Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Poverty of the Mezzogiorno

The story of the summer so far is inflation. Central banks may have tamed it in most of the developed world, but in football inflation is on a runaway pace. And, just as the monetarists always said, it's the poor who get hurt the most. The surprise is simply who meets the current definition of "poor".

It's Italy.

OK, so it's not a surprise that the finances of Italian teams are a mess. Gates are down, Roma and Lazio are still paying for the financial excesses of a decade ago, and Juventus' departure from the league hurt everyone by reducing the collective value of the clubs' TV contracts (In Italy, unlike England and Germany, each club strikes its own deal with the pay TV company instead of negotiating collectively). But the extent of the mess is shown by the fact that no team has made a major signing of note from outside Italy (unless you count Salihamdzic moving from Bayern to Juve, which I don't). On the other side of the ledger: Christian Chivu, Luca Toni have both left the country.

Compare this to Spain, where untold millions are being spent on Thierry Henry, Christian Chivu and Christian Metzelder. Or perennial skinflints Germany, where Bayern has broken decades of tradition in a possibly futile attempt to buy back their championship (or at least a Champions League place) by buying Luca Toni and Franck Ribery. Or England, where Liverpool has spent something like a gazillion dollars on a 13-goals a year-man Fernando Torres, and ManU have spent twice that on Owen Hargreaves, (a Calgarian version of Ray Parlour) plus Nani and Anderson, a couple of lightweights from Portugal (OK, Anderson is Brazilian) who may light up the Premiership either in the manner of their teammate Cristiano Ronaldo, or in that of, say, Helder Postiga. Personally, I'm betting on the latter.

Does this mean anything? After all, didn't Italy just win the World Cup? Didn't Milan just win the Champions League? True, but healthy leagues, like healthy countries, are the ones where the best and the brightest want to go to ply their trade and be test themselves against the highest standards. It's been at least five years since anyone could say with a straight face that Serie A was that place. When players of Toni's calibre start heading for Germany, of all places, it's time to worry.

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