From the upcoming documentary about spending time with Milan fans. Get a glimpse of what it means to be a fan and be part of the thousands watching and following the team live.
It went kind of like this: “E’ arrivato Weah e Baresi e’ di nuovo papa’…” (Weah has arrived, and Baresi is a father again). The innuendo, sung to a chorus, would move even the most humourless to a wry smile.
George Weah, of course, had nothing to do with Franco Baresi’s paternity, but his arrival at Milan from Paris Saint-Germain in 1995 rekindled an old joke. Baresi’s son had, and most probably does, unusually dark skin compared to that of his parents. Anti-Milan ultras capitalized on an unmissable opportunity to taunt their foe’s captain, insinuating that his wife had slept with one of the darker players on Milan: Frank Rijkaard or Ruud Gullit. Weah arrived after both had left Milan (Rijkaard in 1993 and Gullit in 1995), but he was immediately made to stand-in for them as the joke persisted.
The most credible story seems to be that Baresi’s son is adopted, but I remember all of this not for any desire to confirm private matters about his personal life. Rather, in a week where Milan vice-president Paolo Berlusconi, the viperous younger brother of Silvio Berlusconi, shamed himself by calling, jokingly and lovingly he maintains, Mario Balotelli, “il negretto di famiglia” (the family’s little black boy or the family’s little slave) at a political event, the almost droll story of Weah and Baresi makes for a relevant counterpoint.
The video of Berlusconi grinning approvingly at the rally, and drawing laughs from the crowd, after delivering the slur made its way onto La Repubblica’s website late Monday. Eventually, later that same day, the English language media picked the story up as well.
If you were hoping for unanimous condemnation of Berlusconi, you would be disappointed. There were those who said it was unacceptable, those who said it was that but acceptable because it was a joke, and those who maintained it was actually said affectionately and the English translation was simply incorrect.
I confess to have asked my Italian friend whether I was missing any subtlety that would make me look unnecessarily sensitive. He assured me I was not. It is a slur.
Admittedly, the fact that La Repubblica, Italy’s left-leaning newspaper, was the one who ran with the story first does politicize the issue. After all, this is the same publication that gleefully published a letter from Silvio Berlusconi’s ex-wife, Veronica Lario, in 2007, assailing him for selecting female MEP’s on the basis of anything but their, and his, cerebral force. It was a fantastically calculated show of political nous from Lario to pick La Repubblica as the paper of her choice to attack the then prime minister, a paper that doesn’t exactly need vigorous brow-beating to flay Berlusconi in print.
Yet, his younger brother’s sinister gaffe doesn’t demand the passable dignity of political affiliation to be understood as being beyond any parameters of acceptable discourse. It was simply wrong, and it is not that people of a certain political colour have been overly sensitive about it.
The joke about Weah and Baresi, on its surface at least, is unkind, but not enough to galvanize political and racial debate. It is a joke that is just about acceptable, especially considering how malicious football chants have the potential of being.
We all perhaps have lowered expectations of Berlusconi, and the Berlusconis. Silvio Berlusconi’s political miscalculations are somehow always relegated to trivialities come election time because there are so many–so, so many. But Balotelli is allegedly his shrewd political calculation ahead of the general elections on February 23rd and 24th.
Paolo Berlusconi makes up with Balotelli at Milanello
His arrival has revived the Rossoneri spirit, flagging after the heartbreaking departures of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic last summer, but it has also contributed to Milan’s increasingly cosmopolitan and young team. Balotelli joins Stephan El Sharaawy, who has an Egyptian father and an Italian mother, and M’Baye Niang, who is also black, in attack.
Predictably, then, Milan’s reaction was not to react publically, to treat it all as not an issue. There were no comments on the matter until after Paolo Berlusconi embraced Balotelli at Milanello on Thursday.
There is no room for mistakes like Paolo Berlusconi’s when an election is looming. Just this past month Silvio Berlusconi lauded Kevin-Prince Boateng and his Milan teammates for walking off the pitch after Pro Patria fans unleashed racist abuse at the midfielder during a friendly. Given S. Berlusconi’s commitment to anti-immigration in the past, his reaction seemed contrived.
