By how much are professional footballers/soccer players better than amateur players?

When I started working as a trainee lawyer in Milan many years ago, I frequently went to grab lunch in a coffee shop close to our firm.

One of the young baristas there was a very nice guy who happened to play in the AC Milan Primavera(the semi-pro youth team) and occasionally train with the AC Milan Serie-A pro team.

It was year 2002–3, so this guy met and trained with the legendary AC Milan line-up which eventually won the Champions League against FC Juventus in Manchester in May 2003 under Carletto Ancelotti’s helm.

For those who are not old enough to remember it, that was a stellar team, made of legendary players going by the names of Shevchenko, Maldini, Pirlo, Seedorf, Pippo Inzaghi etc., all of them in the prime-time of their careers.

That season, we bought the cheapest season-ticket to San Siro we could find (“Terzo Anello”, the top outer ring) and went many times together to watch Serie A and Champions League matches.

Through a common Romanian friend who was a waiter in the VIP zone, he was able to sneak us in the VIP zone at half-time and there he introduced me to Arrigo Sacchi, the legendary AC Milan former coach of the 80s, and even Kakha Kaladze and Massimo Ambrosini (who were both injured at a certain point of the season so they were watching the game from the VIP zone) and I often asked him how was like to play against the Pros.

He explained me the following:

  1. Pro players are not magicians making incredible tricks with the ball on the pitch: zero. Quite the opposite, their game is pretty straightforward to the point: get the ball, pass or shoot it. Little to no “tricks”.
  2. Pro players are physically extremely fast: they get to the ball incredibly quickly and much faster than semi-pro players. Compared to semi-pro, they play another game: they run amazingly fast with / without the ball. They also execute much faster. They take the ball, move, pass / shoot much quicker than semi-pro players, thus leaving a much shorter response-time for defenders to take appropriate countermeasures.
  3. Pro players are mentally extremely fast: they know where the ball will be (and can run there faster). Before they will receive the ball, they already know how to move, they know who will be in a certain position to receive their pass, they know what a certain player will do, where he will shoot, etc. Mentally their brain is hardwired to be “already there”.
  4. Pro players are extremely focused on the task assigned to them by the coach and use their superior performance for the benefit of the team.

The guy finally added that when the youth semi-pro team was playing against the Serie-A formation, the pros were so quick in their movements, actions, passes, etc. that the semi-pros basically did not see the ball.

I hope this helps!

Why did AC Milan fall apart?

AC Milan has been the victim of the very same revolution that its owner, Mr Berlusconi, ignited 30 years ago: the attitude of pouring an irrationally enormous amount of money on the football teams in order to obtain enormous visibility at home and abroad (and hopefully victories too).

Unfortunately for Mr Berlusconi, his fortunes have been dwindling due to his (and his companies) problems with Justice in Italy and abroad and the persistent economy crash of his home country, which he formidably contributed to generate by being his PM for approximately the last 15 years.

Time has passed: now the Sheiks from the middle east and the Russian Oligarchs set the price for the most talented players and this price, most of the times, cannot be even remotely afforded by Berlusconi anymore.

This lack of resources would require a new approach to the squad building: growing up young new talents in-house, hiring promising but undervalued players, supporting a Manager during good and bad times, etc. Unfortunately for AcMilan, no new approach is to be found at: quite the opposite.

Mr. Berlusconi’s inability to cope with the changing times in a new way is now legendary: he is a stubborn victim of the nostalgia of the good old times (for this reasons he hired – and subsequently sacked – both Seedorf and Inzaghi). Mihailovic has not even been able to complete his first season and has been already replaced by Brocchi (with zero coach experience in Serie A) with only 6 games of the season 2015-2016 season left.

As we know, Mr Berlusconi is also tied to Mr Galliani – the co-Ceo of the team – who cannot be fired without paying him a golden parachute of more than 100m Euro (apparently Berlusconi offered him 100m Euro but he refused and was ready to sue his employer and his daughter for libel): another payment that the Milanese tycoon at present cannot afford.

