Calcio in Heels: It’s a Milan Thing

Rossella Marrai continues her monthly blog on Serie A and looks at the two ailing giants of Italian football

As always, so much has happened across Serie A since my debut piece Calcio in Heels – The Annual Managerial Sack Race. My prediction in seeing Giovanni Stroppa being the first coach sacked was in fact handed to Giuseppe Sannino of Palermo – one of just eight managers who kept their positions on the bench throughout the whole of the 2011-2012 campaign. Maurizio Zamparini went into his artillery room and fired the gun just four weeks into the new league putting an end to the so called project he had envisaged.

On the field, plenty more has gone down. Napoli is hot on the heels of Juventus’ tail like a love-whipped teenager chasing the girl next door or rather the Old Lady. Luca Toni has undergone a Florentine renaissance whilst fellow companion, Alberto Gilardino, has got the whole orchestra of Bologna players conducting him in his violin solo.

Gilardino’s violin recital at Bologna

Although, the most atypical of scenarios which has occurred so far this season started and ended at the San Siro. This month’s Calcio in Heels takes a look at what really got the city of Milan ticking; with the San Siro curse putting a dent into the Milan clubs and the far from classic Derby della Madonnina which hit lucky number 10.

The San Siro Curse

Catapulted across every major sports newspaper in the peninsula was the crisis which had struck the giants of Milan. A crisis which saw neither of the calamitous cousins able to take a point off their opening three games at home… let alone win.

Headlines read after Siena’s shock 0-2 win over Inter: “Humiliated by Siena: San Siro is a hex with zero points in 2 matches.”

Whilst Milan’s goalless draw to Anderlecht in the Champions League drew responses of: “Milan, again zero. Only a 0-0 with the modest Anderlecht, third match at the San Siro without a goal.”

It was a maledizione like no other.

For the Rossoneri losses to the newly promoted Sampdoria – in the opening game of the season – was pursued with a disappointing 1-0 defeat to Atalanta, and to top it off, the lacklustre draw to Anderlecht in the Champions League. The cherry on top? It was Anderlecht’s first game back in the Champions League since putting an end to their six-year hiatus.

Three games, not one goal scored. It would be Milan’s worst start to a season since 1931.

On the Blue and Black half of Milan, Inter was subjected to a humiliating 1-3 loss to Roma in their opening home match of the season; which was followed by the shocking crumbling to Serie A minnows, Siena, and a disappointing 2-2 draw to Rubin Kazan in the Europa League.

There was clearly something wrong and the scapegoat was obvious.

Reasons for the struggle were directed at the new semi-artificial surface which was laid before the start of the new season. Blame was shunned on the new buoyancy of the field, a faster movement of the ball and a denser field to work with, which was all too different from the uneven, dried up and loose field they had been used to.

La Repubblica’s headline on September 18 read: “The grass at San Siro has already won.”

Typical old San Siro pitch (l). The brand new pitch which is still holding up (r)

It suggested that the field had failed to show any signs of the deterioration despite Inter’s early start to the league due to their Europa League qualifiers.

Yet the unsolved mystery was how had Rubin Kazan and Siena managed to pull off impressive results? They too were playing on the same field.

Refreshingly, Andrea Stramaccioni, the Inter manager, did well not to concede to the Spanish (or Arsene Wenger) way of thinking and blame the field but admitted it was rather a psychological factor which was holding his team back. “Something has not gone right on a psychological level tonight,” he expressed after the loss to Zdenek Zeman’s  Roma side.

In contrast to the opening two games, Milan did eventually get their first home win of the season in a 2-0 victory over Cagliari, which saw the rise of Stephan El Shaarawy.

That same week, Inter went on to secure a win over Chievo and sparked headlines suggestive that the wins were a miracle.

Miracle in Milano. Rossoneri and Nerazzurri return to winning in the midweek fixtures. The Faraone and Fantantonio wake up Milan and Inter,” read La Gazzetta dello Sport.

Whilst Tuttosport wrote: “Milan and Inter start again. El Shaarawy beats Cagliari, the Nerazzurri win with Chievo: Milano breathes.”

A sigh of relief was echoed throughout the surrounds of the Scala del Calcio and Piazza del Duomo but the ultimate test to see whether the curse was lifted was to come on October 7, when Milan and Inter would meet at the historical perch of the San Siro for the 192nd edition of the Derby della Madonnina.

Derby della Madonnina – The Unique Classic

With all the troubles the two teams had been through to get to the derby, many were expecting it to be an open-ended and free-flowing game with plenty of goals, but it was far from the classics that had been put on displays in previous seasons.