“Many have seen the impact Berlusconi has had as [PM] and some rhetoric on immigration contradicts the support of Boateng. The whole thing is ridden with contradiction,” said Piara Powar, the head of Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), reminding us of the hypocrisy, lest we had forgotten.
The case of Boateng was unequivocally offensive, and Berlusconi would have been a fool to quibble over any of the details–as is often the case when something like this happens in Italy. Similarly, P. Berlusconi’s remark was unambiguous as well–it signalled derisive contempt, and it was delivered, even if among smiles, with venomous language.
“Balotelli and I laughed about the whole thing,” P. Berlusconi said. “He knows that I meant it affectionately, and the media exaggerated the whole thing.”
P. Berlusconi has an odd way of showing affection it seems. We have all suspected the worst of politicians in the past. If only we could lay bare their intentions somehow we would be vindicated for thinking they are actually racist, and that they know how to operate in public to hide it. The mere glimpse we got into P. Berlusconi’s character didn’t need to lay it all bare–it was enough to validate our suspicions.
Compared to what he said, it is the chant about Weah and Baresi that seems affectionate. Unlike Paolo Berlusconi, many of us can still pick out a joke.
Odd and interesting times for Milan continue. The clearout, exodus or whatever that was this past summer is probably not yet a fading memory. Crying poor, whether legitimate or not (the European and Italian economy, good old UEFA Financial Fair Play, etc.) hurt and is hurting the team, some sports betting sites and the fans.
Fast forward to the January 2013 window and the winter mercato is yet another Jekyll and Hyde act. In the recent past Ibrahimovic and Robinho have appeared when it seemed no money was available. Then Maxi Lopez arrived when money seemed actually available for Tevez. Now Balotelli has arrived. Or may be it’s that money should be available this time. After all Pato was sold for a relatively decent amount and others like Robinho are still likely to leave sooner or later. Football transfers don’t ever seem to be about straight math anymore but the clearout and departures should have at least some net positive impact on the balance sheet.
We are now into the last hours of the winter mercato. The team has seemingly embarked on a youth movement, may be an Italian one, or may be even a ‘those playing in Italy’ (see Bartosz Salamon rumours) one. Riccardo Saponara a good prospect? The aforementioned Bartosz Salamon a much needed defenseman? But then what of Zaccardo, a long term arrival? Do we need forwards like Balotelli at all? Is a Kaka return still possible on the last day of the window?
More exciting times ahead. The balance the fans are curious to see is reducing the squad size while remaining a winning team. That is where balance is properly used.
Courtesy of our own Philippe Mexes. A bicycle kick to match and surpass Ibra’s vs England.
Milan’s games for the 2012-2013 Serie A season are now available. There are three midweek games.
26 August(Return 13 January): Milan-Sampdoria
2 September (Return 20 January): Bologna-Milan
16 September (Return 27 January): Milan-Atalanta
23 September (Return 3 February): Udinese-Milan
26 September (Return 10 February): Milan-Cagliari
30 September (Return 17 February): Parma-Milan
7 October (Return 24 February): Milan-Inter
21 October (Return 3 March): Lazio-Milan
28 October (Return 10 March): Milan-Genoa
31 October (Return 17 March): Palermo-Milan
4 November (Return 30 March): Milan-Chievo
11 November (Return 7 April): Milan-Fiorentina
18 November (Return 14 April): Napoli-Milan
25 November (Return 21 April): Milan-Juventus
2 December (Return 28 April): Catania-Milan
9 December (Return 5 May): Torino-Milan
16 December (Return 8 May): Milan-Pescara
22 December (Return 12 May): Roma-Milan
6 January (Return 19 May): Milan-Siena
by Jeremy Lin, article first appeared on http://www.footandball.net/
The scale of Milan’s task having to face Barcelona in the Quarter-Finals of the Champions League was evident from the day they were drawn together with arguably the strongest club side ever assembled in the history of football. Several weeks later, Milan now have to grapple with declining odds against a new and potentially deadlier opponent: the injury crisis that has struck Milanello, threatening to derail everything good they have achieved this season.
