What’s the Truth about Serie A?

5 10 2011

by Adam Bate

Sam Wallace (The Independent): “You go to Stoke, they’ve got an identity. You go to Bolton and that club’s got an identity. When I watch Serie A you don’t feel that so much about the smaller clubs there.”

Shaun Custis (The Sun): “You watch Serie A do you? I didn’t think people did that anymore. Genuinely, I didn’t.”

Neil Ashton (Daily Mail): “If you watch the last couple of weeks both the games have been 0-0 draws.”

Shaun Custis (The Sun): “Italian football has dropped off the map. You do get the feeling there is so much more competition in this country – you do feel that teams at the bottom can win the big games at any point.”

Sunday Supplement, Sky Sports, 25/09/2011

It’s quite an exchange and while it kicked up a storm on Twitter it may well have tapped into a common view among English football fans.

Thankfully, some of these views can be challenged by looking at the statistics.


Neil Ashton’s facile point that the recent televised games had ended goalless suggests he is of the view that there are fewer goals scored in Italian football. Is this true?

In short, yes it is. Over the past three seasons there have been 2935 goals in Serie A at an average of 2.57 per game. In the Premier League there have been 3058 goals at an average of 2.68 per game.

Interestingly, however, Ashton may be surprised to note that in two of the past three seasons there have been more goalless draws in the Premier League than in Serie A. In total, in the last three completed seasons there have been 98 goalless draws in England compared to 82 in Italy.

So why are there both more goals and more goalless draws in the Premier League than in Serie A? That may have something to do with the heavy beatings that the top teams in England are capable of dishing out on a regular basis – and it strikes at the heart of the debate about competitiveness…


Custis’s claim that the teams at the bottom of the Premier League can win the big games at any point is an interesting one.

If it were true that England’s weakest sides were getting better results against the top teams than their Italian equivalent then that would certainly indicate a greater competitiveness. But it isn’t true.

Comparing the results of the bottom three sides against the top three sides in both England and Italy is revealing in so much as what it does not reveal. It does not bring to light these miraculous results that justify Custis’s “feeling” he gets.

In 2010-11 the three relegated teams from the Premier League (Birmingham City, Blackpool and West Ham United) managed one win, three draws and 14 defeats against England’s top three (Man Utd, Chelsea and Man City).

That one win was for Birmingham against Chelsea (memorable for you Shaun?) and, admittedly, it’s one more than the Serie A sides managed. However, Italy’s bottom three (Bari, Brescia and Sampdoria) did get seven draws against Serie A’s top three (Milan, Inter and Napoli) meaning that they took more points off the top sides than their English equivalent.

Perhaps Custis and co were hinting at a more general competitiveness than is shown in the results. But a look at other key performance indicators only serves to highlight the competitiveness of the Italian league.

The spread of average possession stats for 2010-11 – per the WhoScored website using Opta statistics – show a greater disparity in England (38% to 60%) than in Italy (43% to 59%).

The pass completion rates tell a similar story. The spread in England is from 64% to 84% but in Italy there is remarkably consistent with Lecce bottom of the pile with a respectable 73%.

It’s a similar story so far in 2011-12 and the early indications are that Serie A is set for a wide open title race with just three points separating the top eight.

It adds weight to the argument of Italian football expert James Horncastle when he says: “At this moment in time Serie A is the most competitive it’s ever been.”


The notion of identity is a more difficult matter to prove. And yet, it should come as no surprise that an English person should detect a greater sense of identity among English clubs.

Sam Wallace points out Bolton Wanderers are a club that he sees as having a clear identity – but one wonders whether this identity resonates among the Italian public?

It’s tempting to conclude that this supposed contrast between England and Italy reveals nothing more than the journalist’s own ignorance.

Perhaps it’s best to leave the final word on this topic to James Richardson, former presenter of Football Italia on Channel 4, who says: “There is no country with a stronger regional identity than Italy and it is absolutely expressed through the clubs.”




