Welcome to rock bottom. It couldn't possibly get worse, could it?
That question can't help but escape fans of Serie A. It's not just the fact that the Italian league lost arguably its two biggest stars this summer --
But it's not just about players. It's about money. Milan, once the last word of extravagance, has put new boss
Inter, the defending champion, probably will end the summer with a positive transfer balance for the first time in longer than anyone cares to remember. When even the continent's most profligate spenders decide to scale back, you know times are tough.
Roma, perennially up for sale, likely will part with another of its crown jewels (possibly
Juventus is the one exception, having spent big to secure Diego and
Elsewhere, the outlook is bleak. Fiorentina, for a while, looked as if it had the money and the plan to compete at the highest level, but when you sell your best players year after year because your owners are "a little too responsible," you probably won't compete in the short-term. Lazio seems on perpetual life-support after nearly going bankrupt, Napoli is taking baby steps (by the time it's ready to compete,
So is this as bad as it gets? Actually, financially, it will probably get even worse. Sooner or later, clubs will have to spend serious money to upgrade, build or buy their stadiums (without which they won't have the kind of match-day revenue enjoyed by their rivals in Germany, England and Spain), and that won't come cheap. And when the sale of collective TV rights kicks in next summer, it will deal a hammer-blow to the country's biggest clubs, at least in the short-term (long-term there is little question that it's the right way to go).
Those two will be very bitter pills to swallow. But that's really the only way the healing can begin. Serie A is paying for the excesses, mismanagement and blend of incompetence and outright thievery of the past two decades. At some point, the corner needs to be turned.
The good news is that, throughout all this, the production line of quality players and coaches actually has remained pretty good, given the circumstances. And, ultimately, a big part of the game is about the guys who actually step on to the pitch.
The bad news is that -- like the global financial downturn -- it will almost certainly get worse before it gets better.