The tactical choices available to Milan tactician Massimiliano Allegri, particularly in defence and midfield, are not looking particularly rosy. The Scudetto front-runners defeated A.S. Roma 2-1 in the weekend Serie A action to keep distance off second-placed Juventus, but that result could be made to feel like a defeat tonight should the fact they lost world-class defender Thiago Silva to injury return to haunt them against Barcelona.
Such circumstances tip the odds further in Barcelona’s favour, causing Allegri to scratch his head in befuddlement as he questions what he did to deserve the task of having to take his beleaguered side past opponents who’s performances tend to transcend those of mere mortals. Truth be told, it will be pretty crazy to harbour hopes in Milan’s elimination of Barcelona and the advancement to the Semi-Finals. Below are five ways in which Milan can be ‘crazier’ to secure some hope of making it through the first leg:
Let Barcelona make the first move
Tactics at the minuscule level are not going to work if the team’s philosophy is not firmly established. Milan have the necessary quality to win the Champions League, but even if the team were at full strength, they couldn’t afford to slog it out head-to-head with Barcelona. With the situation at hand now, Milan have to sit back and allow their opponents to come at them, looking to frustrate them and hit them on the break.
Such tactics have been employed this season by the smaller regional sides that make up La Liga to great effect, forcing Barcelona off the pace in the title race and ensuring they depend ever more on Messi to produce a typical moment of magic to win them games. Milan have the necessary quality to punish a frustrated Barcelona in this case, and if they can hold out till the 70th minute and conserve their energies before starting to push forward, they stand a chance of snatching a result.
Don’t use Ibrahimovic as the out-and-out striker
Zlatan Ibrahimovic may be Milan’s top and most reliable scorer with 22 goals in Serie A so far, but there’s so much more to the Swedish superstar than merely being expected to do what his position entails of him. Employing him as an isolated out-and-out striker against Barcelona will just work against Milan, and he has to be utilized in a deeper role that will enable him to use his flair for conjuring up the unthinkable to create space for his teammates to get forward with intent.
Such a role paid its dividends when Milan tore Arsenal apart 4-0 at the San Siro, with Ibrahimovic laying on 2 goals as well as orchestrating countless other attacking moves to get his teammates into good attacking positions. With Barcelona expected to control the majority of possession here, Ibrahimovic stands to become that much more involved in matters should he is to be used in a slightly more unfamiliar role than normal.
Play the Trequartista in a defensive role
Milan are going to have to accept that they will be on the back foot for much of the game. Their primary formation, the 4-3-1-2, works in their advantage in this case, given its midfield can be adapted to play with a more attacking or defensive-minded mentality, the latter looking the more obvious choice here.
Whether Dutchman Urby Emanualson or Kevin-Prince Boateng adopts the role of the attacking midfielder, or Trequartista, behind the strikers, their role will lie more in disrupting Barcelona’s fluid building of their attacks from deep. How well either energetic player goes about the job harassing and disrupting the movements and composure of Barcelona’s principle architects Xavi, Fabregas or Iniesta could hold the difference between a defeat or a result for Milan.
Much has been made of Serie A’s ageing players. Admittedly, they do not have the physical attributes necessary to get them through an entire season in the domestic league, thus limiting the effectiveness of their contributions, but in a competition that calls on as much of international experience and exposure as a player’s natural talent and ability, Milan very much have the advantage over Barcelona.
From Clarence Seedorf to Massimo Ambrosini, Alessandro Nesta (if he is fit) and Gianluca Zambrotta, Milan’s veterans should be given priority to start the game, where they must rise to the fore to lead by example. The onus lies on them to expect to know when to make the right foul, the right move, the right burst and the right feint in order to provide an embattled Milan with the leadership and impetus necessary to secure something from this game.
Do what matters – get the goals
For all Barcelona have contributed to the game via their tiki-taka style of play, characterized by breathtaking displays of attacking football that are a far-cry from the dour, cynical side commonly associated with Calcio, or Italian football, the reality in football is, the performances of the team still lies secondary to its results.
Given their injury crisis, Milan have had to dig deep in order to secure their wins in Serie A. Their football may not be the prettiest at times compared to that of Juventus’ or Roma’s, but it must be admitted, it is efficient. It will be very ‘Italian’ for Milan to grab a few goals against the run of play and and hope for the best in the away leg, where they will face another daunting 90 minutes trying to do exactly the same, but that’s football for you, and exactly what they have to try for.
