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.

Football Italia – The Way Ahead

Italians need to change their game plan. In his continuing analysis of Football Italia, Gino de Blasio shows the path ahead by listing ways in which they can begin to execute it

In my first piece I looked at what I saw as fundamental issues with the Italian game, or rather, “where Calcio’s getting it wrong.” I finished that piece with the promise of “where the Italian game can change and how it should be done, in my eyes.”

So here it is.

1) Stadiums

The current stadiums are fine for a World Cup; in fact they were indeed fine probably until the year 2000. But now, new stadiums have taken the mantle of the biggest, the best and the most technologically advanced.

The thought of having to rip apart the Meazza, or the San Paolo is tear-inducing. These are iconic bits of landscape that resonate with the local communities. However, they seriously need some looking at.

Giuseppe Meazza, San Siro

Take The Allianz or Wembley or even… well, something closer to home, Juventus Arena. They have something in common. Realistic Attendance Seating or RAS, as I like to call it. Put it this way. You open a coffee shop. You know that coffee shop can manage the demand over the year of 10,000 people, so why make it try and accommodate more than that?

It’s a business fallacy. If you can guarantee an 85% attendance rate every match, in a suitable sized arena – say a 40,000 seater with an average ticket price of €35 – that ensures a €1.19 million turnover per game. Yes, admittedly, you could achieve that with a 65% attendance for the same price in a 90,000 seater; however, that would mean attracting 58,500 attendees – that’s 24,000 more people.

And it’s not just an attendance calculation, there has to be a  focus on marshalling and policing as well. It has to be a way to better secure matches from the violent ultras, and embracing new technologies.

2) Keep the Ultras

Everyone talks about the Ultras. The thing is, when you spend time in an ultra curva, you realise that the biggest denominator is actually football. Yes, there are political affiliations with some, there also are elements to the intimidation; but you can’t just chastise a group of extremely loyal fans.

Napoli Ultras

What clubs need to do is better identify and understand the attitude and mentality of the ultra. Fight the problem from within than from outside; educate and address rather than throw into jail and point the finger.

The ultras gave the Italian game flare years ago, now they are more likely to throw them at an official. The issue needs to be looked at more carefully.

3) The grassroots are the grassroots


We need to drill home the importance of ‘grassroots football’ — how home-bred talent can develop and flourish within the league, and actually I think Italy is one of the better positioned nations right now to do this.

The clubs are financially struggling, and they will continue to do so without the mega oil-rich nations taking over. So they need a plan to generate interest, get better coaches, staff and equipment to analyse and focus on overall player development.

At the last Euro, we saw that the average age of the Italy squad had been reduced; we also saw the second week game of Milan introducing 10 Italian players – something which hadn’t happened since Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan of ‘87.

The game needs more accessibility. In southern Italy, where my family is from, ‘a kickaround in the street’, is still literally the street; needless to say I did get a reputation for smashing more than my fair share of car windows. So there needs to be a look at facilities and opportunities to develop football players and coaches at the same time.

4) Destroy the analysis

Italy has a massive problem. Everyone is a football manager,” said my old coach, Mr. Simone. He isn’t wrong. You will find people analysing the tactical and physical attributes of the game played. This, however, isn’t the real problem.

The real problem lies in the Sunday night analysis, by four major TV stations with guests etc. The over-analysis seeps into the early hours and everyone ends up reiterating what was already said the night before rather than what they saw, if indeed they saw anything to begin with.

Analysis should be left to the football managers and referees; I’m probably asking too much but I can always dream.

5) Open up to new ideas from ‘distant’ neighbours

Ok, by now you must be all wondering what I have been smoking.

I, in all conscience, believe that we can learn in football from other nations too. We can all see what we can do better and what we can avoid doing in the future.

I think these lessons can be learnt from the neighbours in Germany, who have club ownership ideas like no other; England, where TV revenues and sponsorship are masterfully done; Spain, where academies are flourishing with the best and brightest; Switzerland, in how it develops business practices, and the list could go on and on.

I think there needs to be a permanent committee in place which all clubs can approach and make use of each other’s know–how to drastically reduce risk to them and the fans.

Italian football fan

We neither want clubs closing down because of financial mismanagement, nor do we want any more security issues. We need fans to be interacting, supporting and supplying the enthusiasm within the stadium and when they leave, so a new generation can always grow with their team rather than fear its future.

So, those were just a few points, I have a thousand more but I think these first five are ones which need a little more attention now than the others.