Juventus’ season had already been troublesome enough. When news broke that they would be deducted 15 points for their role in a false accounting scandal, the collective groan in Turin was unmistakeable. This punishment has dropped the Old Lady down to the middle of the Serie A table, and while the club intends to appeal, there is a sense the damage has already been done. Their capitulation yesterday at the hands of fellow mid-table dwellers Monza could merely be the beginning of persistent slide.
Of course, many in Italian soccer are gleeful at Juventus’ problems. The Turin club have been a dominant force in Serie A over the decades, with Juve recently winning nine consecutive league titles.
This is not recent years; Max Allegri’s team are a long way from that sort of level now. The points deduction will only deepen the sense of malaise at Allianz Stadium.
However, this is a scandal that could have serious repercussions for Italian soccer as a whole. Several rival clubs, including Napoli, are also under investigation with Victor Osimhen’s 2020 transfer to the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona outfit due close inspection. The Serie A table-toppers could also be implicated.
Napoli currently have a 12-point cushion in first place which could prevent them from being pulled back into the chasing pack should they be handed a points deduction similar to Juventus’. Nonetheless, any punishment could hinder the club’s march to their first Scudetto since the days of Diego Maradona. That would be a great shame.
The more clubs pulled into this scandal, the greater the damage done to soccer in Italy. It wasn’t so long ago that Calciopoli hit the sport in the country with Juventus sent down to Serie A as punishment. It took time for the Old Lady to recover and Italian soccer as a whole also suffered as its integrity was called into question.
Serie A lags behind most other big European leagues in a number of ways. Italian soccer infrastructure is nowhere near as modern as is common in England, Germany, Spain and even France. Many of the country’s stadiums are crumbling while some of its top flight teams still train in substandard surroundings.
Recently, it had been hoped that Italy’s clubs would make up ground on their continental counterparts. Investment from China and the USA has given clubs the funds needed to build new facilities – see Juventus’ construction of Allianz Stadium and AC Milan, Inter and Roma’s plans to move to a new home in the coming years.
This latest scandal could significantly set back the development of Italian soccer. It could put off potential investors who might already be wary following the murky ownership of Inter, which has even put the solvency of the Milanese club at risk. There may not be much more investment until all the details have shaken out through the Italian courts.
The irony in all that has unfolded is that Juventus and Andrea Agnelli were leaders in the proposal to create a European Super League, citing the stagnation of Italian soccer and Serie A as motivation for joining. Only last week, Agnelli was bemoaning the dominance of the Premier League and its impact on the European game.
“I believed and still believe that European soccer needs structural reforms to tackle the future,” he said after resigning as Juventus president. “Otherwise we are heading for inexorable decline for soccer in favour of a dominant league, the Premier League, which over a few years will attract all the European talent and marginalise the others.”
Agnelli speaks some truth. The financial gulf between the Premier League and even some of the biggest clubs in Europe’s ‘Big Five’ leagues is growing with every passing season. Agnelli recognised the needs for a European Super League because the Premier League is already becoming that behemoth – one that naturally locks Juventus out.
Now, Juventus’ financial misconduct will only widen the gulf further. This is the tale of a club that spent beyond its means to keep pace with the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid who were also spending beyond their means. European soccer is broken at the elite level and Serie A has more fractures at the surface than most leagues.
Juventus might be successful in their appeal – it was initially recommended that they be docked just nine points – but the club, and Italian soccer as a whole, needs a reset. Just as the ghosts of Calciopoli looked to have been banished, the sport in the country has been plunged into a new crisis. How it reacts could determine its future.