Andrea Agnelli has called on the Italian football system to unite and move with the times in order to avoid being left behind by its European competitors on a global scale.
The Juventus president, speaking this afternoon at the Leaders in Football conference held in London, joined Galatasaray chairman Ünal Aysal in debating the key issues and challenges facing decision makers in an increasingly international market.
Agnelli, who recently expressed his desire for radical reform in a letter to the club’s shareholders, began by reiterating his belief that Serie A needs to follow the example of other nations if it is to stand any chance of regaining its global broadcasting appeal enjoyed back in the early nineties.
Speaking at Stamford Bridge, he said: “We have to lift the whole system as we’re still stuck in no man’s land. We spend most of the time debating about how money should be spent instead of how Italian football should be developing internationally. Football has the chance to be a leader in the Italian political situation as it’s followed by half of the country. A sense of responsibility, vision and discipline should be applied to that.
“If we look at what Serie A used to represent, 10 to 15 years ago, it was the dream place to play for international footballers. When I studied in England Serie A football was broadcast here and people were talking about it wherever you went.
“It was a different era, though, and things have changed. The Premier League back then wasn’t what it is today. Elsewhere, the German game has been growing for 10 years. They’ve had a technical plan, worked together with the federation and hosted the World Cup. Spain has two of the most successful global brands. France is kicking on with foreign investment. If I was to judge it from a footballer’s point of view, Serie A is no longer the final port of call but a transit destination.
“If we got a massive offer for someone like Pogba would we be able to retain him? I don’t know. Look at Milan, they had to let Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva go. Yes, you can be an attractive club, but you also need to have the economic strength to compete."
According to Agnelli, the key to developing economically and encouraging investment from abroad lies in the modernisation of the country’s stadia, an aspect Juventus have reaped the rewards of after opening a brand-new 41,000 state-of-the-art arena in September 2011.
He continued: “The stadium is where the show is put on and the difference is made from a ticketing perspective. Having a nice ground that is full to capacity enables you to promote your product to a global audience.
“Our previous stadium, the Delle Alpi, could hold 68,000 people, but was essentially a cathedral in the desert. It was an unfriendly, cold environment in which to watch football and the average attendance was very low compared to its capacity.
“Our new ground, Juventus Stadium, has 41,000 seats and we’re practically sold out for every game. Before we took 13 million in stadium revenue, now the figure stands at 40 million. Here at Stamford Bridge they take between 80-90 million, and this is the benchmark I have in mind when I think about Juventus Stadium. We should be able to double our income from the stadium. Yet it’s made difficult by the current economic environment and the fact that our competitors set their prices so low.”
To achieve this growth, Agnelli believes Italy’s football organisations have to work together, citing the example of the European Club Association, of which he is a representative, as an efficient way of representing clubs’ interests through a shared vision and productive dialogue with the game’s principal decision makers.
“It’s not about a one-man show, this is a system. Twenty clubs should share a vision, together we’re stronger than any individual. The best example of this would be the European Club Association. What they’ve managed to do in five years is extraordinary, liaising effectively and developing a strong understanding with FIFA and UEFA. They’re also lucky enough to have Karl-Heinz Rummenigge as chairman, someone who’s played the game and now presides over one of the biggest clubs in the world.”
Agnelli concluded by stating his belief in the concept of Financial Fair Play, but expressed doubts as to whether the rules could be fully enforced with pressure from broadcasters and the prestige of European competitions at stake.
“It’s a noble principle. Everyone would agree with the notion that you shouldn’t spend what you don’t have. I’m in favour of Financial Fair Play, it’s the only reasonable measure that would deter clubs from spending beyond their means, but it has to be effective. Who is going to explain it to the broadcasters if certain teams are excluded from major tournaments? Is that the way of preserving the value of the competitions?”