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Regional Sports News
ROME – The Italian Davis Cup team have been drawn alongside USA and Canada in group F of the tournament’s Finals in November.
Andreas Seppi, Marco Berrettini and Simone Bolelli ensured Italy’s qualification for the new-look format with a comfortable 3-1 victory over India at the beginning of February.
They face a considerably tougher challenge in Madrid however, facing 32-time Davis Cup champions USA and a Canadian side that boasts former world number three Milos Raonic and young talent Denis Shapovalov.
In a big change from previous years, the entire tournament will be played over just one week in November, with the six group winners and the two best runners-up qualifying for the knockout stages.
Italy have only won the Davis Cup once, back in 1976, and have finished runners-up on six occasions, but haven’t mounted a serious challenge for a number of years.
ROME – The spending capacity of Italian football club owners is being unfairly restricted by Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, weakening competition in the Serie A and discouraging foreign investors, a top player representative says.
Dr Roberto Ciccioli, who is also Head of Tax and Advisory Services at the Consulting Centre in Rome and Milan, voiced his objections in an interview with Italian Insider to the current financial limitations imposed upon European clubs by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA).
“If owners want to spend, they should have the autonomy to do so,” Dr Ciccioli says, arguing that FFP rules, which require a club to adhere to break-even requirements (balancing revenues and losses equally), significantly reduce the incentive for interested parties to invest in Italian football.
UEFA introduced Financial Fair Play in 2009 under former president Michele Platini, in an attempt to improve the “overall financial health of European club football” by curbing reckless spending, a statement from the organisation said.
By preventing the richest clubs from accruing huge debts with their big-money spending, while simultaneously ensuring that smaller teams did not veer from financially healthy positions, UEFA also hoped to address the imbalances between top and bottom clubs in the European leagues.
“The opposite has happened,” Dr Ciccioli says. “In Italy, the gap between Juventus and the rest of the Serie A has been increased by FFP rules.” He puts this down to prospective owners being dissuaded from investing in smaller teams both in Italy and across Europe, because their spending capabilities will be significantly be hampered by UEFA’s system.
Added to that, two of Italy’s most successful clubs, AC and Inter Milan, have had their wings clipped by FFP violations, despite boasting ownership from an American hedge fund and Chinese retail giant Suning, respectively.
AC Milan only just avoided being banned from the Europa League for the 18/19 season by entering into a settlement agreement with UEFA and both clubs will have to reign in their transfer market spending over the next two years. Competing with Juventus for the Scudetto in the next few seasons seems very unlikely, Dr Ciccioli suggests.
“If there are no corrections to the FFP system, Inter and AC Milan will struggle to get back on track,” according to ‘rossoneri’ legend Zvonimir Boban, who won a Champions League title with the club in 1994 and is now Deputy Secretary General of FIFA.
Speaking to Gazzetta dello Sport, Boban praised UEFA’s work in encouraging financial solidity within football clubs but argued that “rules to impose a balanced budget must not prevent entrepreneurs from making new investments.”
A possible amendment to FFP regulations could be the introduction of some sort of ‘bank guarantee,’ Dr Ciccioli suggests. Club owners would ring-fence a certain amount of their funds for spending in the transfer market and covering debts the club accrues from its acquisitions, ensuring that the club itself remained in a financially healthy state.
Owners would then be given autonomy over their own investments. They would no longer be hindered by the limitations currently placed on them by FFP rules, provided that they guarantee to bear the financial burden of debts taken on by the club in the transfer market, Dr Ciccioli says.
Under the proposed amendment, clubs with deep-pocketed owners, like Abu Dhabi and Qatar-backed Manchester City and Paris Saint Germain, would have almost limitless power in the transfer market, Dr Ciccioli concedes.
Foreign parties, however, would be far more inclined to invest in smaller clubs, particularly in Italy, he suggests, given the considerable opportunities for these clubs to develop and expand. Perhaps then Juventus’ iron-grip on the Scudetto may loosen slightly.
Equally, bigger spending power in the transfer market would not necessarily translate to Champions League success, Dr Ciccioli adds. In the years before Financial Fair Play was introduced, Real Madrid were the world’s biggest spenders, breaking the transfer record a number of times after the turn of the Millennium for one ‘Galactico’ after another. Yet in that ten-year period, Madrid reached just one final, winning the competition in 2002.
In fact, in the eight years since UEFA implemented FFP rules, Real and Barcelona have dominated the competition, winning a combined six trophies. Further evidence, Dr Ciccioli suggests, that Financial Fair Play has done nothing to level the playing field among European clubs, but rather has had the opposite effect, particularly in Italy.
The failure of the system for the Serie A can be seen through the lens of Juventus’ acquisition of Cristiano Ronaldo. The arrival of a legend of the sport should be met in the upcoming summer transfer window with similar big-name signings from Juve’s rivals.
However, neither Milan sides will be able to invest heavily, due to previous violations, and Roma and Napoli’s pockets simply aren’t deep enough. As much as the Serie A has been urged to capitalise on the increased interest in the league, financial restrictions have all-but ensured that the signing of a player in Ronaldo’s echelon will, for now at least, be a one-off.
ROME – Lorenzo Musetti’s triumph at the Australian Junior Open may be laying the foundations for a resurgence that Italian tennis so badly needs.
In true Grand Slam-winning fashion, the 16-year-old from Carrara fell to the ground in celebration after converting a fourth match point to become the first Italian ever to win a Junior title in Melbourne, beating American Emilio Nava 4-6 6-2 7-6 (14-12).
The tournament’s top seed had come so close to Grand Slam glory just months previously at the US Open, losing in the final to Brazilian Thiago Seyboth Wild over three sets.
