Thursday, 6 November 2014

Match 16 - Milan

“Money, it's a gas
Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash
New car, caviar, four star daydream 
Think I'll buy me a football team.”
(Pink Floyd, ‘Money’)

“The San Siro is my dearest memory, hand in hand with my father…                     
[at the turnstiles] I made myself tiny
 to be able to let the two of us use just the one ticket.”

So said the ladies’ man, Silvio Berlusconi in his obsequious biography, reminiscing about the good old days. Ah, the good old days. But where have they gone?This was one of the big questions surrounding the club when I made my trip to see Milan, but before we get to all that, we have to confront the elephant in the room, as glaring and unavoidable as a friend who has sprouted a second head overnight. That elephant is of course, Il Cavaliere.

In the early 1980’s, Milan were having a fairly torrid time of it. After winning their tenth Scudetto in 1978-79, not even a youthful Franco Baresi could halt the club’s slide into mediocrity, and they were subsequently relegated in 1980 for their part in the Calcioscommese scandal. They popped straight back up to Serie A but it was a fleeting moment and they went back down again immediately. After winning promotion the following season they were faced with a new challenge - they were skint. 

But then, riding in on his white horse was a youthful (and from photographs you wouldn’t think that he’s aged since then), Silvio. Since becoming owner in 1986, Milan have enjoyed an extended stay in the sunny climes of the upper reaches of Serie A and European football, winning a grand total of twenty-eight trophies. In his early years, the Dutch triumvirate of Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard ruled supreme alongside homebred players of the pedigree of Maldini and Baresi. In charge of this stable of stars was Arrigo Sacchi, who shunned the concept of catenaccio and instead preferred a free-form total attack. This was to prove to be revolutionary in the Italian game, as the previously held conventional wisdom was that the catenaccio system was the best, whose strongest proponent, Craig Levein in his spell as Scotland coach Annibale Frossi, claimed that the perfect game was “the artistic and philosophical equivalent of a blank canvas: a nil-nil draw.”

For years, Milan were a fixture at the top of the tree, doing battle with Europe’s finest for glory, most memorably against Liverpool in the epic Champions’ League final of 2005. This went down as one of the all-time classic finals, however despite watching it, I can’t say I remember it all that well. In a pub in the centre of Edinburgh to celebrate the end of the University term, I had one ear open to what my classmates were saying, but both eyes fixed on the TV. At half-time, seeing Liverpool losing 3-0 and a group of Italians toasting their inevitable victory, I took the only logical course of action at the time and got drunk. Therefore, not for the first, and certainly not for the last time, I erased the part of my brain that should have held sweet memories; the second half comeback to 3-3 and resulting penalty kick drama and glory for the men from Anfield. Instead I have only flashes of the match and the evening as a whole.

They had their revenge two years later while I watched on from a bar in Atlanta, and given that it was (a) boiling, (b) just after lunch, and (c) I wanted to be in a state to remember the match, being careful about my alcohol intake wasn’t too much of a struggle as I watched the rossoneri win 2-1.

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