So there you have it, the ways in which Milan can chase the dream of progressing over both legs into the semi-finals. It takes guts to stare Barcelona in the eye and say you deserved a win more than them, so the biggest tip to Serie A’s representatives here is, don’t try. Regardless of whether tonight’s game proves to be an example of pragmatism vs. fluid perfection, or a thriller where both sides throw caution to the wind, you’re going to be guaranteed what could go down in history as a classic of European football, as A.C. Milan entertain F.C. Barcelona at the San Siro.
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By Hasan Saiyid
Palermo 0-4 Milan. It was the kind of game that you wouldn’t really expect after a week of acrimony and apologies that reminded us how fragile the diplomatic equilibrium is in Serie A between Italy’s two biggest clubs, Juventus and Milan.
Sulley Ali Muntari’s goal that was not given–sorry, that was taken away after being given–last weekend against Juventus urged Milan’s no. 2 Adriano Galliani to leave the San Siro because of high blood pressure. Not before, however, him making sure that his precarious systolic and diastolic balance was upset completely.
“Look what happens when you cry,” he is reported to have said to Juventus coach Antonio Conte in the tunnel. “It clearly works.”
“What a pulpit–you people are the mafia of football,” was Conte’s response.
Galliani was referring to Juventus’s sustained self-victimization before the game last weekend, which everyone is guilty of is in Serie A at one point or the other. Conte was referring to the perceived influence Milan have had in Italian football, the kind of influence that Juventus have also had, and the kind that Juventus have exerted shamefully in the past (Calciopoli and all that). The notorious, erstwhile duopoly of Italian football arguing over injustices is not a very edifying moment, and not a moment that the Catanias and the Chievos should have any time for.
Comically, the 1-1 draw last weekend, during which Milan outplayed Juventus for most of the time, sobered Conte. After realizing how undeserved the draw was (even considering Alessandro Matri’s goal that was perhaps disallowed correctly), the Juventus coach spoke of a need for sensibility all around when talking about officiating. It was a bit like being lectured on safe environmental practices by a suit at British Petroleum.
However, mainly for the better of public appearances, Galliani and Juventus president Andrea Agnelli made up over the phone.
Against such a backdrop, Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri deemed the trip to Palermo yesterday as being critical to the season. It was a game that would show what Milan are made of. The sense of injustice in the Milan camp was feverish–and poor Palermo were incinerated.
I haven’t seen Milan play that kind of football since 2005. Palermo were marginalized to the point of being spectators. The Milan defence and midfield got to every ball first, and Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimović did the rest. Ibra’s hat-trick in the space of fourteen devastating minutes underlined Milan’s rage and the Swede’s centrality to this Rossoneri side. Really, it seems pathological to deny how vital Ibra is to this team, and there are many out there who think he is a liability due to his disciplinary problems. But surely he more than makes up for it, and perhaps we can see the time he spends suspended as well-deserved rest.
Returning after serving a harsh three-match ban, Ibrahimović went to work, dismantling Palermo. The hat-trick came from both feet, and was a display of precision and understated power. He was unplayable, unstoppable, and unforgiving.
“I still think about that Juventus game,” he said after the match. Clearly. Like a Bollywood hero driven by revenge and a soundtrack, Ibra smashed his way through Palermo, flaying pink flamingos at the Renzo Barbera, which is not the happiest hunting ground for Milan.
Robinho was exquisite too, providing assists to Ibra, but it was the giant’s night. He is now tied with Antonio Di Natale at the top of the scoring table on 18 goals. And he shows no signs of stopping.
Of course, sometimes perceived injustice can be the best spur. There is no conspiracy against anyone, and I say that even after the lurid scandal of 2006. However, what Conte has lost in the last week is his ability to moralize, and his team have lost the ability to win.
Almost three hours after Milan’s proclamations of power, Juventus dropped two valuable points against Chievo in a 1-1 draw. At home. They have picked up just seven points out of the last fifteen on offer. And they have all sorts of tough games ahead, while Milan have a much easier schedule. The Bianconeri are undefeated this season, but they have drawn 12 games, one less than the amount they have won.