Players who had made history in their club’s colours  – recent legends like Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf to Júlio César, Douglas Maicon and Lúcio had all bid their farewells in the summer. Along with the Rossoneri icons, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva also departed to help balance Milan’s struggling books.
It was a new look side for both teams but moreover for Milan who suffered the slings and arrows of the summer’s mass exodus in which only two standing members of the 2007 Champions League winning team remained: Daniele Bonera and captain Massimo Ambrosini.

The evergreen Javier Zanetti added one more derby notch on his 17-year-old belt at Inter whilst one familiar foe continued his treasured trove of luck against the Diavoli. Walter Samuel – ten derbies played in his seven-year career at Inter and phenomenally not a single one lost.

Samuel – the strength of 10,” read La Gazzetta dello Sport’s headline. “The Argentine who played in his tenth derby in Serie A (won all of them) decides it. Nerazzurri with a man down for a half. Moratti: ‘Strama is like Mou.’”

Traditionally a heated affair between the two antagonists, the temperature bar was raised further when Milan fans laid eyes on Antonio Cassano. Formerly of Milan, the controversial Barese-born striker crossed over the great divide during the summer transfer window under controversial circumstances.

Cassano, renowned for his inability to stick to one place for too long, was one of the fans’ favourite, and a player who had the sympathy of the whole world of Italian football when he was hit with a career-threatening stroke in October 2011.

As the fans have failed to let him forget it was Milan who nurtured him back to health and gave him a second chance at life. They felt betrayed, and quite rightly so, with his sudden departure, and especially, to archrivals, Inter.
Cassano embraced the move as a dream come true and if that wound wasn’t searing enough with pain for Milanisti,it was from his foul in which Samuel scored off a diving header in the third minute of a derby.
Yuto Nagatomo was sent off straight after the start of the second half, providing Milan the perfect platform to draw a goal back and go on to win the match.

However, common to the cause of Milan at late, the Rossoneri lacked the finesse in front of goal and the composure and ability to make any significant threat at goal. The ball was placed into the back of the net by a sublime Riccardo Montolivo long range effort but it was wrongly disallowed due to Urby Emanuelson’s foul on Samir Handanović inside the box.

The referee, Paolo Valeri, was the focal point of banter and Massimiliano Allegri made no withdrawals in holding back his opinion on the matter.

I never talk about referees. But, I have to now. The referee got it wrong in this game…It’s a shame we are running into some decisions that go against us, but we can’t do anything about that. Maybe the referees are on as bad form as we are,” Allegri hit out after the game before recalling several controversial incidents.

As a Milan fan myself, I will admit I was upset in Montolivo’s sublime strike being denied but I cannot look at the game and feel the referee is the only one to blame.

A poor summer transfer market left little to Milan’s squad strength and it clearly showed on the field when Milan couldn’t get past a ten-man Inter team. Yes, Inter may have parked the bus but what about the games against Sampdoria, Atalanta, Udinese, Anderlecht and Parma, before that?

There is a problem in the way the refereeing took place on the night. And yes Mr. Allegri, your never complaining about the referees is just as believable as Joey Barton having never sworn on the field.

Can he read his future?

Three successive derby wins for Inter have allowed the Nerazzurri to maintain bragging rights stretching for nearly two years, summing up a tale of Red and Black disappointment which has been orchestrated by the transitional period the Milanello club has gone through.

One thing which has remained in the back of my mind is, if there really is a Curse of the San Siro, has it truly been lifted for Milan? Only one win in four home games (across all competitions) is no record to be proud of and with the way the ball just wouldn’t fall into the back of Handanović’s net, it certainly seemed that the jinx is still alive in the Diavoli’s share of Milan.

Marrai’s prediction panel:

Who will top the Charts come end of October?

League table: Juventus’ dominating run seems almost near impossible to put an end to. Although they may hit one or two snags along the way, it seems the season is destined to be a two-horse race between the Bianconeri and Napoli. Also keep an eye out on Lazio who have been highly impressive under Vladimir Petković’s guidance but Sampdoria’s run will surely come to an end. Juve and Napoli top, followed by Lazio and Inter.

Goalscorers: Edinson Cavani is a man on fire. He is simply oozing with confidence this season and is a huge factor in Napoli’s chase after Juventus.

Alberto Gilardino, at the time of writing, is sitting joint second with five goals, and he is a man who the team is playing for. Every ball is directed towards him and with constant service at his feet, there is little wonder as to why the Biella star has been reborn.

An eye must be kept on Stephan El Shaarawy, Miroslav Klose and Fabrizio Miccoli – three players brimming with confidence and managing to sneak in goals under the radar. If they can maintain the consistency, they could be leapfrogging Cavani in the standings.