14 responses

5 10 2011
Boaz Sachs (@cougarmicrobes)

Thanks for posting this nice little analysis/retort. I’m glad more people were annoyed by this.

a little embarrassing for these (tempted to say so-called) journos. If you are ignorant about a topic it is best not to talk about it and yet they feel entitled to rehash old cliches. .

The English media has been prejudiced about Italian football for forever, such is life.

5 10 2011
Philip Gatt

Bravo, you did the hard work so we don’t have to.

Not that we needed it, people like us, who have been watching Serie A forever (ok, since the 70’s) know all about clubs’ identities and the excellent football a lot of them play.

As for the British ‘journalists’, unfortunately I doubt they’d be reading sensible stuff like this, unless it’s written by themselves and it praises their mates (eg. Harry Redknapp).

Well done on a very good post.

5 10 2011

The one thing I find remarkable about English football is the attendences. The crowds in England, particularly in the lower leagues, are amazing. I know there are numerous reasons why crowds in Italy have fallen off recently, but you can’t overlook the difference at the moment.

Great article, though. Really good read, and the comments you cited deserved to be pulled apart and presented as the trite nonsense they are.

7 10 2011

Yes but you forget that Italy is a country that is strong in other sports and has serious competition during the winter months for football.

I travel a lot and spend about 1-2 wks a year in Italy for my job and if you are there and love sports, its really nirvana.
Professional ice hockey, the amazing basketball, handball, volleyball, waterpolo, handball and most often for both sexes.
Go to Spain, Greece, Serbia and tons of other countries and you realize that football isnt the only thing.
All those countries mentioned have won euro or world cups in those sports above.(heck, serbia has more top tennis players now than UK has had in the past 4 decades).
Yes, I know about cricket and rugby but those are like ice hockey regional sports, Im talking the big 5 international sports, their leagues, their national teams and qualifications and such.
UK does NOT have a great sporting culture outside their own core sports.
Very similar to the US in a way.

Attendance is nice but you know that Britney Spears/Miley Cyris sell out stadium everywhere they go.
Do attendances only come for quality?
Full stands dont mean entertaining or technically adept football.

I have problems watching the EPL past the 5-6 teams with money (yes, arse and spurs are in this group) wehn I see the Bolton, Barnsley, Norwich, Sunderland, Stoke and so on appear.
Is there a reason to watch Wigan unless you are a fan?
How about Fulham?
And ive seen enough 2nd, 3rd and 4th division teams in UK to know about the quality and technical skills and cant say Im impressed.

Of course, thats a question of taste.

im not a die hard fan of italian soccer and while I like the intensity of english ball, there is a lack of subtlety and finesse that is similar to US soccer.
But thats the great thing about the game, while the national teams are startting to look all the same, national leagues vary from country to country. Watch a mexican league game, an argentinian and a brazilian league game and its world away from watching Blackburn vs… who cares.

But thats the english god complex: only what they do matters and is important. Probably a trait picked up when England was god for 3-4 centuries.
I know, I know… the brits invented the game. So what? How does that make it more interesting to me? Do americans keep harping about inventing basketball or the japanese judo? No.
(thats another story for another time…. but why does Britain still get 4 votes out of 8 at IFAB? Because they invented the game? please.. NO other sports allows for this kind of BS. Wales, Scotland and Nireland are not countries. Until they are FIFA will never escape the charges of favoritism. No one DESERVES a national team, you have to BE A COUNTRY. You can to change FIFA, to democratize it? Then thats the first thing to do: everyone is treated the same. But nooooo, that wont work… .)

The game of futbol is worlwide, people watch their leagues, go to their games and watch a brand of ball that isnt necesarilly better or worse as much as it is different.
But to navel gazers, there is only one true game of football and they will spend countless hours trying to convince themselves that this means anything.

