Serie A and Racism: The Links to 1833

Inter Milan’s new striker, Romelu Lukaku was subject to racist abuse in matchday two of the Serie A season earlier this month. Whilst preparing to take a penalty, the Belgian was subject to monkey chants from Cagliari supporters.

Following the match, Lukaku took to Twitter in an attempt to urge the Italian football authorities to do more to prevent this kind of racist abuse from happening in Italy.

It seems like Lukaku’s plea fell upon deaf ears. Inter Milan’s ultra group, Curva Nord replied to the striker in an open letter.

“We are really sorry you thought what happened in Cagliari was racist,” they wrote. “You have to understand that Italy is not like many other north European countries where racism is a real problem. We understand that it could have seemed racist to you but it is not like that. In Italy we use some ‘ways’ only to ‘help our teams’ and try to make our opponents nervous, not for racism but to mess them up… Please consider this attitude of Italian fans as a form of respect for the fact that they are afraid of you for the goals you might score against their teams and not because they hate or they are racist.”

The letter, which is a pathetic attempt to cover for the inexplicable racism that Lukaku suffered, displays the gross backwardness of Italian thought in the patronising way they downplay monkey chants for a form of mild sledging.

Sadly, their views on racism are not surprising, considering they are within Italian football. This is not a one-off case, but something which is intrinsic throughout football in Italy. Serie A’s disciplinary judge appeared to side more with the Curva Nord, as he claimed that he needed more evidence before deciding if Cagliari should be punished for the chants.

The league’s judge, Gerardo Mastrandrea failed to even write the word “racist” in his weekly report after the match, merely referring to “chants”.

This has been an issue that the league have dodged in recent seasons too. Moise Kean was subject to racist chants against Cagliari earlier this year, Blaise Matuidi also in 2018, and Sulley Muntari in 2017. Serie A did not sanction Cagliari for any of these incidents. It appears that Italian football will not change its barbaric stance on racism anytime soon.

Granted, a number of clubs in Serie A have introduced cameras, which enable facial recognition, such as: Juventus, Sassuolo and Udinese. This kind of technology makes it easier to identify and take action against those chanting racist abuse.

Furthermore, Serie A “strongly condemns” the racial abuse suffered by Lukaku and has announced plans for an anti-discrimination plan, which is to be put into action next month.

Still, these are just small measures, which will not solve the huge problem that Serie A has with racism.

Perhaps an answer in how the situation will unfold can be traced to 1833, when issues over race were prevalent. This is the year that Britain abolished slavery, after signing the Slavery Abolition Act. In the centuries following this act, it has been praised for recognising, at last, the horrific conditions of the slave trade, and bringing an end to it, due to the humanitarian issues.

Propaganda for the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act

However, a closer look at the history tells a different story.  

With the industrial revolution in the 18th century, Britain no longer needed slave-based goods. The country was now benefiting from new systems of free labour and free trade. Adam Smith’s book, ‘Wealth of Nations’ contributed to the anti-slavery cause, by likening slavery to a monopoly which was unsustainable in a free market economy. Now, in the age of capitalism, slave labour, with no incentives, was seen as inefficient.

At the start of the 19th century slavery for Britain was becoming much less profitable. Historian, Eric Williams, has argued that the abolition of slavery came about because the system of slavery no longer had the significance it once possessed for Britain, economically. From 1821-1832, British exports to its West Indian colonies declined by 25%.

This strongly suggests that the abolition of slavery in Britain was at the very least, catalysed by economic issues.

This is significant for the current state of Italian football, because similar economic reasons could finally persuade the Serie A to take a tougher stance on racism.

Even if the people in power in Italian football, have no interest in combatting racism because of the negative effect it has on the black players who play in Serie A, they may take more interest in the issue, if the brand of Serie A begins to decline.

As racism only seems to be getting worse in Italy, eventually brands will pull out of their sponsorship in the league, resulting in financial losses for football in Italy. This way, the Italian football authorities will finally begin to properly adjudicate race issues in Serie A.

Several of Inter Milan’s celebrity fans have recently come out to distance themselves from the stance of Curva Nord. Enrico Mentana, Enrico Bertolino and Cianfelic Facchetti have all condemned the ultra’s letter this week.

It may not be too soon, until sponsorships and mainstream media begin to distance themselves away from the Serie A.

Another way that the Serie A may suffer financially from the racism in their football, will be through the decline in black players joining clubs in Italy.

This week, former Demba Ba stated why he never played in Italy. “And here’s the reason why I decided not to play there when I could,” he said. “And at that point I wish all the black players would get out of this league!”

