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  25/01/2012: Of the Utmost Economic Importance
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It is now the midway point in the Serie A season and there is no better time to take stock of all that has happened in recent months and to cast an eye to the future and what lies ahead. Fortunately, or unfortunately for Lazio, that privilege does not exist as we have a crucial Coppa Italia tie against AC Milan as early as tomorrow night.

Yes, I used the word 'crucial' in describing a one-legged Coppa Italia quarter-final. Like many, I agree that this competition is easily the least valuable domestic cup competition of any of football's domestic leagues but in relation to the current season, it has some added significance.

You are surely asking yourselves why? It all boils down to TV rights on the lowest level of this economic pyramid. The new TV rights package is currently in its second season and essentially, it means that the most supported clubs in Serie A take in what is determined to be a fair proportion of the TV rights generated by Serie A clubs. The current structure was under intense scrutiny in the summer as it was almost wholly propelled by Lazio president, Claudio Lotito whose argument was simply that, while you may be a Juventus fan in the south of Italia, you may also have a secondary club whose games you tend to watch on your box. Fair argument and as a result, surveys were conducted and the TV rights package was amended.

From Lazio's perspective, it means that we pick up more cash than we would otherwise be entitled to, earning the sixth highest amound behind Napoli, Roma, Inter Milan, AC Milan and Juventus. It also ensures that we cling on for dear life to the big guns, in an economic sense, rather than fall into mid-table economic mediocrity with the likes of Genoa and Palermo.

The next level of the economic pyramid is the financial fair play regulations introduced by UEFA. Their sole purpose is to ensure that clubs can only spend what they earn. Of course, if you are picking up a substantial share of the TV rights, you are subsequently left with a sexy transfer budget. Juventus, by virtue of having a ridiculously large fanbase will naturally have the most hefty transfer budget and on TV rights alone, this will continue season in, season out. They will be closely followed by the Milan clubs, then Roma, then Napoli and then ourselves.

As a result, TV rights in conjunction with the financial fair play rules is threatening to create a Serie A hierarchy like never before. Juventus could dominate Serie A like never before with the Milan clubs being the only clubs to ever have the funds to even compete. Meanwhile, Roma, Napoli and Lazio would find themselves squabbling over Europa League spots.

Going back to the current Serie A season and you will see the predicament. From an economic standpoint, Lazio's big game this season was the Europa League qualifier against FK Rabotnicki. That game alone earned Lazio a million euro in prize money plus the TV rights for six European fixtures and home stadium ticket sales for three big European nights. An exact price on Lazio's qualification cannot be determined but that win against the Macedonians brought in more money for our club than any other victory this season. Progressing in this tournament nabs us a series of mini-bonuses, but in all honesty, unless you have a desire to win the competition, progression is immaterial as the amounts on offer are miniscule.

With that in mind, it is perhaps evident why Edy Reja chose to field a semi-strong side for each individual fixture. The idea was surely to secure progression with minimal effort and it has admittedly paid off but not before we put progression in the hands of FC Vaslui. Against Atletico Madrid, Reja's line-up will indicate whether he truly believes this is a competition worth winning. Economically speaking, or otherwise.

I can substantiate that statement quite easily and this brings me on to the final level of this economic pyramid. European qualification is paramount and there are a variety of ways we can achieve this. The hardest route would be to try and win the Europa League. While a space in the cabinet could easily be cleared for this trophy, the European qualification would be just as important as it secures us the economic windfall to give us a serious transfer budget that can be used to keep us in the Top 6. Since Europa League is the hardest route, a less than full strength line-up would suggest to me that the club wishes to take an alternative route.

Defeat in the Coppa Italia would leave us with only one route; the league, and as it stands, European qualification is far from certain. If you look at the Top 6 in the economic sense of the term, you will see that they occupy six of the top seven league positions. There is, unfortunately, one team that could throw a curveball. They sit in third place and they have become intense rivals in recent seasons. They, are Udinese.

If Udinese qualify for Europe through the league, one of the economic Top 6 are almost certain to miss out on the windfall from European qualification and it will subsequently land in Udinese's lap instead. That would allow Udinese to make up the funds they ultimately lose in the TV rights package, allowing them to compete with the unfortunate team that loses out on Europe, at least on economic terms. Should this trend continue over future seasons, it could oust one of the Top 6 from their economic perch into mid-table obscurity and into the clutches of Genoa, Fiorentina and others.

At the moment, Napoli are in danger but they will not be too concerned; they are in the last 16 of the Champions League and are already earning next season's transfer budget. Four points up the table, you find Lazio and Claudio Lotito is surely nervous as he watches his team dwindle slowly down the table. In short, we need points, and fast. In recent weeks, we have become the most vulnerable team in the economic top 6 and we need to escape Udinese's clutches.

Meanwhile, we have another entry route into Europe; through the Coppa Italia and in my opinion, we need to do our utmost to take it. Silverware would ensure a place in Europe and although a mammoth effort could see us low on energy for future Serie A ties, it would also ease the nerves for the Serie A run in. However, there is something much more significant at work. The bottom half of the draw sees Siena take on Chievo for a place in the semi while Inter face Napoli. Siena and Chievo have virtually no chance of qualifying for Europe through the league and potentially, they could face Napoli, who are, as I said earlier, also on course to miss out on Europe. This is a problem. If any of these teams win the cup, they limit the top five in the league to spots in Europe, which could see us out in the cold. Even if they are defeated by Juventus and Milan in the final, they will still earn a place in Europa League qualification. In other words, if Napoli pull of a big win against Inter, only Siena or Chievo stand between them and Europe.

Tomorrow night is therefore crucial. Win, and we are potentially a step away from Europe. Lose, and there is one less path towards the road back and never before has European competition been so important. Failure to qualify for Europe could send us back into mid-table for a very, very long time because the economic structure of Serie A is designed to do so. Udinese are currently ensuring that someone is set to lose out. We must do our utmost to make sure it is not us.

(Cathal Mullan)
Daud Aron Ahmad 2/1/2012 12:59:14 AM
interesting article, keep up the good work.
Amer 2/1/2012 12:58:39 AM
Good Analysis !! One question though : why don't we have more sponsors? Especially on our jerseys? (7-13 milions €)?
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