Is there hope for an Italian team in the UCL?

Will an Italian Serie A side be able to win the UEFA Champions League this decade? The last winner from Italy was Inter Milan in 2010 and besides Juventus in 2015 no other side has even looked like coming close.

Paulo Dybala

Juve's Paulo Dybala prepares to take a corner Source: Getty Images

If the Champions League seems elusive, then the second tier UEFA Europa League is not even on the radar. 

The last Italian winners there were almost two decades ago in 1999 and it was won by a team that today are not even in Italy’s top tier: Parma. 

There are three benchmarks that we can broadly use to compare Italian teams’ performances in Europe: different eras, other leagues such as La Liga and the expectations of fans. 


It’s a combination of objective and subjective benchmarks but the overall picture is that Italian teams fail on all three fronts. 

Over the last six years the success of the Spanish duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona was only briefly interrupted by Bayern Munich’s trophy in 2013. 

It makes the UCL somewhat monotonous especially when Atletico Madrid’s performances add another layer to La Liga’s dominance. 

Juventus and Napoli need to stand up and be counted in this year’s competition to break up the ‘Spanish Armada’ and to, at least partly, restore the Serie A to its rightful place as a prestigious, major European league.
As it currently stands Italy has only two teams out of the total of 32 or the equivalent of about six per cent; France with three teams is ahead of Italy, not to mention Spain, Germany and England. 

These facts raise some serious questions. While more teams from a particular country in the UCL is only an indicator, it is nevertheless an indicator with a worrying trend for Italy. 

Is the Serie A the fifth best league behind Spain, Germany, England and France?

And while the answer is a matter of opinion, surely Italy is capable of supplying more than six per cent of the teams to the UCL? 

Juventus so far have made a slow start. A scoreless draw at home to Sevilla was mediocre at best. 

If a team is not capable of beating Sevilla, then is it reasonable to ask what hope against Real Madrid or Barcelona? 

Napoli on the other hand were much more impressive with a difficult away win over Dynamo Kyiv, but it is the performances going forward in the tournament that will help unravel the mystery about the status of Italian club football by comparison to the rest. 

Failure by an Italian team to succeed in the UCL this decade will relegate the Serie A from the elite-league status of Europe to the middle-tier of respectable leagues, but with no real prospect of securing a European title unless they do so by fluke. 

In the last 20 years only Jose Mourinho’s Porto in 2004 were able to break the stranglehold of Spanish, German, English and Italian winners of the UCL. 

Juventus are still clearly Italy’s best hope and should realistically survive their group which comprises Sevilla, Lyon and Dinamo Zagreb but just how far they will go is anyone’s guess. 

Napoli, who have made a good start, have Besiktas, Benfica and Dinamo Kyiv in their group but to win the tournament the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City, Bayern Munich and PSG must eventually be overcome. 

It would be hard even for the most ardent and obstinate Napoli supporter to think that this is a realistic possibility which leaves us only with Juventus. 

There is so much expected of this team by their fans, both on the domestic front and on the international stage. 

Juventus are expected to break all Serie A records and win their sixth consecutive ‘Scudetto’ as well as carry Italy’s faint hopes in the Champions League. 

It’s not beyond the realms of possibility as this is still one of the great clubs of world football but in the modern context, with likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich appearing at times to be from another galaxy, it is hard to realistically predict with any confidence success for Juventus in the UCL. 

It’s definitely more in hope – as a Juventus supporter of over three decades - than genuine expectation. 

It may be a classic case of Juventus being a ‘big fish in a small pond’ on the domestic scene, as once great clubs that genuinely challenged and even surpassed them such as Inter Milan and AC Milan are no longer there at the moment in the competitive sense. 

Juve’s style of play was recently analysed by one of their own great players in Giorgio Chiellini who basically concluded that the style was not really attacking enough to compete with the best in Europe.
Chiellini is no dill; not only is he a great defender for club and country and a true legend of the game, he is a graduate from the University of Turin with an Economics degree with outstanding marks. 

Juventus, according to Chiellini, can win by playing a smarter, more defensive game than say Real Madrid or Barcelona. 

Let’s hope that he is right because irrespective of how it is achieved, Italy needs Juventus more than ever to shine on the European stage because the real risk is that the Serie A will gradually transition from the top to the middle band of leagues.

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Published 22 September 2016 at 2:19pm
By Joe Russo