Then again, I shouldnt blame the english press. You should read the things said about the english national team in spain, italy and germany whenever a failure comes around.
The embarassment against Algeria was memorable because so many foreign reporters took out their bats for retribution and really laid into the quality of the players.

12 10 2011

Hold on didn’t Britain win 19 gold medals in the last olympic games? You can’t claim that they want it through football rugby and cricket.
Moreover surely London has the most large stadiums in the world, with Emmirates, Wembley, Wimbledon, Twickenham, Stamford bridge, Olympic stadium etc etc. surely that is proof England is a proud sport loving country.
Anyhow I don’t want to side with these anti Italian football critics. I always fine Italian football fascinating and I can’t understand why it attracts so much criticism

5 10 2011
Smart Mark

Brilliant read. It’s not just Italian football – people in this country are just massively ignorant of world football.

The sad thing is, so many morons watch and read these ignorant journalists, and just take their ill-informed opinions as fact. I can just see people watching that Sunday Supplement then going down the pub and opining to their mates ‘Italian footie’s shit innit? Not competitive like England.’

5 10 2011

Thanks for the nice comments.

One of things I could have elaborated on is the identity issue as it’s probably the area in which they were most wrong – however I wanted to focus on some of the facts rather than opinions.

The idea of regional identity is so strong in Italy and is apparent to anyone bothered to find out about it. How can anyone claim clubs like Cagliari, Palermo and Napoli have no identity?

7 10 2011

I live in Napoli. I have said it before, but here in Napoli, they is no divide. There is no “Option B”.

London has five teams in the Premiership, and so I get the sense it could be diluted; not here. To see 66,000 people pack into a stadium for a pre-season game … tell those people they don’t have an identity.

5 10 2011

Really great piece. These people really need to be called out on their ignorance more often. Sadly, it’s not just Italian football. They have the same opinion of every other league.

6 10 2011
Paolo Sala

Your (great) post is the first thing I read this morning with my cup of italian coffe.
Thanks for defending the football of my country with statistics and figures.
I have to say, though, that the general level of Italian clubs perfomances has been decreased quite a lot in latest few years, and the results in European competitions demonstrate what is happening in our football.
Thanks for the hospitality.

6 10 2011
jamesbmitchell (@NUFCSoldMyName)

Great analysis. As soon as I heard them bleat on about Serie A I hoped for a retort.

The regional Identity more than anything smacks of their utter ignorance. I get the impression ‘jobs for the boys’ extends from football to football journalism in some papers, or at least it must do as many journalists seems to be permanently wearing Premier League tinted glasses.

10 10 2011

Great post – not sure about the angry American chap’s comment though. “World Series” anyone ???

12 10 2011

Excellent article, unfortunately this type of ignorance is rife within England.

12 10 2011

Thanks ever so much for this. I used to be a journalist for a local paper – I will refrain from naming the paper or region. Six years in that job seeing the so-called national journalists in action was enough to put me off the job (as were other things such as pay, crap bosses, etc).
I covered a mid-sized Premier League size for my newspaper. And I was shocked at how arrogant and one-eyed these national journalists are.
Their behaviour was boorish at times. They’d come into the press conference room with agendas already set. One reporter famously used to have his story written and just wanted to write the manager’s quotes into the story he already had on his page. If a manager didn’t answer the question how they wanted it answered then they’d sulk or try to twist his words. One journalist actually said ‘Come XXXX, give us a fair go – we’ve all got our jobs to do’. I would add that it wasn’t all national journalists but a select few, including a few big names and maybe some of the people mentioned in Ghostgoal’s blog above.
Suffice to say, they put the boot into any manager who wouldn’t toe their line while sucked up to those they did. Oh, and yes, I do mean Harry Redknapp.
The bottom line is, I would ignore what they say on Sunday Supplement. Because most of them don’t even know what is happening at the clubs in the next street to them let alone in another country. If you want the most reliable information on clubs then best stick to local press or media such as BBC radio. Avoid national media.
And don’t even get me started on Sky.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s