So when Nava took the first set 6-4, it seemed as though history may have been about to repeat itself. Just as in New York, though, Musetti came out swinging in the second set, taking it comfortably 6-2.
Seyboth Wild had proved too much for the Italian back in September, winning the decider 6-2. But against Nava, Musetti held his nerve to take the match into a final-set championship tiebreak.
Nava managed to save three match points at 8-9, 9-10 and 10-11, before taking a 12-11 lead himself. Despite wasting golden opportunities to win his first major title, Musetti showed no signs of pressure, duly producing a big first-serve when match-point down, which Nava could only help into the bottom of the net.
At the fourth time of asking, 13-12 ahead, the Italian was gifted victory by an uncharacteristically wayward forehand from Nava that flew long.
Cue disbelief, joy and relief all rolled into one as Musetti lay spread-eagled on the Rod Laver court in tears, almost certainly unaware that he had just made history.
Falling at the final hurdle at Flushing Meadows in September was a big turning point for the teenager, who admitted in his on-court acceptance speech in Australia that “it had been a huge surprise” to reach the final in the U.S.
Speaking to journalists in his post-match press conference, Musetti recognised that the “experience” he had gained in New York was a significant contributing factor towards his triumph in Melbourne, especially given his status as first-seed, which only added to the pre-existent pressure on his shoulders.
The Italian’s demeanour when facing questions from reporters from across the world was particularly impressive. He took the whole occasion in his stride, was effusive in his praise for his opponent, as every gracious champion is, and showed a maturity that made it very easy to forget he is just 16 years old.
Branding Musetti ‘the future of Italian tennis,’ as some critics have done, after just one Junior Grand Slam title may be somewhat excessive – others before him have been unable to translate success in their youth to the adult game (2013 Wimbledon Juniors champion Gianluigi Quinzi, who is currently 153rd in the ATP world rankings, for example).
Yet the current crop of Italians on the ATP and WTA tours have had such little success, it is no surprise that those involved in the sport are crying out for a new generation to inspire a resurgence.
Seven Italians entered the men’s singles draw in Australia, none of whom made it past the third round, despite both Fabio Fogini and Marco Cecchinato being seeded.
In fact, of those seven, only Cecchinato has reached a Grand Slam singles semi-final – a brilliant run at the 2018 French Open included a spectacular victory over 15-time major winner Novak Djokovic. Since Roland Garros, though, the Italian number two has won just two matches in Masters or Grand Slam tournaments.
Fognini does boast an Australian Open doubles title, which he won alongside fellow Italian Simone Bolelli in 2015, and has proven he has the game to compete with the very best – he once beat Rafael Nadal three times in the same year – but has failed to play at this level on a consistent basis.
In fairness, the tennis produced by both Djokovic and Nadal in Melbourne shows just how far behind the rest of the field are, not just the Italians. The ease with which both players took apart their semi-final opponents was genuinely alarming.
When the pair are in the sort of form they showed Down Under, the idea of anyone else challenging for a Grand Slam title in the next few years is almost inconceivable. So perhaps Fognini and Cecchinato can be forgiven for their lack of success, though results against fellow top twenty players are still disappointing.
On the WTA tour, gone are the heydays of Sara Errani, Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci, who won a collective 7 Grand Slams (singles and doubles) from 2011 to 2015.
Errani and Vinci formed a formidable doubles partnership, reaching eight of a possible 12 Grand Slam finals from 2012 to 2014, collecting five winners’ trophies in that time. Their triumph at Wimbledon in 2014 completed a career Grand Slam for the pair (winning each of the four major titles), a feat only a handful have managed in the history of the game.
Both have also added a Grand Slam singles final to their career CV. Errani was beaten by Maria Sharapova in straight sets at the 2012 French Open, while in 2015 Vinci toppled Serena Williams, who was almost unbeatable at the time, on her way to an all-Italian US Open final against Pennetta.
Pennetta prevailed over two sets, doubling her Grand Slam collection after winning the 2011 Australian Open doubles alongside Argentinian Gisela Dulko.
Camila Giorgi is now the sole Italian presence on the women’s tour. The 27-year-old ended 2018 ranked 26th in the world and reached a quarter-final at Wimbledon, where she took the first set of Williams. Whether she can convert her talent into results in big tournaments, however, still remains to be seen.
Being talented, having potential, but unable to back it up with results, does seem to define the current generation of Italian players rather aptly.
It is perhaps too early to judge whether Musetti can change that perception, but the qualities he demonstrated in Australia, in particular the mental fortitude to come from a set down to win a Grand Slam title, are extremely encouraging.
A modern-day renaissance on the tennis court, with Musetti at the helm, could well be on the cards.
ROME – 19-year-old Nicolo Zaniolo scored a brace to give AS Roma a 2-1 first-leg lead against Porto in their Champions League last-16 fixture.
The teenager hit two goals in six minutes at the Stadio Olimpico, becoming the youngest Italian to score two goals in a Champions League tie. Porto then grabbed an away goal to set up an intriguing second-leg.
After a tense, goalless 70 minutes, Zaniolo opened the scoring with a cool finish, controlling an Edin Dzeko pass and firing low into the bottom corner past goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
Dzeko was again involved in the build-up to the second goal. The striker hit the post from 20 yards out as Roma found some space in Porto’s half, leaving an open net for Zainolo double his tally.
Porto hit back just three minutes later, though, with an all-important away goal. A lucky miscue landed at the feet of Adrian Lopez, who fired past Antonio Mirante.
Lopez’s strike means that a 1-0 win for Porto in the second-leg, taking place on March 6, will guarantee their qualification.
“We felt like a team,” Roma manager Eusebio di Francesco said after the game, confident that his side can defend this result in Portugal in three weeks’ time.