19 of the 55 FIFPro best player’s list are either black, African, or mixed-raced. One of them, Kalidou Koulibaly has even suffered racist abuse himself, at the hands of Inter’s fans.

If such abhorrent abuse continues, it will not be long until more black players are put off playing in Serie A. With many of the best players in the world being either black, or having African descent, this would harm both the quality of Serie A football, and also lead to a decline in revenue for the league.

Although, it may not be the right way to deal with racism, the Italian football authorities may have their hands forced soon by the financial ramifications that the ugliness of racism has on the brand of Serie A. The very fact, that this situation is even comparable to a situation in 1833, displays the backwardness of Italian society and Italian football today. Something must change soon.

Moise Kean: Everton’s latest striking sensation?

Earlier this month, Everton signed Moise Kean from Juventus for a reported £25 million fee. At just 19, fans may wonder whether this is money well spent, considering the little experience the Italian international has on the big stage. However, Kean has both the talent, as seen by his consistent performances last season, as well as the experience- he has been playing in Serie A for two years

Exciting signing- Moise Kean

The earliest memory I have of Moise Kean, came in November 2016. A fresh faced 16 year old, coming on to make his debut against Pescara. He taps the hand of the departing Mandzukic, gives him an unwavering smirk and jolts onto the pitch. The Juventus fans go wild. Kean was not an unknown 16 year-old to most of the Turin faithful. The previous season he had blazed Italian youth teams, scoring 24 goals in 25 games, big things were expected of this sprightly, fresh teenager. Even on his debut, a cameo of no more than ten minutes- he impressed. Thanks to that appearance, Kean became the club’s youngest-ever debutant and the first player born in the 2000’s to compete in one of Europe’s major five leagues. Just three days later, he broke another record, becoming the first player born in the 2000’s to feature in a Champions League match- a 3-1 away win over Sevilla. Kean went on to break a hat-trick of records on the final day of the 2016/17 season, as he became the first player to be born in the 2000’s to score a goal in Europe’s major five leagues.

Moise Kean has been seen as the real deal, for at least three years.

And, despite his departure from Juventus, he has continued to live up to the hype. The following season he was loaned out to Italian club, Hellas Verona, where he scored a respectable four goals in 20 appearances, considering he was mostly used off the bench.

However, it was last season where Kean really came to the fore. In Serie A he made 13 appearances and scored six goals and made one assist. That does not tell the full story though. In most games, he was substituted on- an impact sub. The six goals that he scored came in just 533 minutes, a phenomenal record of one goal every 89 minutes. Statistically speaking, Kean looks to be the clinical marksman that Everton have been crying out for since the departure of Lukaku.

Like Lukaku, it is probable that Kean will be deployed as the lone striker. This will be at the tip of Marco Silva’s 4-2-3-1 formation, with Richarlison, Sigurdsson and Bernard all playing behind the front man. Although he is only 19 still, Kean is 6’0 and possesses a broad frame, allowing him to shrug off defenders and hold the ball up for onrushing teammates, something that Calvert-Lewin has excelled at for Everton recently.

One area where Kean outshines Calvert Lewin is finishing ability. Despite both players scoring six goals in their respective leagues last season, Calvert Lewin played 22 more games, and accumulated significantly more minutes. Kean offers Everton a genuine goal threat- last season he had a high volume of shots per 90 (3.1), with most of these coming inside the box, he possesses the typical traits of a proficient poacher.

Kean’s trademark celebration

What is more, is Kean’s handy dribbling ability. He completed 1.39 dribbles per 90 last season, which allows him to get in behind defences by his own accord. If Kean is able to maximise this dribbling ability and consistently finish, then he will become an extremely valuable asset to Everton’s attacking set-up.

Despite these qualities, questions still remain over some aspects of Kean’s game. What is most striking when compared to Calvert Lewin is Kean’s inferior aerial ability. He is a striker that prefer the ball rolled into fit, rather than in the air, where he is less comfortable and less proficient and retaining possession, or even scoring a goal. This may be a problem for Everton, as they had more crosses (814) than any team in the Premier League last season, and they scored the joint third most headed goals (13)- nearly one quarter of their total goals. Perhaps, with Marco Silva, Everton are adjusting their attacking approach to play a shorter passing style of football, and one that gets the centre-forward involved in the build-up, after all that would play to Kean’s strengths.