“People forget where we came from,” said Conte after the draw yesterday. “Last summer there was talk of us ending up sixth, and now look where we are.”
That won’t cut it with the jeering Juventus fans, who whistled the team after the game yesterday. As for Milan fans, they can thank Boukary Dramè for the late drama yesterday. At 1-0 Juventus looked like they would see a win through to the end, but then Dramè shot past Gianluigi Buffon, and Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci did the rest by deflecting the ball in the goal.
Milan are now three points ahead of Juventus, who have a game in hand against Bologna. After a week of talking about officials and phantom goals, it was heartening to be reminded that the players can still boss this Scudetto showdown. And there is no bigger boss than Ibra.
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By Hasan Saiyid
I must admit, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s confession of being tired of football came as a surprise to me. There have been times in his short Milan career during which he has looked jaded, but I attributed those to the exhaustion and frustration that a footballer often feels during a game–and, of course, to his generally peevish disposition. After all, not everyone can wear a broad grin like Cafu or remain unruffled like Paolo Maldini when things don’t go their way.
Ibrahimovic’s candour in admitting his weariness of football is startling, but not completely unprecedented. Carlos Tevez, currently engulfed by widespread censure for seemingly refusing to come on during Manchester City’s Champions League encounter against Bayern Munich, said something similar in the late fall of 2009, deploring the greed and opportunism in football. Yet, as far as I can tell, the Argentinian’s Bartleby the Scrivener-style defiance of Roberto Mancini does not seem to be an extension of those musings.
It is easy and common to dismiss footballers as being many things: overpaid, spoilt, thankless, and arrogant (and when Cristiano Ronaldo sneers at the masses by saying he is booed “because he is handsome, rich, and great at football” those dismissals gain prominence). The reflexive reaction of some to Ibrahimovic’s frank admissions will undoubtedly be of that variety. However, there is something undeniably refreshing about Ibrahimovic’s cynicism, which complements his conduct and career.
Ibrahimovic has never been the one not to speak his mind. This is the same player, who at twenty-two tartly announced his arrival at Juventus from Ajax, saying “that he is no one’s sub.” When he left Inter for Barcelona in 2009, he did not waste any time in criticizing the overtly tactical nature of Italian football, almost seething at how it “ruined” the sport. No one should expect Ibrahimovic to fawn on his employers, and no one should really expect him to think about anyone other than himself when he talks about his relationship to football. His is a platitude-free zone, in which he has always been the most important figure.
“I feel that it is not good to stay with one club too long,” Ibrahimovic told La Gazzetta dello Sport earlier this year. “You can get complacent.”
After his latest interview, however, it seems that it is not complacency but the diminishing resilience of his body, the fact that he thinks he is “getting old,” which has prompted Ibrahimovic to speak like an arthritic, leather-skinned veteran nearing fourty. For Ibrahimovic, who turned thirty just this month, speaking so fatalistically shows a side at odds with the all-action forward who inadvertently drop-kicked Marco Materazzi during the Milan derby just last season (Zinedine Zidane must have chortled). But behind the admission is also a dependable and typically ugly honesty, upheld unapologetically by self-regard. Behind it is not just a streamlined 6’4″ frame that is tiring, but also a mental strain that may come at the end of even a successful career like Ibrahimovic’s (even if no European glory, eight domestic titles in a row after all).
Not to anyone’s surprise, footballers have often contemplated retirement or retired prematurely due to physical injuries. Even at Ibrahomvic’s current club Milan, former great Marco van Basten retired at just twenty-eight in 1995, unable to overcome a persistent ankle problem. However, it is Ibrahimovic’s emphasis on the mental aspect that is compelling. He has had injuries in his career, but none the seriousness of Brazil’s Ronaldo or of Alessandro Del Piero, the latter still playing for Juventus at almost thirty-seven. Many fans and clubs lose patience with footballers over injuries, but Ibrahimovic has shown that players can lose patience with football altogether for personal reasons separate from physical problems.
