Italy Becomes Sick Man of European Club Football

Having once been the major power in European and world club football, Italy is rapidly becoming the sick man of Europe in footballing terms.

Only 10 years ago, Italy topped the UEFA country rankings but after Schalke 04 beat reigning champions Inter Milan in the Champions League quarter-finals last season, they dropped below Germany to fourth and lost a place in the Champions League.

It has been a remarkably swift decline for the once all-conquering Italy which has seen it's economic fortunes suffer as problems mount on the pitch.

Gone are the days when Italian teams poached the best talent in the world, including from England and Spain, with mega-money transfers.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic did come back to Italy from a year-long spell in Spain, but it was Barcelona who flexed their financial muscle to rip him from Inter Milan's grasp in the first place, only to discard him in a cut-price deal to Milan a year later when they no longer wanted him.

If Milan tried to trumpet that as proof they were still a major player, this summer has shown that it was but an exception to the rule.

Milan's only signings so far have been free transfers to bring Philippe Mexes from Roma and Taye Taiwo from Marseille, whilst they also bought out Genoa's half share in Kevin Prince-Boateng.

They have been linked with moves for Liverpool's unwanted Italian midfielder Alberto Aquilani and want-away Fiorentina captain Riccardo Montolivo, but neither of those, should they come off, could be described as a coup.

That they haven't yet happened is proof that Milan simply don't have the money or willingness to go out and make them happen.

Rather than twist anyone's arm with a handsome offer they are instead forced to spend weeks trying to negotiate a favorable deal.

Juventus spent a lot of time telling the world they were in the market for big stars but Manchester City easily out-bid them for Sergio Aguero, Alexis Sanchez had eyes only for Barcelona and they completely failed to pry Giuseppe Rossi from Villarreal, instead opting for the cheaper, older and more inconsistent Mirko Vucinic from Roma.But the biggest indication of Italy's weakening financial clout has been seen at Inter Milan.

Champions of Europe just over a year ago, they've been tempted into selling their stars this summer.

Most alarmingly is the news that Samuel Eto'o is due to be snatched by the continent's new financial power, Russia.

Regardless of current wrangling, Anzhi Makhachkala essentially offered enough money to convince Inter to sell the man who was their best player last season, while they also seemed prepared to let Wesley Sneijder -- probably their most instrumental figure in winning the Champions League -- leave until they simply couldn't find a buyer.

The general consensus is that Inter will try to use the Eto'o money to fund a bid for City's Carlos Tevez but this wouldn't be a case of them out-bidding all suitors, rather them providing a solution to an expensive problem of which City have grown tired.

Italy simply aren't in the same league as their major European rivals and while Germany have overtaken them on the pitch, Russia have surpassed them in the banks, proven even by the innocuous transfer of left-back Domenico Criscito move from Genoa to Zenit St Petersburg.

Napoli also wanted Criscito, could offer him Champions League football like Zenit and the opportunity to stay in his homeland, but they couldn't match the Russians' financial strength.

Italian football many not collapse and split up like the old Ottoman Empire did but given the country's economic crisis, the sick man of Europe may not yet have reached the end of his illness.

Source: Agence France Presse

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