The problems have been recently exacerbated when Mr Berlusconi had the smart idea to appoint his youngest daughter Barbara (!) as co-Ceo (she wanted to be a Ceo of something, like her two older siblings, apparently!).

She proved to be an arrogant & dilettante woman with no previous working experience whatsoever (she had the bright idea to start dating Alexandre Pato as soon as she took office and sacked Ac Milan’s former head of marketing so she could hire Mr Geronimo La Russa, another embarrassing individual who happen to be one of her best friends).

The idea to appoint her as co-Ceo of a team with a 200m Euro turnover has been a complete disaster: she dated a player, wanted to kick out Galliani the day she stepped in, she wanted to be the boss of Marketing with no experience, and then… her huge failure to execute the plans to build the new stadium is still regarded as a hugely expensive and embarrassing mistake by the Berlusconi family.

A faux pas like this would have been simply impossible 10 years ago: not only they will not build the long awaited new Stadium, but they are currently being sued by the owner of the Stadium’s construction site because AcMilan rescinded the contract right after having won it – ridiculous.

Why does the Serie A have such low attendance numbers, especially for big teams like Milan, Roma, Inter (not including derbies)?

For a series of reasons:

A. Poor infrastructure quality: the vast majority of the stadiums in Italy are owned by the municipalities. Italian municipalities are highly corrupted entities / do not directly benefit from increased attendances to the stadium (i.e. they get a fixed licensing fee from the Teams, regardless of attendances): for these reasons the stadiums have not been either maintained or renovated in decades and, as we all know, people in 2015 do not accept to go to the same stadium that was considered “state of the art” in 1989 and has been left untouched and decaying since then. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that Municipalities gain money by allowing the teams to play onlyin the Municipality’s stadiums (through a sort of licensing fee which is negotiated on a yearly basis): for this reason, not only they leave their own stadiums to decay, but they also have no interest to allow the Teams to build their own stadiums as the Municipalities would lose an important revenue stream for their finances (e.g. just look at the Naples Municipality and its now-in-ruins San Paolo Stadium: the Mayor of Naples refuses to either renovate it (blaming the lack of budget) or to authorise the Team to build its own infrastructure, otherwise they will lose the licensing fee: this is a disaster for such an ambitious and successful team). Please note that most of the stadiums in Italy have been built/re-built in the late 80s for the Italy 1990 World Championship. These stadiums are architecturally terrible, built at the end of the disastrously corrupted 80s, and they try to do too many things at once without doing anything right. They are also enormous (many of them can seat more than 80k supporters), the supporters are very far from the pitch so the players look very tiny, there are not even comfortable seats. On the opposite, the 40k seats Juventus Stadium in Turin has been completed 3 years ago, it is considered “state of the art” by 2015 standards and is consistently sold-out (even notwithstanding its higher-than-average prices).

B. Bad connections from city centers: the public transports in Italy are pathetic: in order to reach most of the stadiums in Italy you need to take a car or a scooter. This makes things bad on the way tothe stadium but things are utterly deadly on your way backhome at the end of the match. The roads around the stadiums connecting it to the city centers are simply unsuitable for thousands and thousands of cars flooding back to the city so you can easily remain stuck at the stadium for more than 1 or 2 hours after the game has ended. This is unacceptable for modern standards but the Municipalities have simply no interest in fixing this.

C. Violence by Organised Supporter Groups: in Italy (from North to South, East to West) it is still completely normal for a (small but influential) fringe of supporters to go the stadium not to watch a football game but to have an excuse to make riots, destroy everything and beat (sometimes even kill!) the opponents’ supporters. Roma, Genoa, Verona & Lazio supporters are among the most violent organised groups in Italy, and they can take whole neighbourhoods hostage of their riots for a full day: this obviously drives rational and normal supporters (often with kids) out of the habit to go to the stadium.

D. Lower quality of games: many of Serie A’s matches are consistently boring as the star players are going to play in richer championships (but things are improving, especially since 2015).

E. Overwhelming football offer on TV: compared to all the difficulties raised against the legitimate supporters to go to the Stadium, the offer of Football on TV is outstanding. There is simply not incentive to go to an empty stadium, if I can watch the same game from the comfort of my sofa at home.