Former Germany player Sebastian Deisler suffered ruinous ligament injuries, which ultimately curtailed his career at the age of twenty-seven. However, it was his well-documented depression at Bayern Munich that also contributed to his early retirement. Judging by the swagger with which Ibrahimovic acquits himself, many may think he does not have the capacity to be melancholic. However, his interview has shown that despite having riches and a career that has seen him rise from his home-city club of Malmo to Milan, Ibrahimovic, like other footballers, can get tired of even the sport that has afforded him his lifestyle.
Of course, it is Milan who will be now reckoning with Ibrahimovic’s announcement. Chances are that Ibrahimovic will still continue to be absolutely vital for Milan this season, as he was in the previous. However, in the event that he is not, you can almost certainly expect people will question his commitment. Not that Ibrahimovic would care one way or the other.
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By Hasan Saiyid
It’s a case of a gift and an identikit. Those are two of the few things we really know about Milan’s transfer market this summer. Yet, for journalists and Milan fans, the summer of 2011 is teeming with transfer speculation despite and because of those two factors, which promise much but reveal little.
First, the club’s supremo Silvio Berlusconi has promised a regalo, a gift, for the Milan fans. Secondly, Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri has revealed an identikit of the player, saying that the player may have thick hair, blue eyes, and a height of 183 centimetres. The revelation of the desired attributes have sparked a virtual manhunt on internet forums. Every day, a player matching the description is mentioned. Axel Witsel, Marek Hamsik, Daniele De Rossi…
What remains certain is that this summer will not just conclude with the signings of Philippe Mexes and Taye Taiwo. Milan have just won the Scudetto and have identified the trivial matter of the Champions League as their next target. The current squad is certainly good enough to defend the Italian title, but to compete in Europe, Milan need a signing that will give them a quality that cannot be legislated for, that mercurial ability to turn a game on its head, an ability they had with a player like Kaka.
This team may actually be more complete in other departments than the team that won the Champions League in 2007. Yet, even with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho it lacks incisiveness, a fact conspicuously evident in Milan’s hollow capitulation to Tottenham this season.
As far as transfer markets go, this summer may be Milan’s most important one in nine years. At the end of the 2001-02 season, Carlo Ancelotti had ensured that Milan would qualify, by the smallest of margins, for the Champions League. In preparation for Europe, Milan conducted a memorable transfer campaign, bringing in players like Clarence Seedorf and John Dahl Tomasson to join the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Rui Costa, and Filippo Inzaghi, all three of whom were purchased a year earlier. Yet, it was one salient transfer in 2002 that punctuated both Milan’s intent and the core of the team that would see the club lift the Champions League a year later. On a personal level, it was a transfer that went a long way to mitigate the pain of the 2002 World Cup.
For me, Italy’s ludicrous World Cup campaign in the Far East loomed over the summer of 2002 as a melancholic reminder that the failure of the national team could now be added to other problems afflicting Italian football. The Azzurri, it seemed, were only obliging to an encroaching sense of malaise in the game.
Things were not looking good. The two bigger clubs of the country, Lazio and Fiorentina were in disparate but desperate levels of financial trouble. Cinema producer and Fiorentina owner Vittorio Cecchi Gori, whose company produced the classic Life is Beautiful, had managed a ugly denouement for the club. Despite devastating debts, investigations into his false accounting, and a collapsing empire, Cecchi Gori did not sell Fiorentina, forcing the already-relegated club to liquidation and a new beginning in Serie C2.
Lazio’s president Sergio Cragnotti and his Turin-based food conglomerate Cirio were facing fiscal problems of their own. However, Lazio’s crisis was not acutely existential; hence stars like Hernan Crespo and homegrown central-defender and captain Alessandro Nesta were put on the market to ease the club’s trials.
Milan were not exactly furtive when it came to their interest in Nesta. The turbulent negotiations between Milan and Lazio went on for much of August, and it was not until the last day of the transfer window that Milan announced they had signed the Rome-born player, who was twenty-six at the time. The deal was worth 31 million euros, a sum to be paid to Lazio over three years, and came after the Biancoceleste had rejected a bid of 26 million euros earlier in the month.
