[FOOTBALL AFFAIRS] Sport is gold for those who invest: the paradox of infrastructure and the flop of Italy

The national team’s failure to qualify for the Qatar 2022 World Cup unquestionably marks the lowest point ever for Italian football in its history.

Before the exclusion of Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022, the Italian selection in its history had qualified for the final phase only twice: in 1930 because Mussolini did not want to participate in the first World Cup in Uruguay (for bitterly regret it, given who hosted them in Italy only four years later) and in 1958, when they were eliminated in the qualifying phase by Northern Ireland.

For the first time, Italy did not qualify for two consecutive World Cups. An event which has never happened so far and which is all the more serious if we observe that, in the eyes of the greats of European football, we have to go back at least 30 years – France has not participated in 1990 and 1994 – to find a large selection that missed the appointment of the world championship for two consecutive editions.

We will say it: however, in the middle of this lapse of time, the national team itself won a European championship. Admittedly, the triumph of London 2021 in light of a longer-term analysis seems more of an impromptu feat than a result of planning.

Also because club football is certainly not getting any better. Italian teams have not won Europe’s highest club competition since 2010. It is a period of 12 years which is therefore dangerously close to 16 years between 1969 (AC Milan’s second Champions Cup) and 1985 (first triumph of Juventus), which still today represents the longest unsuccessful interval in our own football.

Worrying figures for a movement which, as the FIGC Football Report shows, has a membership of just over one million (1,026,488), down 3.4% in 2019/ 20 compared to 2018/19, among the largest in Europe in numerical terms.

In recent days there has been much debate about the low number of Italian players employed in the best teams in our country. Yet, on closer inspection, it’s not just an Italian problem: it also concerns England or Germany, for example, but that didn’t stop national teams Southgate and Flick from qualifying easily. for the World Cup.

Especially that of nativity scenes is an age-old problem – one need only look around the archives of major national newspapers to find numerous articles on the subject even in recent years, especially in the two decades between the turn of the century. But that did not prevent the Italian national team from being among the absolute protagonists on the world stage.

If anything, the fact is that in those years our players didn’t find much space because they were their absolute favorite foreign players. Now, however, they find no space even in the presence of a technically minor Serie A, given the inability of Italian clubs to secure the absolute best players. In fact, during those years it was claimed that the quality of Serie A helped the best young Italians to mature by improving the whole movement.

In short, more than a question of quantity, it seems to be a question of quality which bombs what seems to be the fundamental point of the question: the inability of Italian football to maintain itself economically since the clientelist model has now taken its way to retirement, both because it seems indeed timeless and because Italy (apart from the Agnelli family) no longer has any industrial dynasties ready to invest massively in the most popular sport.

In recent years, clubs like Lazio and Napoli have shown a great ability to combine a certain sporting competitiveness with strong balance sheets. While it is only more recently that the large historical companies have embarked on the path of sustainability of their social action. The first company among these to blaze the trail was Milan which under the guidance of fund managers Elliott began this work two years ago, turning a profit in the first half of 2021/22 (as revealed this week by Football and finance), even if the year will end with a loss (between 40 and 50 million). Along the same lines, Inter and Juventus also seem to be following this path and their respective CEOs are increasingly talking about sustainability. Inter in 2021/22 are expected to halve losses from last season’s 245 million, while Juventus are expected to make a loss of 150/200 million.

But in a football that still appears in the middle of the ford from the Berlusconian/Morattian patronage model to that of sustainability, it still seems too early to see the results of this possible turning point. Also because the sector is still sitting on more than 5 billion in debt.

Indeed, it is only when the clubs have a certain financial flexibility that they will be able to think not only about improving their budgets in a simple perspective of survival but also about planning and creating a kind of virtuous circuit which starts from the bottom. Perhaps from a better organization of crèches like Real Madrid’s La Fabrica, Barcelona’s La Masia or Chelsea’s academy which in recent years has produced players in a continuous cycle.

In this context, observing what is happening in other countries, many similarities with the Italian system emerge: busy schedules, many foreigners and too high salaries. But a profound difference is also emerging: that related to infrastructure. For history in Italy, stadiums have never belonged to clubs. This scarcity in recent decades (when football still had employer presidents) was limited to weighing on club budgets as a lack of value in corporate assets, but in the modern system, since the football-business model has established itself, the lack of a state-of-the-art stadium is also burdensome because you don’t have a machine available to increase revenue.

To give an example, the top clubs that have built new stadiums in recent times, taking advantage of the experience of game day, record stadium revenues of around €100m per year on their balance sheets (e.g. Bayern Munich, Allianz Arena revenues: €92.4m in 2018/19; Tottenham Hotspur, New White Hart Lane revenues: 107.7 million in 2019/20 despite the shutdown for Covid). And that allows them to invest in players, coaches, technicians, loyalty and attention from supporters, youth teams, social responsibility. At the same time, Inter and Milan, although belonging to the same category of big international clubs, today do not even receive half of these figures from the Meazza stadium, which has an impact on their performances and their opportunities.

However, with rare exceptions – Allianz Stadium, Dacia Arena, Mapei Stadium – in many Italian cities, Milan in the first place, the debate on a new stadium languishes, no offense to these inhabitants of the North who watched with a some sarcasm at the delays to Roma’s new stadium.

A myopia that emerged in all its grandeur this week during the presentation in Rome of the first Observatory on the sports system created by the Banca Ifis Research Office in the presence of the President of Coni Giovanni Malagò. Observatory which has unquestionably highlighted the ease of investing in sport and its infrastructures

In fact, the study explained that in Italy there are approximately 35 million sports enthusiasts, of which 15.5 million are regular practitioners, making sport a sector of primary importance for the Italian economy and society. . In 2019, in fact, before the Covid emergency, sport generated revenues of 95.9 billion euros, with an impact on Italian GDP of 3.6%, employing around 389,000 people.

Not only that, but according to the Observatory, there is a multiplier effect: 1 million public investments activate nearly 9 million private resources which generate an annual turnover of 20 million, a figure 2.3 times higher to private investments.

Public investments, we read in the pages of the Observatory, have a particularly high driving force because sport adds to production and consumption specific elements linked to well-being, entertainment and health, capable of amplify the economic value it generates. However, it is not possible to abstract from the combination of public expenditure with the private resources deployed by sports clubs and the management of sports facilities. Indeed, in the average reference year, against public expenditure of 4.7 billion, the central operators of the Sports System (sports associations and clubs, federations, sports promotion bodies, facilities management companies) shifted resources to 41 .8 billion spent on raw materials, services, personnel and depreciation of tangible and intangible assets, helping to generate a total value of 95.9 billion.

Despite this, Italy invests 0.5% of its GDP in sport compared to 1% in France and Spain and 0.8% of the EU average.

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