With Manchester United approaching what could possibly (and likely) be their tenth season without a league title and with a slow start so far to their rebuilding project under the guidance of Erik ten Hag, at least on recruitment side, we take a look at how Italian clubs have risen from the ashes.
United have a bad ownership and have been poorly run for many years, most likely even before the end of trophy glory with the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson. However, people at Carrington should take a look over the channel and beyond the Alps, where in the last few years the three giants of Italian football, Juventus, Inter and Milan, have come back to glorious days after going through many struggles. Juventus faced the Calciopoli scandal, an investigation regarding match fixing and suspicious relationships with referees, following which they were relegated in Serie B for the 06/07 season. While legends like Gigi Buffon and Alessandro Del Piero decided to stay with the Bianconeri during their darkest time, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ballon d’Or winner Fabio Cannavaro were among those who left Turin, unwilling to sacrifice years of their career. Juve went through some tough years, but ultimately completed their comeback when in 2012 they lifted the Scudetto after 9 difficult years where they had to witness the successes obtained by the two Milan clubs (including their main rivals’ treble under Jose’ Mourinho in 2010). The main architects of their comeback (Juve would then carry on winning 9 straights championships) were director of football Beppe Marotta and Antonio Conte. They built an unbelievable team that continued to be successful even with Conte’s successor, Max Allegri. That Juventus group was extremely unlucky not to win at least one Champions League, losing two finals against two of the greatest sides in the history of football, 2015 Barcelona and 2017 Real Madrid. Marotta created a team that looked truly unbeatable without having the money Manchester United have. In fact, despite some expensive signings like Miralem Pjanic, Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo, the main core of Juventus (especially under Conte) came for next to nothing, with some studied and scientific signings like Paul Pogba, Carlos Tevez, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Pirlo. All of these players came to Turin extremely under the radar and without much hype, but they were perfectly integrated into a functioning system and an exciting and healthy environment, only dedicated to hard work and victory.
Juve’s domestic dominance came to an end in 2021 when their main rivals Inter knocked them off their perch, as Sir Alex would say. Quite ironically, the ones that ended Juventus’ streak were the ones who started it, Conte and Marotta. Their crisis was easily preventable, as their culture and smartness on the market disappeared when Marotta left the club, leaving his role to his once-friend Fabio Paratici, and many players began to see the end of their primes. Meanwhile Marotta and Conte built another potential superteam, that could have achieved more than just one Scudetto if Inter owner, Mr. Zhang, wasn’t forced to sell many assets as a result of finance troubles linked with the pandemic. In 2022 the throne of Italy finally came back to Inter’s neighbors, Milan.
AC Milan really went through hell during the last decade, with many properties struggling to replicate the success obtained under Italy’s tycoon and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and unwilling to invest much money in the squad. Milan’s renaissance has come, once again, thanks to technical competence of the directors. His name will always be associated with his playing days, but Paolo Maldini continued to deliver for his club as Director of Football, creating a decent team (that surely took advantage of Serie A teams decreasing in quality) from scratches, buying some world class players like Rafael Leao, Theo Hernandez and Sandro Tonali without overpaying and in a sustainable way, since the former owners (the Elliot fund) considered adjusting Milan’s financial situation the main priority. All these comeback stories have one common factor, the footballing competence and knowledge of directors allowed these clubs to build good teams under financially strict properties. This should inspire Manchester United in their bid to get back to European excellence. The money was always there. The competence was not.