is like an English manager coaching in his career Liverpool, Tottenham, Everton, Chelsea, Arsenal and Newcastle.

Delio Rossi: Currently at my favourite side Sampdoria. He has coached 16 clubs in 23 years of management.

Giovanni Trapattoni: Milan x2, Juventus x2, Inter and Fiorentina. Again another lovely range of top Italia clubs.

This sacking culture does not look like stopping anytime soon and I can only hope that in the future this does not spread to England. It will be a sad sad day if it does. Let us only hope that Sir Alex Ferguson is not the last man to spend nearly three decades at one club.