On Saturday, Genoa were denied a UEFA license by Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC). It was the second year in a row that a team has failed to receive permission to compete in Europe after Parma failed to do so this time last season.
The Crusaders should have gone to the Europa League as the sixth-placed team in the league last year, but they were denied their license because of late payment on a tax bill. That was the first obvious sign of the financial trouble the once-proud club was in. The decision to award their place to Torino turned out to be extremely perceptive. In their current state, Parma likely would have been a laughingstock in Europe, while the Granata made a surprise run to the last 16.
Fortunately, no such issues exist for the Griffone. Their application was denied because they filed paperwork late and because the Stadio Luigi Ferraris is not currently up to standard for UEFA competition. Their co-tenants at Marassi, Sampdoria, have been issued a license, but they listed Sassuolo's Mapei Stadium in Reggio Emilia as their intended home ground while work on the Ferraris is completed.
This makes an already close race for the sixth and last European slot in Serie A even more complex.
There are four teams currently in the running for sixth. With three games left in the season, the spot is currently occupied by Samp, who with 54 points are one behind Fiorentina for fifth. At press time, Inter follow them with 52 points, then Genoa with 50 and Torino with 48.
Genoa and Torino play each other on Monday afternoon. If Giampiero Ventura's men manage to pull out a victory, the whole license issue may become a moot point. The Griffone would then have to jump three teams in three games.
If Genoa were to come out on top, they would be lodged in seventh, only a point behind their hometown rivals. This is where things would get tricky.
Both teams have fairly even run-ins. Sampdoria will play Champions League chasers Lazio on Saturday while Genoa have an easier game against Atalanta. The roles will then switch, with Genoa playing a potential crunch game against Inter while Samp take on an Empoli team that is not as good as them on paper but play scrappily and have caused more than their share of surprises this season.
Both teams draw sides much lower than them in the table for the final match of the season. Genoa will face Sassuolo and Samp will take on Parma.
With things as they stand, Sampdoria may have been presented with a critical margin for error. If Genoa's appeal, which was lodged shortly after they were denied on Saturday, is turned down, Samp can play to hold off Inter and Torino rather than Genoa.
That becomes a much easier task. If Torino were to lose to Genoa, they'd have to make up six points in three games—a tough ask even for a team that have done wonders with what they had this season.
Inter still have to play Juventus this weekend. The Bianconeri have nothing left to play for in the league having wrapped up the title, but the Derby d'Italia may merit special attention from them even if it is a dead rubber—especially if they manage to hold off Real Madrid on Wednesday and advance to the Champions League final.
This, of course, is all speculation until Genoa's appeal comes back, which could again alter the landscape.
What's disappointing is that Genoa's inclusion in Europe would have been a good thing for the Italian game. Gian Piero Gasperini has been masterful on the club's bench this season and deserves a test on the continent to see if he measures up the way Ventura and Vincenzo Montella have.
The team's exclusion could also be an impediment to the development of one of the Italy national team's prized assets. Twenty-two-year-old goalkeeper Mattia Perin is thought of by many as the heir to the Azzurri's No. 1 shirt, and a trip to the Europa League for him would represent a critical first dip into the waters of international competition. Otherwise, Perin may have to start looking for a move in order to truly experience the top-level games he needs to develop into the player he can truly be.
Who will win Italy's last Europa League spot?
In spite of the disappointment, the Griffone must play on at the level that has put them in this position in the first place. Their appeal is now out of their hands, but they must play as though it does not exist to even make it relevant.
In the meantime, Sampdoria find themselves more firmly in the lead for the last spot than they might otherwise expect. The rest of the field will have to wait and see whether fortune will throw them a life preserver in the race for Europe.