The exodus from Italy has begun, and what it confirms above all is that the centre of gravity in World football has moved decisively south of the Pyrenees.
First, Fabio Cappello moves to Real Madrid. No surprise there – Juve was being relegated and he’d already spent one title-winning season in Madrid ten years ago. Then, he signs Juve’s Fabio Cannavaro and Emerson for 20 million euros. That’s a lot of money for a pair of over-30s, one of whom (Emerson) has been garbage for over a year now, but Real have a long history of paying over-the-odds for players whose best days are behind them (viz. Ronaldo, Beckham, etc).
Sharper by far was Barcelona boss and Dutch uber-gobber Frank Rijkaard, who managed to pick up the excellent Lilian Thuram and Gianluca Zambrotta for a mere 15 million. The acquisition of Zambrotta, still in his twenties and by some distance Italy’s most consistent and versatile defender/midfielders, solves one of Barcelona’s key problems; namely – how can one declare oneself the best team in Europe when Gio van Bronckhorst is your starting left back?
Forget the fact that this is another chapter in the tiresomely familiar recent history of the Blau-grana kicking the crap out of los merengues. The real story here is that all of the big players heading out of the disgraced Italian teams are heading to Spain and none of them are heading to Albion.
Juventus’ relegation (and to a much lesser degree Fiorentina’s) weakens the top Italian league significantly by depriving it of a major competitive factor. The likelihood of anyone other than Inter being able to win the league this year is zero – the likelihood of anyone other than Inter or Milan winning it next year is also zero. So, not only do top players at the relegated teams want to get the hell out of Italy, no one is eager to move to such a weakened league, either? A couple of years ago, the obvious beneficiaries of such a situation would have been the English Premiership. Man United, Chelsea and Arsenal would have been picking over the bones, with Newcastle, Liverpool and Tottenham paying stupid money for the second-rate payers the big three didn’t want.
But not now. Chelsea are saturated, bloated on previous purchases. Arsenal remain strapped due to the cost of building their beautiful new stadium. Man U are cash-poor because of the massive debt saddled on them by the Glazers.
It isn’t just that the Spanish are flush while the English (bar Chelsea) are not. The fact is that la Liga is a more attractive competition than the Premiership. There are more good teams and fewer garbage teams….fewer Aston Villas, if I can put it that way.
More to the point, Spain is Spain. It’s warm, civilized and Mediterranean. Its food may not be up to Italian standards, but at least it’s not English. It’s modern without being vulgar, liberal without being absurd, beautiful without being fey.
If you had the choice – wouldn’t you work there?
Apparently, the world’s top footballers are answering “yes”. Expect Spanish clubs to dominate Europe for at least the next three years.