Nesta’s arrival certainly lifted some of my summer gloom. However, implicit in his transfer was an indictment of the financial mess that Italian football was in. Lazio and Fiorentina were part of La Sette Sorelle (The Seven Sisters), a group that consisted of the movers and shakers of Italian football during the 1990s and early 2000s (Milan, Juventus, Inter, Parma, and Roma were the other clubs). To see two of Italy’s bigger clubs flail and even dissolve in one case was astonishing, depressing, but, sadly, predictable.
Apart from being symptomatic of systemic financial problems in Italian football, Nesta’s transfer also marked a watershed in Milan’s transfer dealings. That is, it combined three qualities that no Milan transfer have had since.
First, Nesta cost 31 million euros, a figure Milan have not spent on any player since 2002, let alone a defender. Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani and sporting director Ariedo Braida have assidiously searched for bargains, promising youth, and free transfers, and to their credit the strategy has been largely functional. The transfers that have demanded a prominently high fee since Nesta have been of Alberto Gilardino (24 million euros), Robinho (18 million euros), and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (24 million euros, should Milan choose to buy him), and not one of them required a greater outlay than Nesta.
Secondly, Nesta came to Milan at the peak of his powers. There have been many big names that have arrived at Milan since Nesta, but their signings were qualified by different reasons. Ronaldo arrived from Real Madrid with brittle knees and his erratically best years behind him. The snap of his knee in February 2008 during a game between Milan and Livorno was an emphatic signal that the player was now finished at the highest level, and that Milan’s faith in him was bizarrely optimistic. His compatriot Ronaldinho may have been slightly luckier with injuries and only twenty-eight when he came to Milan, but he was a player who had had a surfeit of success in football, and his performances for Milan were tellingly listless. Finally, and this one is perhaps arguable, Ibrahimovic arrived last summer as a player beginning his descent from the peak. Though he was central to Milan’s Scudetto this past season, he turns thirty this year.
Thirdly, Nesta arrived without any real doubts around his caliber. He had already won a Scudetto in a Lazio team that had the redoubtable talents of Diego Simeone and Pavel Nedved. He was also a mainstay in the Azzurri defence. In contrast, Gilardino was yet to establish himself at a big club, even if he rescued Parma from relegation in 2005. His subsequently nervous performances for Milan were an indication of a player who did not have the temperament for the unrelenting scrutiny that comes with playing for a club like Milan. Robinho has risen to the occasion at Milan this season, but he also impressed at Real Madrid before injuries and tactical decisions marginalized him. His stint at Manchester City was also sporadically brilliant before injuries hampered his progress. However, despite glimpses of his true worth, he was still seen as a player yet to live up to his billing when Milan purchased him last summer.
Of course, Nesta did not arrive entirely without any reservations surrounding him. The initial physical problems that he experienced at Lazio were an ominous signs of what was to come, and his Milan career has been continually interrupted by injuries. However, his transfer was unreservedly ambitious. Milan wanted the best defender on the market, and they got the best defender on the market. There was bargaining, yes, but there was no settling for any less than Nesta. The move paid off instantly as Nesta was critical to Milan’s Champions League triumph the following season, forming an intimidating defence with Paolo Maldini.
Eight summers later, Milan, still beaming from their fresh Scudetto win, are in search of a mezz’ala, a left-sided midfielder, and, while they may not admit it openly, a trequartista.
There have been a litany of names linked to Milan. For not an insignificant time, Cristiano Ronaldo was being mentioned as a possible transfer. The risible suggestion, impossible on so many levels that it is almost insulting to the reader to put it down in print, gained some legitimacy because Berlusconi had said in April that if Milan were to win the Scudetto they could sign “one or two great players, and one of them could be Ronaldo.”
Whether those were ramblings of a cynical prime-minister attempting to ease the political crisis immersing him, or of just a senile man in general is difficult to ascertain. What is certain is that Ronaldo is not coming. However, the fact that there was even speculation reveals a distinct obliviousness on part of Milan fans.
