Is Serie A still one of Europe's top leagues?
Italy's top league has fallen behind the Premier League, La Liga & the Bundesliga
AC Milan, FC Internazionale, Juventus, AS Roma, SS Lazio, ACF Fiorentina and SSC Napoli. Throughout the 1990s they were known as the Seven Sisters of Italian football.
They were the envy of their European rivals as they each had a squad that nobody wanted to face and they each had their ‘Bandiera’ - or, star player.
Milan had the incredible Marco van Basten; Inter had Ronaldo; Juve had Zinedine Zidane, who was then replaced by the equally brilliant Pavel Nedved; Roma had, and still have, Francesco Totti; Lazio had Juan Sebastian Veron; Fiorentina had Gabriel Batistuta, and Napoli, of course, was the home of Diego Maradona.
Although it may not look like it now, Serie A was once the place that all of world football’s most talented players were, and if they weren’t, they wanted to be - similar to the lure FC Barcelona and Real Madrid possess now.
In recent years Serie A fell behind its English and Spanish counterparts - and, for some, even the German Bundesliga. One of the best examples of this happened in February 2002, when a Francesco Totti-inspired Roma destroyed Barcelona 3-0.
The fall of Juventus in 2006 through the Calciopoli scandal seemed to be the final nail in Serie A’s coffin, as their greatest side would have to sell their prized assets and play the 2006/07 season in Serie B and miss out on a Champions League place, which Milan went on to win respectively.
The recent fall of English sides in the Champions League has given Serie A a chance to reclaim four Champions League spots, and the 3-0 mauling Juve handed Chelsea in the Champions League in the penultimate game of this season's group stages showed that there is no gulf in quality between the Premier League and Serie A.
AC Milan’s deserved 2-0 victory at San Siro over Barcelona made it appear that the gap between the top flights in Italy and Spain may not have been as big as many though, but the 4-0 destruction of the Rossoneri in the second leg proved that there may still be a bit to go before Serie A can be considered as the main European league again.
Although there may not be players like Ronaldo, Van Basten, Voller, Batistuta, Nedved, Del Piero and Shevchenko in Serie A anymore, there are still the likes of Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano, Totti, Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal, Hernanes and Edinson Cavani, who are all world-class talents. As well as Juventus having a midfield trio that is only second to that of Barcelona.
Serie A has also become a place where young talent can thrive, with Mateo Kovacic, Paul Pogba, Erik Lamela, Alessandro Florenzi, Lorenzo Insigne, Mauro Icardi, Mattia Perrin, Mattia De Sciglio and Stephan El Shaaraway all being stars for tomorrow.
So will Serie A ever return to the footballing heaven that it once was?
Well, there is still a long way to go. But should Juve keep developing and Milan keep their faith in their youth system, the future is bright - and in ten years Spain, England and Germany could all be playing catch up once again.
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