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.  


  1. interestingly, not one Bundesliga club is from the former East Germany (Hertha BSC was West Berlin). good read Ol...

  2. Yeah true. In hindsight I should not have put Germany in same boat as the other major European leagues like England, France and Spain. They are arguably in a pretty similar situation to Italy, especially in football terms. Although I was shocked at how much bigger West Germany was to the East when I looked this morning.

  3. You can't really include England either as the divide of the actual country (UK) goes far beyond that of Italy's

    1. Really? I don't think it does. If you look at the layout of the EPL there isn't a divide like Italy's. Teams from London in the south, Birmingham in the midlands, Manchester and then up on Tyneside with Newcastle and Sunderland. This season there are also Cardiff and Swansea from Wales. That's a lot of diversity.