MIAMI Italy's Serie A needs radical change and investment if their struggling clubs are to compete for European trophies, former AC Milan captain Paolo Maldini has told Reuters.
No Italian club has made the Champions League semi-finals since Inter Milan won the title in 2010, with Serie A leaders Juventus' 4-0 loss on aggregate to Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals causing consternation and Maldini said it was time for the league to look at the reasons why.
"To compete with the great teams in Europe, you have to invest money, there is no other way to reach that kind of level," said Maldini, who earned 126 caps for Italy and holds Milan's record for most appearances.
"You could see it with Juventus against Bayern. Juventus are a great team, especially in Italy, but when you compete with a team like Bayern, you can see the difference. They need at least two or three more great players."
Maldini won the European Cup/Champions League five times during his 25-year career with Milan and played until 2009 when he retired at the age of 41 and he looks back with nostalgia on the years when Serie A was the top league in Europe.
"In the 1990s we had seven great teams - Milan, Inter, Juventus, Parma, Lazio, Roma, Fiorentina. If you look at the players, they were great players but there was some crazy investment and some teams went bankrupt, like Parma and Lazio.
"Then you had the Moratti and Berlusconi families who put in so much money and are still surviving, it is hard though."
Maldini, widely considered one of the great defenders in world football in the last 30 years, has played no role in the game since hanging up his boots although he has now taken on an 'ambassador' position with the upcoming International Champions Cup tournament which will be held in the U.S. from July.
Still looking as though he could comfortably handle 90 minutes at left-back, Maldini spends some of his time each year at his Miami Beach apartment having visited during the close-season throughout his career.
As well as enjoying the relaxed rhythm of South Beach life, Maldini, whose two sons are both in Milan's youth teams, occasionally pops to watch LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the NBA and he said Italian football clubs could learn a lot from the business approach to sport in the U.S.
"We should learn from this mentality. In Italy we still have laws that don't work.
"If you go outside the San Siro (stadium) you can see people selling fake merchandising, it was like that when I started to play and it is still like that now. You can't allow this.
"Then you have old stadiums, very old stadiums. San Siro is a historic stadium, it's nice but it doesn't offer comfort ...we have to improve it.
"Above all we need to learn from leagues that make money from sports rather than lose money. Everyone is losing money in Italian football, it's crazy."
The only benefit Maldini can see from the lack of investment in Italian teams is that it is forcing clubs to give homegrown talent a chance.
"The positive is that clubs are looking to young players. Italy has a lot of young players that maybe deserve more space. Milan has Mattia De Sciglio and Stephan El Shaarawy, who maybe some years ago, would have been still on the bench," he said.
But Maldini is not going to take on the role of reforming Italian football, at least not for some time.
"I'm not working in football. Basically I'm a father with two kids and taking some time for myself," he said.
"I played for 25 years and I believe I need some space for myself.
"I'm doing different things, in different businesses and enjoying life."
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)