Juventus president Andrea Agnelli has come under the fire for recent comments about Gian Piero Gasperini’s high-flying Atalanta, claiming they aren’t worthy representatives for Italy in the Champions Leauge. The Juventus president has regularly been on record in favour of a European superleague and criticized the Champions League’s current format.
In an interview at the FT Business of Football Summit in London, Agnelli said:
“I have great respect for everything that Atalanta are doing, but without international history and thanks to just one great season, they had direct access into the primary European club competition. Is that right or not?”
In case you missed it this season, Atalanta are primed to qualify for Europe’s elite eight having smashed Valencia 4-1 in their opening leg. After a rough opening three games, Atalanta found stability and did well to progress to the round of 16 against all the odds. In addition, Gasperini’s men are currently in fourth place, three points ahead of Roma with a game in hand, indicating last season’s success was far from a one-off.
Factor in that Atalanta are competing with Europe’s elites with a fraction of the budget, their rise becomes all the more impressive. In many ways, that’s what football is all about. It’s about the plucky underdog that defies all odds and finds a way to win. It’s about that team that goes against the grain and hits unprecedented heights when no one expected them to. If Agnelli’s superleague is put into place, these success stories will be fewer and far between if any at all, and would completely eliminate the magic of the sport.
For the last two seasons, Gasperini’s men have outplayed Italy’s traditional giants, pipping them to the final European places. Last season, they finished ahead of Inter, Milan, Roma, and Lazio and deservedly so. Despite this, Agnelli maintains their European qualification should not be guaranteed.
“Then I think of AS Roma, who contributed in recent years to maintaining Italy’s ranking. They had one bad season and are out, with all the consequent damage to them financially.”
If the superleague goes through as Agnelli wishes, it would reward clubs based on history and brand name, rather than results. In essence, the rich would get richer. In a society where elites control most facets of everyday life, football must reject this wholeheartedly and keep a meritocracy in place. Inefficiencies remain with the current system as big spenders are typically rewarded, however, less so than in a superleague, for example. In sports, most of the time, you get what you deserve. If you put in the work, chances are you’ll get rewarded accordingly.
Few clubs, if any, in Italy have innovated like Atalanta and have built a base for long-term success. Gli Orobici play an expansive brand of football, promote a host of youth talents annually and will soon be playing in their own stadium. While they may not be considered as one of Italian football’s pioneers, or one of the Seven Sisters, they shouldn’t be punished either for not being there from day one. A case could even be made that Atalanta are currently the nation’s most progressive side and represent all that is good with Italian football.
Agnelli’s comments, while they may seem like one man’s opinion, represent a far bigger problem in football that currently exists. Europe’s elite have no regard for their league’s provinciali and will stop at nothing until the current format is blown up for their own benefit. Simply put, they’re in it for themselves. In an era where Europe’s elites have each other’s backs, the rest of Italy and the world, must do the same. Otherwise, we’ll be seeing the same 16 teams, if not fewer, every year fight for Europe’s crown. And where’s the fun in that?
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