I have no idea when the rivalry between France and Italy started. I was oblivious to it growing up despite my father’s Italian heritage. He didn’t seem bothered by the French, in fact he seemed to quite like the place – we went on holiday there several times (in hindsight I’m pretty sure this must have got the relatives talking in hushed tones).
It wasn’t until I was older and noticed the frequently derisory remarks aimed at all things French by my Italian friends that I realised such a rivalry existed. Culture, food, wine – Italian was always better. When I was planning to visit Florence a few years ago, one friend felt the need to suggest the model who posed for Michelangelo’s David was French, on account of his small penis, obviously. Knob gags aside, there’s one area that Italians have never felt remotely threatened by the French – football. Sure, the French have had some good players, but there’s only national team in blue with legendary status in the game, and they don’t have a cockerel on their badge. Italy are 4-1 up in World Cups, and to further emphasise their dominance in the sport, Italian clubs are 12-1 up in European Cups. Suck it up, France.
To be fair to the French, they have contributed a fair bit to Serie A’s historic immenseness over the years. Many of the best players from France went to Italy to play in their prestigious league, and none greater than Michel Platini himself. But, thanks to the natural resources of Qatar, shit done changed. Edinson Cavani’s transfer to PSG was the latest in a series of Franco-Italian purchases that have quite frankly been taking the piss.
The reason for this trend, of course, lies in the recently departed regime of Carlo Ancelotti (the traitorous bastard) and Leonardo, who did a fine job relieving Serie A of many of its best players. Let’s have a look at their shopping basket:
Thiago Silva (AC Milan); Jérémy Ménez (Roma); Thiago Motta (Inter); Zlatan Ibrahimović (AC Milan); Ezequiel Lavezzi (Napoli); Javier Pastore (Palermo); Marco Verratti (Pescara).and finally, Edinson Cavani (Napoli).
That’s almost a full team from Serie A. Admittedly, a little top heavy and
lacking a goal keeper [Edit: YES ALRIGHT I FORGOT THEY SIGNED SIRIGU FFS], but a sickening wealth of talent. Serie A’s never been much of a hunting ground for French clubs, but that’s precisely what it is now. Under normal circumstances, a player like Verratti would have been signed by Milan, Inter or Juventus. How often have the big three missed out on one of the outstanding emerging talents in Italy over the years? Almost never, but now they’re seeing players of Verratti’s calibre picked up by a team in France. In France!
I’m not playing the violins for poor old Juve, Inter and Milan just because they’re being gazumped for players. In some ways it might help to give clubs like Napoli and Fiorentina a chance to sustain their challenge for honours, which would be great. But, this change does indicate another obvious re-ordering of football’s food chain. The big three in Italy have wealthy backers, but they’re not in Qatar’s league. They’re not even close.
It’s been reported that another of Serie A’s emerging stars, AS Roma’s Marquinhos, is on his way to Paris for around €32million. I say emerging – he’s only had one season in Rome, but is widely regarded as another outstanding prospect. Who’s next? Lorenzo Insigne? He’s had a handful of decent games and scored some beauties – bound to be on the watched list for this season.
This might sound very much like the ranting of a bitter man, nostalgic for Serie A’s faded glory. And it is. Italian football could be so great but, Juventus aside, it hasn’t found a way to fit into the modern era. It looks dated, it lacks the financial clout it once had, and it’s struggling to hold on to its stars. Even so, despite the increasingly all star cast list in France, I just can’t fake an interest in Ligue 1. How can I when the main driver behind this influx of talent is a team Paris – a city that is so not bothered about football that it only has one team. Think how massive Paris is and yet that one club needed a limitless supply of money to make it them competitive again.
Look, I know Serie A isn’t perfect – it’s very imperfect – but you can’t deny it has more charm than Ligue 1. Despite the corruption and the crumbling stadiums, there’s something there, something that suggests playing in Italy still matters and it always will. Let me put it another way, aside from PSG, Monaco are likely to be one of the best sides in Ligue 1 next season. This is a club with barely any fans that play in a tax haven principality surrounded by luxury yachts. What more can I say. This is not football.