On Sunday September 4 the new Lega Pro season kicks off in the Peninsula after another summer of turmoil in the third and fourth tiers of Italian football. The past three months has seen new regulations introduced by Lega President Mario Macalli as he tries to stop lower league football going into financial meltdown.
In order to try to get all clubs on an even keel, Macalli decided to introduce an inscription fee for entry into both C1 (division 3) and C2 (division 4). The result of this has seen a huge reduction of teams taking part in this season’s championship. After weeks of appeals from various clubs desperately trying to find the 300,000 Euro fee for C2 and the 600,000 Euro fee for C1, Lega Pro has been reduced to four divisions (two in C1 and two in C2) rather than the traditional five. It is the fourth tier that has seen the biggest change, losing an entire division due to the financial deficiencies of clubs way down the Italian footballing pyramid.
A total of 77 clubs will kick-off the new campaign on Sunday, 36 of them in C1 and 41 in C2. The third tier is made up of two divisions of 18 teams whilst the fourth sees 20 teams in section A and 21 in section B ensuring that one club will always get a weekend off.
So who are the winners and losers of the new divisional shake-up? Down in the south Avellino, who narrowly missed out on promotion to C1 after losing a play-off semi-final now find themselves elevated into the third tier and Catanzaro, who during the last campaign, were deducted points for failing to fulfil early season fixtures in C2 due to a player strike in regard to non-payment of wages, have been allowed back into the championship from which they were relegated – a move that has saved the clubs short-term future. Other winners from Macalli’s radical re-think are Ternana, Sud Tirol and Monza who, after dismal campaigns last term resulting in relegation into the fourth tier, now find themselves re-instated into C1.
But wherever there are winners there has to be losers and in a league were failure to gain promotion can be the difference between survival and extinction, the professional ranks of Italian football has had to say goodbye to both Atletico Roma and Salernitana, who were by far the biggest casualties of the financial crackdown. In the capital, Atletico Roma came within touching distance of promotion but were pipped in the play-off final by Juve Stabia. The tears of despair at the end of the second leg displayed by players and management alike told the tragic story that this club would fail to start the new campaign at the wonderful Flaminio Stadium and everyone’s worst fears were confirmed just days later, the club disbanded to hopefully reform down in the amateur ranks.
In Salerno, more play-off final heartbreak signalled the end of an era with Salernitana admitting almost straight after their defeat to Verona that they would be unable to enter this seasons championship. After much takeover speculation in the Southern City, mayor Vincenzo De Luca accepted a proposal from Morgenstern srl headed by Gianni Mezzaroma to take over the club under the new name of Salerno Calcio, who start this season in the amateur ranks of Serie D. Mezzaroma is the brother-in-law of Lazio supremo Claudio Lotito, who has promised to help out in any way he can. Gianni’s son Marco has been given the presidency.
The lower leagues of Italian football have also not been immune to the betting scandal that has rocked the peninsula since early spring. Benevento, whose on loan goalkeeper Marco Paoloni has been banned for 5 years from professional football have to start the new campaign with a six point penalty as does the player’s parent club Cremonese. Also in C1,Piacenza, who suffered the heartbreak of relegation last season, will start life in the third division four points adrift whilst Reggiana will start with a minus two handicap. Taranto and Viareggio will both take one point penalties into the new season.
Alessandria, who also came close to play-off glory in June, find themselves relegated to C2 after their former President, Giorgio Veltroni was implicated in the scandal during the summer receiving a four-year exclusion from any involvement in the game.
Its been another summer of discontent in the world of calcio and in the lower reaches of Italian football the harsh reality has started to bite. The new criteria put in place by Macalli are the first steps in an attempt to bring some sort of cohesion to the game at a level which over the past few years, has spiralled out of control. Italy needs its lower level football, it provides a platform for up and coming coaches to take their first steps on the managerial ladder whilst giving the peninsula’s footballing superpowers a chance to send their promising young talent out on loan to gain valuable first-team experience. Lets now hope that the dark days are at an end and the next nine months provide us with some truly memorable moments.
In part two of the season preview The Football Express will take a look at some of the title contenders and the players to watch out for over the coming months.
Follow Steve Mitchell on twitter @barafundler.