MIAMI – Italian soccer lags behind the best in Europe, especially financially.
That's the view of Juventus coach Antonio Conte, who, after a comprehensive Champions League quarterfinal elimination by Bayern Munich, predicted that a Serie A side won't win the CL "in the coming years." And that's the view of former Milan defender Paolo Maldini, who said in a recent interview with Reuters that, without new investment and law changes, Italy will continue to drag behind Europe's elite.
As Italy falls away from the best in Europe, Internazionale has slipped behind in Italy.
The Nerazzurri sit in fifth, two points ahead of eighth-placed Udinese and six points off the all-important third-place spot that will qualify for the Champions League.
Following a heady streak of five straight Scudettos, Inter hasn't won the Serie A since Jose Mourinho left in 2010. And the impending Financial Fair Play regulations mean the club can no longer lean on the largess of owner and oil tycoon Massimo Moratti, as it has for nearly two decades.
This is the plight of general manager Marco Fassone, who joined in June.
"We don't know exactly which rules UEFA will adopt," Fassone told Goal.com. "We know 2013-14, the coming season, will be an enormous season."
With UEFA rolling out its financial restrictions gradually, Fassone did not think the club risks exclusion from European competition next year, except by failing to qualify, of course.
"But for the '14-15 [season], after the first three years of control of the European teams, it could be the first critical season," he said. "We are strongly working on the Financial Fair Play to reduce the losses that our club had in the last years. We reduced strongly the amount of salaries this year, and we're working to be compliant with the rules in a couple of years."
Ahead of the 2012-13 season, Inter cut its wages by nearly a third -- 45 million euros -- down to 100m euros, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport. Additionally, the club cut ties with Wesley Sneijder's team-high 6m euro wages in January.
Reducing costs won't cut it without increased revenue, however. Key to Inter's financial future is a new stadium. Currently both Milan clubs play in the crumbling San Siro. Like nearly every other stadium in Italy, it is owned by the city, not the clubs that play in it.
Hefty tenant fees present an additional financial hurdle for Italian clubs, with ticket and other matchday sales forming a significant chunk – roughly a fourth – of gross earnings for clubs in other European countries. (Arsenal, a relative outlier, earns 41 percent of its overall income from matchday revenue, according to Deloitte. Inter gathers just 13 percent of gross revenue from matchday sources. Most of the non-Italian teams in the Deloitte Money League top 10 range from 24 to 31 percent.)
Figures released by Deloitte showed that Real Madrid's matchday revenue (126.2m euros) was nearly four times higher than that of AC Milan, which led Italian clubs at 33.8m euros. Juventus tripled its matchday income by moving into its self-owned stadium last season.
A new home represents Inter's best hope.
"It's a crucial project for the future of Inter," Fassone said. "We are looking for the right location of the stadium. We have a shortlist of three potential locations in Milan and surrounding Milan. In these months we are looking at the financial aspects of the stadium, so the developer, the constructor, the request of equity that we have to put in. We are trying to close this phase and all this procedure by 2013."
He estimates that the new stadium will be ready for the 2018-19 season. Fassone was the COO and stadium project manager of Juventus, the first club in Italy to build its own stadium. He does not think Inter's five-year timetable for building one is excessive.
"Consider that the law in Italy is very strange and doesn't allow to arrive from the original project to the final permission before a couple of years," Fassone said.
He doesn't expect to have wrapped up legal procedures before the 2014-15 season, with the next two years set aside for construction. "A reasonable schedule, I think," he said.
Fellow tenant AC Milan has also pursued various stadium solutions, including purchasing San Siro from the Milan municipality, though vice president Adriano Galliani balked at the quoted price. The two clubs likely won't share a stadium – San Siro or otherwise – after 2018, according to Fassone.
"When you are alone, you're more free to adapt the stadium to your needs," Fassone said. "I think the best option is to have a stadium for Inter and a stadium for AC Milan."
Between Juventus and Inter, Fassone spent a year as the managing director of Napoli. Currently, Napoli is second in the league and will likely qualify for the Champions League.
Inter, in contrast, lost the Coppa Italia semifinal to AS Roma, 5-3 on aggregate. Prior to the second leg, Fassone called the domestic cup "the last competition where we are competing to win." With five games remaining, Inter faces a struggle to hold onto its Europa League slot. Fassone said he expected to play in preliminary qualification rounds of either the Europa or Champions League following the Guinness International Champions Cup in August.
After Mourinho, Inter churned through five different coaches in two years. However, Moratti has stuck with former youth coach Andrea Stramaccioni for nearly 13 months now.
"Unfortunately this season was a season with a lot of injures that for sure have influenced the results," Fassone said. He rattled off the recent ones: Diego Milito, Antonio Cassano, Rodrigo Palacio, Yuto Nagatomo, Walter Gargano. "We want to understand why all these injuries [happened] this year and to consider [that] the coach, since November, had at his disposal a reduced number of players."
Just like the stadium, Fassone sees the 37-year-old coach as a long-term project. In any case, Inter won't review Stramaccioni's situation until the summer, and could stick with the charismatic coach another season despite disappointing results.
"This is not a decision that we will take in this moment, but why not?" Fassone said. "He's very young. He's a project – a long-term project with him, I hope."
Much going on at Inter is.
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