The argument has also been made that Kean was playing with a higher calibre of player at Juventus. Granted, Juventus’ team boasts some of the best players in the world: Ronaldo, Mandzukic, Pjanic and Bentancur to name a few, but this should not take away from Kean’s ability to finish the chances presented to him. In fact, Kean’s very inclusion in such a talented squad should lay credence to the ability of the young Italian striker, not every 19 year-old can make an impact at one of Europe’s giants. Furthermore, Everton also possess the players that can unlock Kean’s attacking potential. In Sigurdsson they have one of the best attacking midfielders in the league, who has the intelligence to immediately understand the typical traits of his strikers. Whilst Richarlison and Bernard pace and trickery should both create direct chances for Kean, and  draw defenders away from the striker.

Ultimately, Kean should be able to flourish in the Premier League. At just 19 he has plenty of time and room to develop as a striker. He will be tasked with leading the Everton attack this season, a new responsibility which I believe he will relish. If he can replicate last season’s achievements then he is likely to propel Everton into the top six, if not higher. As someone who has watched him develop as a player over the past few years, and also develop as a man (following some of the shocking abuse he received whilst playing in Italy), I hope, and trust that Kean will set the Premier League alight.

Arsenal’s Transfer Conundrum: A Potential Solution?

The 2018/19 season was to say the least, a struggle for Arsenal. Although they improved on the 2017/18 season points total of 63, amassing 70 points, questions remain to be answered. They conceded the same amount of goals (51) as the season before- 1.34 goals per match, which was the 9th worst record in the league, whilst their xGA was 54.1, the 11th worse in the league, clearly their defensive frailties cannot be put down to bad luck. Despite this, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang finished as the top-joint Premier League goal scorer with 22 goals, and fellow forward Alexandre Lacazette was both a productive goalscoring and creative force. Anterior cruciate ligament injuries to both Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding no doubt hampered the defence, which was ruthlessly exposed, especially towards the tail end of the season, with consecutive defeats to Crystal Palace, Wolves and Leicester, where the team conceded 9 goals.

Arsenal players react to conceding at Stamford Bridge

Arsenal manager Unai Emery has always favoured a 4-2-3-1 formation in his time in Spain, France and Russia, using a system that relies on heavy pressing, overlapping full-backs, and a defensive pivot at the base of the midfield. It is this system predominantly considered when looking at potential players to join Arsenal. He typically signs players who still have a high potential, usually acquiring players in the early to mid-20’s. These factors, along with Arsenal’s relatively restricted budget will be considered when evaluating potential incomings.

Upon analysing Emery’s squad for the 2018/19 season their seem to be multiple areas in the team that need upgrading or greater cover, the most pressing positions that Arsenal should strengthen in the next month are right-back, centre-back, left-back, central midfield/box-to-box, and a wide midfielder.

At right-back, Bellerin’s long-term injury will keep him out until mid-October, and Carl Jenkinson should be deemed surplus to requirements. Although Ainsley Maintland-Niles filled in adequately following Bellerin’s injury, right full-back is not his natural position. He was exposed vs West Ham in January and most notably the Europa League final, where he needlessly conceded a penalty. Although both athleticism and determination allowed Maintland-Niles to recover at times, it would be best to find a competent natural right-back cover for Bellerin, who is comfortable playing in defence.

What may be a greater worry though for Arsenal are the problems at centre-back. Shkodran Mustafi was arguably Arsenal’s worst performer last season, especially when facing Crystal Palace at home. Sokratis offered some defensive solidity, although he could often be caught out of position and had a poor disciplinary record, on top of this he is now 31, and questions lie over how long he can last at the top level. Moreover, club captain, Laurent Koscielny recently refused to travel to the U.S with the team, as he attempts to force a move to France. Still, Arsenal have promising options at the centre of defence. Rob Holding was in fine form before his season-ending injury and should play at the heart of the defence when fit again. Kristian Bielik who spent last season on loan at Charlton also offers much promise, a ball-playing central defender that can also fit in central midfield, Bielik was Man of the Match in Charlton’s League 1 promotion play-off and starred at the Euro-u21 championships for Poland. Despite these options, it would be advisable that Arsenal brought in a ready-made centre-back who has played at the top European level to partner Holding this season.

RB Leipzig’s Nordi Mukiele would be able to solve issues for Arsenal both at centre-back and right back, as he can play well in both positions. His main strengths are through balls from defence and passing out from the back, a player that likes to also dribble out of defence. Mukiele is also aerially strong, something that Arsenal can lack and at only 21, he still has a high ceiling, enabling the club to potentially make profit on the player in the next 5-10 years. Although it is his adaptability that may be what is most appealing to Arsenal, due to their supposed lack of funds. Mukiele is able to solve two of their greatest defensive issues, as both a competent right-back and centre-back. Out of the 14 starts he made in the Bundesliga last season, 5 games were at centre-back and 9 were at right-back. Transfermarkt valued the player at 15 million euros (at the point of 5/6/2019), so he should not consume an enormous amount of Arsenal’s reportedly small transfer budget. His malleability, age, and reasonable price should make Mukiele an enticing prospect for Arsenal.

