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The Italian Cup is no longer fun

Should we copy the FA Cup system and remove the heads of series?

The Italian Cup is no longer fun Should we copy the FA Cup system and remove the heads of series?

If you think about it, apart from the big wins, 2021 was a special year for football, a sport that for about 48 hours found itself at the centre of a real hurricane due to the SuperLeague. Its short-lived birth and subsequent failure provoked the same reaction: some announced the death of football as we knew it and others toasted a new era. The news of the union of intentions of the 12 founding clubs shook the conscience of everyone, even the biggest representatives of national governments who called loudly for the preservation of merit and championships. 

And at a time when governments, fans and leagues were cheering and rowing together towards the rapid dismantling of the SuperLeague, guilty (rightly) of favouring the rich and big clubs to the detriment of the smaller ones, thus ruining part of the beauty of the game, a few months later the Lega di Serie A announced a new format for the much maligned Coppa Italia. A few months later the Lega Serie A announced a new format for the much-maligned Coppa Italia, a revolution rather than a new format, capable of immediately making the competition more attractive to both sponsors and television broadcasters. All normal in today's football, subject to the complex logic of television (from next year, second and third green shirts will be banned so as not to confuse viewers). The new format envisages a drastic reduction in the number of participants, from 78 to 44, but to whose detriment?

Because of merit and coat of arms, it is practically impossible to think of cutting out any team from the top division. So, while the League was still animatedly debating the Superleague - citing the usual story of David against Goliath, with the latter playing the role of the super-competition conceived by Juventus, Barca, Real and co. - the Italian federation decided to eliminate all the minor teams from the Lega Pro onwards from the Coppa Italia.

The Coppa Italia has always been a unique moment for me, it was and still is the perfect opportunity to see those players who are off the radar and out of the spotlight and who often struggle to get minutes in the league. But not only that, it was a chance to see your own team face others that it could never have met because of the category. A competition born romantically to dream, given that years teams such as Palermo, Lazio and then also Napoli, clubs not used to raising trophies often, have come close to victory or triumphed. In short, beyond the not always exciting game, the Coppa Italia has always given us some emotions.     

One of the feats of a few years ago that I still remember with pleasure, is when in 2015 Alessandria, after Alto Vicentino, Pro Vercelli, Juve Stabia, Palermo, Genoa and Spezia found themselves at the San Siro against AC Milan, just 90 minutes from the final. From memory, that was one of the last happy years of the Coppa Italia, with the Piedmontese team's ride supported and talked about as a Cinderella and seeing Milan as an innocent antagonist, guilty or almost guilty of breaking the dreams of an entire nation. After Alessandria, two years later the Coppa Italia managed to give us another pleasant surprise, that of Pordenone, who also stopped at the San Siro, but this time against Inter in the round of 16. It was a special moment, since the team from Friuli not only became known for its sparkling game but also for its ruthless social communication, which in a few months became a case history and reached important numbers considering the user base of the Lega Pro team.

In a recent interview for a national newspaper, Di Matteo, the former Chelsea coach, had this to say about the English version: "playing in the FA Cup takes you to the heart of England: tradition and passion, epic and dream. Then there is the business aspect, which should not be overlooked. A club that is lucky enough to be able to meet a big club with a percentage of the takings can restructure its facilities, balance its books or improve its academies." The English model has proven to be successful and profitable over the years. The full draw has become a real television event, often seen in many famous films such as Hooligans and That Cursed United, where the spasmodic waiting and all the importance of the moment is emphasised and exalted, where anyone can any club, from the top series to the last. In the FA Cup there are no heads of series, it is a perfect democratic system where the best in a dry race goes ahead. 

In the Italian version, however, the table is already almost pre-determined, where the big clubs that go straight into the final stages have a minimal chance of meeting clubs from lower categories, as they are considered seeded. The Coppa Italia has always been seen as a simple shortcut to European competitions, since until a few years ago the conquest of the trophy reserved access to the summer play-offs of the Europa League. In Italy the moment of the draw has never been particularly awaited, there has always been a lack of spectacularity of the event that works so well in England, there is a lack of those unique moments that only the rectangles of the last divisions can give, like when Mourinho and his Tottenham found themselves in a three thousand seat stadium, surrounded by houses and fans, 'crowded' and hidden, offering wine to the players.

In light of what happened in 2021 and the results achieved in England, but also following the Spanish or German models, the Coppa Italia, given the latest auctions for television rights that did not exactly go well, with Rai deciding not to invest further in the competition after years, needs to update once again. Including the minor teams could be the right solution to give both breathing space to the coffers of the smaller clubs and improve the nurseries and the Italian football industry, giving it wide prominence and bringing out unlikely stories such as those that happened to Spurs in Crosby, Merseyside, despite the bombastic victory.