The truth is, Milan are not in the position to buy a player like Ronaldo despite Berlusconi’s wealth. Apart from the fact that Berlusconi will not pay a lurid amount of money for the Portuguese, he also does not want to pay that much money. Few could fault him for at least attempting to appear partially sane in an increasingly grotesque transfer market and as prime-minister of a country struggling with recession. Some other factors also contribute to Berlusconi’s frugality, including perhaps a waning interest in the club, advanced years, and children, Piersilvio and Barbara, who want him to be more cerebral and less sentimental when it comes to the club.
Of course, the advent of the Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules have given Berlusconi an alibi to remain financially responsible. And few could fault him there as well.
If the rules are even applied to the spirit of the law and not to the letter, any gargantuan signings in the future look impossible for Milan. The rules are fairly unequivocal. UEFA will permit clubs to have losses of 45 million euros between the years 2012 and 2015. After that, clubs can still have losses of 30 million euros over three years, before the allowance of losses is restricted further for future years. UEFA is threatening to deny clubs entry into European competition if they do not follow the rules.
The dismaying fact for Milan fans, and Inter fans as well, is that the rules do not permit a rich owner investing money directly into the club. And for those who think the rules can be bypassed by an owner’s company signing a lucrative sponsorship deal with the club will be disappointed. Sponsorship deals must be agreed upon at market price.
Galliani has already said that the FFP rules “hurt Italy,” but it is the limited sources of revenue that is the real bane of Serie A. For example, Milan will continue to rent the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza from the city council until 2016, meaning they cannot purchase and refurbish the dilapidated mess that the stadium, which is one of the better stadia in Italy, has become to earn more money from naming rights, corporate hospitality etc. (this article is not a financial report on Milan, but if you are interested in that aspect, see Swiss Ramble’s excellent piece).
When Milan signed Nesta, Serie A had clubs in precarious financial positions. Currently, while Serie A clubs in general may be operating in a marginally more salutary context, Milan are having to reconcile chastening financial realities with the demands of the fans.
Some fans, and not an insignificant amount I can assure you, still believe that Milan will sign Cesc Fabregas from Arsenal. If Milan do end up doing so, then the club’s hierarchy may know something that we do not. Sure, there are ways to get around the FFP rules, but to compete with the likes of Barcelona (Fabregas’s most likely destination if he is to move) without your owner’s money and half the revenue seems impossible.
Yes, it seems to be so. However, even with all the overwhelming obstacles, there is an eerie, not entirely unprecedented surreptitiousness around Milan’s dealings this summer. Somehow, despite the odds, fans are still expecting a signing that will be more luminous than players like Hasmik, Ganso, or Alberto Aquilani. Fabregas would be incandescent. And not just because he is a star–admittedly it helps–but also because he has the attributes and the quality to be vital for Milan in a creative role.
Yet how would that be possible given all that has been discussed? In this year’s June edition of World Soccer, Nick Bidwell and Gavin Hamilton indicate that there is less “financial transparency” in Italy, and that “English clubs have come under greater scrutiny simply because they are more open about their finances” (24). To land a player like Fabregas with the FFP rules in place will not only involve a large outlay (more than 35 million euros) from Milan, but also a certain secrecy around their finances. Further, if the cost of a big signing is amortized over a few years, then Milan will feel the financial burden to be less onerous. Consider, too, that the club may be relying on a certain flexibility when the rules actually come into effect. After all, UEFA have indicated that clubs incurring greater losses than the permitted amount may be allowed to compete if their losses are showing signs of decreasing.
If Berlusconi is to make a large investment, this year seems to be the most opportune summer to do so, and not just because the FFP rules are yet to take full effect. Berlusconi’s political career, for which he has often used Milan, and, more recently, which he has privileged over the club, appears to be teetering. Just this week, he lost a key vote, indicating that the man has squandered the confidence of a good portion of the Italian public. A huge signing would be some solace for him, briefly galvanizing a popularity that is even declining in the city of Milan.
For now, Milan fans are for the most part divided between those who are cynical and all too aware of the possible implications of FFP and those who are in willful denial of the rules. Then there are those like me, who are aware of the imminent changes, and Galliani’s proclamations of poverty, but who continue to dream.
Nine years ago Milan bought Nesta, and two Champions League and Scudetti later he still remains on guard. If Milan are to inaugurate another several years of European success, the right and the big signing has to arrive this summer.
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