English clubs on rise, Italy loses creativity

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:03 AM ET

The super three will likely all officially decide their league winners this weekend.

Manchester United need a point to clinch the English Premier League title, Barcelona can win La Liga in Spain with a win or Real Madrid loss while in Italy, what's been a foregone conclusion for what seems an eternity, Inter will clinch their fourth Scudetto in succession with a win.

While it may be nothing more than perception but Inter's victory seems not only the least impressive but provides the least satisfaction.

At the risk of annoying Italian Serie A fans, if there is one league that's fallen below expectations, it's been Serie A.

It lacked intrigue, excitement, atmosphere and success.

While Manchester United will once again win the Premier League title, for most of the season the league provided a race that included four teams. A sizeable United lead was whittled down to a point where Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool dared dream of catching them.

It didn't happen but it provided a reason to tune into the league every weekend.

Away from the Premier League, the top English clubs continued an astonishing run of success in Europe, taking four of the last eight spots in the Champions League quarterfinals and three-of-the-four in the semifinal.

La Liga provided some drama in the race for the top, but it's Barcelona's success in Europe where it broke English dominance in the Champions League making it to the final, that was the prize. Barcelona also won Spain's Copa del Rey.

Which brings us to Serie A.

There was a time when playing an Italian super club struck fear in the hearts of the opposition. This year, that has not been the case.

Inter dominated Serie A but failed to make it past the quarterfinals of the Champions' League. That was as good as it got in Europe for Italian clubs.

Inter has suffered criticism as a team that wins more with strength than skill. With the potential loss of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to a club outside Italy, Inter will have lost what many feel is their only imaginative player.

A trip down the list of Italian sides that normally are among Europe's leaders in talent and success shows an obvious decline in strength.

Juventus has done a remarkable job of thrusting itself back among the top clubs in Italy after their demotion to Serie B for their role in attempting to influence the results of games. But it speaks volumes about the overall quality of the league that they were able to move to the top so quickly.

But Juve is very much like A.C. Milan. Too old, too tired and lacking the quality it needs for the future.

Even their great goaltender Gianluigi Buffon recognizes the team's decline. While he is speaking about Juve, he could well be talking teams like A.C. Milan and Roma.

"The truth is that we are not competitive like Inter and we are not even on the same level of at least two other teams," Buffon said.

The decline of Italian clubs and their failures in European competitions has been more than just embarrassing. It has cost them a lot of money -- money that can allow them to improve.

Everything that has happened this year in Serie A will guarantee one thing -- an active off-season. Don't be surprised if both Juventus and Milan change coaches. Don't be surprised if the big clubs spend what they need to spend, even if they have to borrow, to go big into the transfer market.

The question is will they be able to compete any more successfully in the transfer market against the top-money teams than they did on the pitch.


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