The Premiership is the best league in the world. We have the best players and the best teams in the world. Or at least that’s the official line from England, where Spanish football is rarely shown on TV. But what has happened to the previous best?
In the 1990s Italian football was the pinnacle of excellence. That was partly thanks to the interest in, and investment for, World Cup Italia 90. It was however also built on the back of tactically intelligence managers and technically able players.
So strong was the lure of the Italian game that it broke into the saturated English market. The contrast between wizardry on Football Italia and Long ball drudgery on Match of the Day was truly stunning. It certainly encouraged kids to don metaphorical Inter or Juve shirts at school.
Of course the real proof of quality was on the pitch, and so it was that European Football asserted the unquestionable status of Italian football in that distant decade.
Of sixty finalists in three European competitions in the 90s, 25 were Italian. And this was not Juve, AC and Inter repeated. The winners did include those three with eight pots between them. But Parma, Sampdoria, Lazio, Roma, Torino and Fiorentina all made finals too, sharing five pots along the way.
Ask any Englishman what went wrong and the answer is as follows. The rise of the English game - combined with an Italian predilection for corruption - topped off with individual tales of woe at specific clubs - crippled the game irrevocably.
But the truth should be more worrying for the Premier League.
All divisions have a bad season or two, but when the 90s ended, so did Italian dominance. The smaller clubs who had so enriched and strengthened Italian football were mostly bought by rich fools or weak companies who replaced innovation with the tactic of throwing money at every challenge.
At the same time the elite was strengthened by regular Champion’s League qualification, and as the Italian economy declined, those owners who liked to throw money started throwing tantrums instead. Good managers were sacked on whims and top players were sold to recoup losses that barely existed.
It was in this context that Italian football suffered regulatory capture. A death knell for competition.
In economics, if a monopoly is strong enough it can convince its regulator that the public interest and the monopoly’s interest is the same thing. And so it was with Italian football.
The Italian FA and the Italian media as the official and informal regulators grew convinced that winning European Cups was the same thing as serving Italian football. The elite of AC and Juve were the most likely winners. So the authorities found themselves serving Juve and AC in turns. At the same time the media over reported those two clubs at the expense of all others.
This meant small clubs complaining at unfair refereeing could be largely ignored by the media and dismissed for their sour grapes by the authorities. And that was all the easier thanks to many a controversial decision against the big two.
Note though that controversial does not mean wrong. For every big decision against them became quickly controversial. The managers or players would rant at each decision, and the media would play up the ‘controversy’ for want of real drama in what quickly became a hollow league.
The Authorities could and should have stepped in, demanding proper punishment for such bad sporting behaviour. But instead they turned a blind eye rather than distract their fading stars from the goal of European silverware.
The top clubs were emboldened and tested their power further. And as governing bodies stood by their now incestuous support, those clubs went further and further, egged on by a media with no interest in the fates of any sides but Juve and Milan.
And so it was that Juve was able to select referees. And while all this went on, Italian football fell behind Spain, where technical development and tactical innovation ensure a plethora of teams compete for trophies.
Oh, and in case you are reading this wondering what England must learn, don’t worry. We are the best in the world. Just look at ManU, Chelsea and Liverpool.