Nordi Mukiele could offer stability at centre-back and right-back. (Photo by Matthias Kern/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Although the Arsenal centre-backs were heavily criticised for the porous defence last season, the overlapping full-backs provided little cover. Particularly on the left side where Sead Kolasinac typically plays, the Arsenal defence was continuously exposed. Although he provided an admirable 5 assists, his crossing was inconsistent at best, this was seen in the Europa League final where he missed opportunities to pick out Lacazette and Aubameyang with a simple pass. Meanwhile, long servant to the club Nacho Monreal is now 33 and may soon be on his way out, posing a problem for Arsenal at left-back.

Kieran Tierney seems to be the name most mentioned with filling the left-back role this summer. The Scottish international has been a stalwart in the Celtic backline. Tierney is still only 22 and has already been playing professionally for 5 years. He carries a similar dynamism to Kolasinac going forward, and although he may not possess the same physical strength, his low-crossing abilities seem superior. More importantly for Arsenal, Tierney is seen as a more consistent defender, and someone who will not be caught as high up the pitch on such a regular basis, as Kolasinac was. It is rumoured that Tierney would cost around £25 million, which may seem a steep figure- it would make Tierney the most expensive outgoing from the Scottish Premiership. Despite this, his age and ability can provide up to 10 of a quality left-back option, something that has not been properly resolved since the departure of Gael Clichy.

Kieran Tierney, Celtic

The end of this season brought the curtain down on Aaron Ramsey’s long and successful Arsenal career, as he regrettably joined Juventus on a free transfer, following his contract expiration. This has left a hole in the centre of Arsenal’s midfield that needs to be filled. No matter whether Emery favours the 4-2-3-1, 4-3-1-2 or the 5-2-1-2 there is always a spot vacant for either a box-to-box midfielder or an attacking playmaker. Mesut Ozil has struggled under Unai Emery’s pressing tactics, and the manager’s preference for the ball to be pushed out wide, rather than through the middle. Joe Willock offers much promise, and his performances in the first team last year have led to him deservedly being included in the Arsenal squad on their tour of the U.S. However, it would be a tall order for Willock to fill Ramsey’s boots. A potential signing that could solve both the Ramsey and Ozil conundrum at Arsenal is Rodrigo De Paul. Last season at Udinese De Paul amassed 9 goals and 8 assists in 36 games, having 2.4 shots per games and 2.7 key passers per game, as well as 2.3 dribbles per game. In comparison, Aaron Ramsey only manage 1.2 shots per game, 0.9 key passes per game and 0.4 dribbles per game. Similarly, Mesut Ozil averaged 0.5 shots per game, 1.9 key passes per game and 0.9 dribbles per game. De Paul offers an aggressive attacking midfielder who possesses both the quality to run the ball out of midfield and hold the eye for a pass. His ability to play in central midfield, like Ramsey, also offers an adaptability that Ozil does not possess. However, what is of even greater appeal is his ability to play out wide, like he did at Valencia. Like Mukiele he may be able to cover two positions for the price of one. De Paul, when not playing in central midfield will be able to compete on the wings with some of Arsenal’s younger talent, such as Alex Iwobi, Reiss Nelson, and recent signing Gabriel Martinelli. The price may still be an issue though. Despite De Paul not being at a European giant, but rather a relatively cash-strapped Udinese, the club will likely demand a large fee in excess of 30 million euros, as De Paul performed effectively for Argentina in the Copa America this summer. Therefore, if Arsenal are to make a deal happen, they must be willing to spend a great part of their reported budget.   

Rodrigo De Paul, Udinese

Considering the time left to make deals happen, and the supposed lack of finances that Arsenal possess, these three deals offer both good value for money, youthful players with a greater potential, as well as their ability to support other positions that the club may not invest in. The total of all three transfers, were they to happen would accumulate to around £65-80 million, which is equivalent to the reported fee that Crystal Palace are demanding for Wilfried Zaha. However, it seems that Arsenal are to look outside of the Premier League if they want value for money, and their desperation to sign Zaha should by no means take priority over Arsenal’s vulnerable defence, which is the main area of the team that needs reinforcement.