Bankrupt Bari face their day of reckoning

Romanticism is a quintessentially Italian emotion. Chaotic, painful, expressive. Beautiful, in its journey. All triumphs are preceded by heartache. This unique feeling is met by yet another cornerstone of Italian expression: tragedy.

If modern Italians in any way, shape, or form, sought to embody a re-creation of classical tragedy, they seemed to have found football as their preferred arena with which to do so.

Among the cacophony of flares, chants, fountain jumping, and running-track stadiums hides an ugly truth about the game’s current state of play. Polarization manifests itself in most European leagues. Though in Italy, presently, this has been buoyed by the ever-growing income streams that feed the sport’s top brass in the form of lucrative TV-rights deals, continental prize money, ego-stroking billionaire take-overs, and the lesser talked about (but no less damaging) attribute: haphazard municipal club ownership.

Italia 90, despite all that it will be affectionately remembered for, instituted a large-scale stadium improvement programme designed for hosting that summer’s FIFA World Cup – a programme that, as reported in 2015 by The Guardian’s Chloe Beresford, finished 86 per cent over budget. More than two decades on, many clubs have been forced to face a two-headed problem that, in the case of F.C Bari, was too much to undertake.

Firstly, the Italian economy (on the whole) has been forced to accept a rather dark, new reality resulting from the European sovereign-debt crisis. Italy has derogatorily been ushered in as a member of the “PIGS” nations struggling financially on the continent (the others being Portugal, Greece and Spain). The ripple effect of this has resulted in widespread belt tightening among major institutions; professional football chief among them. The highly contentious issue of numerous Italian clubs failing to own their own stadiums has seen this problem become compounded as politicians and local authorities grow increasingly against the idea of residents forking over tax-payer monies for funding.

That last point is the second nasty head. Struggling clubs are doubly affected by the inability to claim their own home as an asset. Even Juventus had to tend to their respective stadium concerns upon returning to the top flight following calciopoli. After a short spell in Turin’s Olympic stadium, the bianconeri moved to their current home: the Allianz (Juventus) Stadium, a smaller and more affordable arena.

July 2018 will go down in the history of the southern Italian club as the month that saw the curtain officially close. This tragedy finally saw met its dagger to the gut as Bari failed to provide sound financial backing by the Italian Football Association’s requested deadline and subsequently were denied permission to compete in the Serie B for another season; a division they so were so nearly promoted from in 2017-18. It was less than 10-years ago that Bari was helping groom Leonardo Bonucci in to the world class defender he’s become, had both Polish international Kamil Glik and Italian striker Stefano Okaka among their ranks, and packed nearly 20,000 fans in the Stadio San Nicola for every home match.

Today, they begin life under an entirely new name in the foot of the Italian footballing pyramid. It’s not uncommon for corporate reasons, as the club must file to compete under a new moniker, much like Fiorentina did in the early 2000s before buying back their original club name.

The hope for Bari and their loyal supporters is that they manage to become the new Parma in three years time. For a club synonymous with Serie A play – a club vitally important for the enrichment of a footballing culture in the country’s southern regions – Bari should be able to achieve success in the near future. More than ever before, excellence will need to be delivered both on the pitch and in the boardroom for i Galetti to crow among the elites once again.

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