The Bundesliga is the greatest league that ever was and if you don’t watch it, then you’re an utter moron. That was also the feeling about La Liga a couple of years before and the Premier League further preceding that. Football is just that fickle in fortune and following.
As the Germans’ dominance in the Champions League grew last season, so did the popularity of their league. Your knowledge had to extend beyond the raucous Ruhr stadia. And so, one by one, we began hopping onto the bandwagon. Is it a fault in us if it’s a constant occurrence amongst us? We want to follow the crowd, or better yet be the shepherd. It all stems from one aspect of the game – the shifts in power.
Sovereignty of the game won’t constantly lie in one league. It prances and parades, selects who it wants and does it all over again. But obviously there’s so much more to it. There’s the investment in youth development, investment in the teams and investment in the countries even. Okay, perhaps not quite the latter.
There’s a land far, far away – a mystical place filled with romantic and footballing sensibilities. Actually, it’s called Italy. Home to some of the greatest players, birth place of the most revolutionary tactical innovations. Seen as a place of fraud and feuds to those unwilling to look beyond the distinctive ‘defensive’ approach. The Italians have ruled and been ruled. The tides are turning; tumultuous Turin and melodramatic Milan are gathering an army and they’re planning a renaissance.
Stevan Jovetić, Edinson Cavani and Marquinhos may have left the Serie A but that’s brought an influx of cash which seems to have been spent wisely – even if the buying took place before the selling. Mario Gomez and Kevin Strootman have joined Fiorentina and Roma respectively. They are immense figures to have in the league, players who certainly could have strengthened the top Premier League clubs.
The relinquishing of these teams of their stars points out at a major factor – it’s a breeding ground for great players. It offers a route to the big time for players from all over: Brazil and Montenegro inclusive.
But all leagues have good players. That’s not specific enough. There needs to be this inherent success streaming from all areas. One in particular would be with managers. Montella, Allegri, Conte. They have a combined age of less than that of Jupp Heynckes. Not really, but the point still stands. That trio have all made by no means conventional changes to their respective teams. Max Allegri was responsible for a mass clear out of Milan’s dearest and most talented players; Montella played a midfield three with no real defensive-minded member; and Conte’s just done it all.
There has been a particular audacity to Milan and Juve’s approach in particular, over the last year or two, and there are definitely some rewards to be reaped.
The bianconeri have risen from the flames of Calciopoli and been a real revelation on the European stage. Two Scudetti and a Supercoppa later they’re ready to lock horns with the continent’s elite. Bayern did sweep them aside last season, and their Champions League campaign did come to a very unceremonious end, but that’s only made them battle-hardened.
With a stadium of their own, which is unheard of in Italy, they’re taking massive strides forward. Their squad has that much-sought-after blend of youth and experience. They have amongst the elite players in their respective roles – regista, box-to-box midfielder, centre-back, goalkeeper and even the trequartista. It’s a team rich in that coalescence of quality and quantity. Their main additions this summer have been to a department they seemed to be less imposing than the rest – their frontline.
Fernando Llorente and the misfit Carlos Tévez add undeniably fruitful firepower. The latter of which may seem a gamble if anything. But to get him functioning at his incredibly industrious best would be a big black and white blessing. It’s paid off for another City headline-grabber: a certain Mario Balotelli.
And that’s where Allegri’s done so well. He didn’t necessarily build from the ground up, he just changed construction companies. Using the likes of El Shaarawy and De Sciglio has had a massive impact on the team. He had faith and went with instinct. It’s proved an inspired decision. M’Baye Niang could be added to that list. But most importantly, he went where many others wouldn’t and it’s paying off. Balotelli’s playing with this refreshing liberation, he actually seems to be enjoying his football.
As great as the domestic scene is shaping up to be, the international team – at senior and lower levels – are making equally positive progress. Euro 2012 finalists, Euro U21 finalists, and could easily have been Confederations Cup finalists. That’s an impressive record to hold for any nation, over a year.
They wore the Spanish team down to the extent of them getting annihilated by the Brazilians. Cesare Prandelli switched to a 3-5-1-1 system; the industry and ingenuity were sensational. The Spaniards were tied in a tactical tangle. The likes of Candreva and Giacchierini established themselves as household names. De Rossi may play in the Eternal City but was reborn in that ironic Azzurri white. That semi-final was a master-class that unfortunately didn’t go the way it should’ve. A systematic spectacle.
The U21s were just as impressive, if not outshining their seniors. Lorenzo Insigne, Ciro Immobile, Alessandro Florenzi – they were all incredible. There was obvious organisation to their play; a methodology. That can only mean good things for the future for clubs and country.
The signs have been there for a while. If Massimo Moratti does sell and Rafael Benítez spends well, Inter and Napoli could bolster this movement. The latter most certainly.
But the Italians aren’t quite there yet. They won’t win the Champions League next season. Bayern are too well-built a team to be overthrown just yet. The Spanish giants will want to reclaim their crown. But there is a Calcio-led machination building. There’s too much money for them not to be a threat; too much talent for them to be cast aside as onlookers.
The Champions League could easily be the Iron Throne in Michel Platini’s Westeros. An intriguing plot awaits unravelling, but there most certainly won’t be dragons.