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Italy propose limiting squad size, more youth

November 19, 2014

ROME (AP) — Italy’s once-proud national team has been eliminated from the last two World Cups in the first round.

Former European champions such as AC Milan and Inter Milan didn’t even qualify to compete in this season’s Champions League.

And the days of Serie A landing top foreigners like Diego Maradona, Marco van Basten and Zinedine Zidane are long gone.

So it’s of little surprise that the Italian football federation is planning to vote on Thursday on of proposed reforms to shake up the national game.

The changes would require Serie A clubs to limit their first squads to 25 players, and stipulate that at least four come up through their youth systems.

A rule could also be passed to require that one of the maximum of two non-EU players in each club has a certain pedigree with his national squad.

The idea is to give the national coach more options and promote homegrown players.

But Italian Players’ Association president Damiano Tommasi believes the proposals are too radical.

“If these are the reforms that are going to be voted on then we still have some work to do,” Tommasi told The Associated Press in an interview.

He represents all players based in Italy — whether Italian or foreign — and the proposed reforms would eliminate 80 players from Serie A by trimming the total number of footballers from 580 to 500 from next season.

According to a study published in the Gazzetta dello Sport on Wednesday, not one Serie A club currently conforms to the regulations being considered.

Small clubs such as Chievo and Hellas Verona don’t have a single player on their squads who came up through their youth systems.

“The real changes needed are structural, and they need to be done over a period of five to 10 years,” Tommasi, who played on the Roma squad that won Serie A in 2001, said late Tuesday.

By drasticaally altering the rules and cutting 80 jobs, Serie A would almost certainly contain a higher percentage of Italian and younger players — which could help the national team. But clubs might then struggle to compete even more with their European counterparts.

“We have to measure ourselves with countries like Germany or Belgium that don’t have such limits but still have national squads much better than ours,” Tommasi said.

Serie A used to have four Champions League spots. A few years ago, it slipped behind the Bundesliga to fourth in UEFA’s country rankings. Now, only the top two finishers in Serie A qualify directly for the Champions League, and the third-placed club goes into a playoff to reach the group phase.

This season, Napoli was beaten by Athletic Bilbao in the playoffs, leaving only three-time defending Serie A champion Juventus and Roma to represent Italy.

Roma was humiliated in a 7-1 home loss to Bayern Munich last month, highlighting the disparity between the top clubs in Italy and Germany.

And with crumbling stadiums, fan violence, and dropping attendance, Serie A is also a far cry from the English Premier League, which prides itself on full stadiums, the eradication of hooliganism, and huge international interest.

Few fans actually go to the stadiums, and a recently signed international TV rights deal is a fraction of the Premier League’s - 186 million euros ($230 million) on average per season in Italy vs. more than 800 million euros ($1 billion) in England.

Perhaps Italy should follow the English model and go back to blacking out live matches on domestic TV to force fans to go to stadiums.

“The TV broadcasters should be interested in showing matches with full stadiums,” Tommasi said. “But first you have to improve the show on the pitch and provide better accessibility to stadiums — create a reason to watch a match live instead of on TV.

“I also think that having to buy a season ticket without knowing what day of the week the matches are on is definitely a deterrent,” added Tommasi, referring to the Italian league’s habit of scheduling matches often only a month ahead of time.

“There’s a lot to think about,” Tommasi concluded. “We shouldn’t be talking about changes that affect just next season. We need a five- or 10-year plan.”

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Andrew Dampf can be followed at www.twitter.com/asdampf

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