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Soccer: Serie A looks to learn from Bundesliga

Long-term planning, focus on young players part of success story

Soccer: Serie A looks to learn from Bundesliga

(By Paul Virgo) Rome, April 26 - Long considered Serie A's poor relation, Germany's Bundesliga is now being hailed as the model for the Italian top flight to follow after Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund's spectacular wins in the Champions League semi-final first legs. An all-German final is likely after Bayern thrashed Barcelona 4-0 and Dortmund thumped Real Madrid 4-1 for an 8-1 victory for the Bundesliga over the top two sides in the Spanish Liga. There was an all-Italian Champions League final in 2003 when AC Milan beat Juventus on penalties following a goalless draw and Serie A clubs have won Europe's top competition twice since, with Milan in 2007 and Inter in 2010. But the overall competitiveness of Italian teams on the continental stage has still declined significantly over the last decade and Serie A has fallen to fourth in the UEFA ranking after being overtaken by the Bundesliga. This means that now only three Italian teams qualify for the Champions League, rather than the four they had before this season, with the extra place going to a German side. There are many elements to the Bundesliga's success and Serie A's troubles. German sides have comfortable modern stadiums where fans can enjoy restaurants, bars and shops, contributing to the Bundesliga having the highest attendances in Europe and boosting revenues. Most Italian soccer grounds are owned by the local councils and many in a poor state, largely because clubs have no incentive to invest in renovating stadia that do not belong to them. This has depressed attendances and means Italian clubs, unlike their rival outfits in German, England and Spain, cannot use the grounds to generate revenue. Bundesliga sides are also praised for their sound financial management, whereas Serie A teams, even in their heyday, have often relied on piling up debts to attract the best talent. Inter and Milan in recent years have scaled down their transfer dealings to stop the dependence on debt, in part to come into line with new European financial-fair-play rules. The Germans are way ahead. Bayern, for example, have only posted a loss once in the last 10 years. The Bavarians have some of the world's finest players on their books, such as France's Franck Ribery and his Dutch fellow winger Arjen Robben, but even so wages only account for 45% of their annual revenues of 368 million euros. Part of the reason for this is that German clubs are much better at generating revenue from merchandising and shirt sales. Dortmund, for example, generate 97 million of their annual turnover of 189 million euros from merchandising. The only Italian club at the same level is seven-time European champions Milan, who have a much bigger name to sell to fans at home and abroad, as do Juventus and Inter. The difference in spending power led Juve boss Antonio Conte to predict that no Italian side would win the Champions League again for some time after the Turin outfit were knocked out of the Champions League last-eight by Bayern. But there are also footballing reasons for the reversal, according to some experts. The German success story has not come about overnight. Part is down to attention given to nurturing young players, with the help of national soccer federation financing that has contributed to over 350 sporting academies coming to life. Both Bayern and Borussia have young sides featuring many home-grown players. The recent change in the spending policies of the top Italian clubs has given some young players a chance to shine that they probably would not have had otherwise. The best example is that of Milan forward Stephan El Shaarawy, a 20-year-old who became a regular starter this season after Zlatam Ibrahimovic's departure for Paris Saint-Germain and is his team's top scorer with 16 goals. Focusing on home-grown talent can only work if you have patience, which the German sides have. Italian clubs do not seem to. Indeed, the reaction of the League of Serie A clubs to Italy having no teams in the last four of either European competition was to ask the federation to up the number of foreign imports clubs can sign each year from two to three. Former Italy and Milan coach Arrigo Sacchi argues that Italian teams are also too focused on getting results immediately rather than concentrating on developing a positive playing style, which he says ends up being counter productive on the long term. "It will be hard for this (the Bundesliga's lesson) to be understood in our country, where we almost always go for the result while ignoring the value of playing sumptuous, generous, collective, fun, winning soccer," Sacchi wrote in his column in La Gazzetta dello Sport. "Almost everything is revolves around buying top players and debt. "Unfortunately, you can't buy good football, you create it, above all with ideas, work and commitment, then with players who are right for a technical, professional project - all the better if they have talent. But that comes after".

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