Greetings as we fire up the Delorean one last time to take a retro trip all the way back to Milan in April of 2010…
It all started with Football Italia…
If you grew up in the 1990’s and didn’t have access to Sky, there was only one place you could turn for weekly live football. Channel 4 on a Sunday afternoon beamed live coverage of what was then unquestionably the greatest league in the world into our homes.
Just as essential was the Saturday morning show Gazzetta Football Italia, a sublime combination of highlights from the previous week, iconic theme music, some often bizarre skits and interviews and of course, host James Richardson sitting outside a café with an ice cream while making puns about the top stories from the week’s papers.
For me (and many others) Milan, Juventus, Inter, Roma, Parma et al were as much a part of growing up as a football fan as clubs closer to home.
An ambition fulfilled
So in 2010, finally with some disposable income to play with, I set about planning what would be my first European football trip. Serie A was an obvious destination, but who to watch?
During the Football Italia years, I’d never really settled on one team to support, preferring to get behind anyone who was able to challenge Juventus for the scudetto. I developed attachments to players more than teams, Baggio, Ronaldo, Batistuta, Totti, Nedved, Shevchenko. By the mid-2000’s Football Italia was gone, but mostly through watching the Champions League I was able to enjoy the great Milan team with Pirlo, Gattuso, Seedorf, Kaka, Maldini, Nesta and more.
So when it came down to choosing a destination, Milan seemed to make perfect sense. 2009/10 was far from a vintage edition of the rossoneri. Carlo Ancelotti had left to take over at Chelsea, Kaka had moved to Real Madrid and Maldini had retired. But they still had a lot of the old heroes…and by now they had Ronaldinho! Admittedly a some way past his Barcelona peak Ronaldinho, but still a player worth watching.
Anyway, the San Siro was one of the great European stadiums, one I’d always dreamed of going to. Just a note on the naming, although the stadium is officially called the Stadio Guiseppe Meazza, after one of the greatest footballing sons of Milan, a player for both Milan and Inter and a star of Italy’s 1930’s World Cup triumphs, I’m referring to it throughout as the San Siro. Partly, this is because it’s the much more common name, borrowed from the district of the city that it is located in. But mostly it’s because I’m dealing with Milan.
Although Meazza played for both sides, he spent the majority of his career with the nerazzurri, and is regarded as a club legend there, so it’s fairly understandable why rossoneri fans prefer the stadium’s classic name.
Sightseeing in Milan
The Duomo Di Milano was certainly a highlight, one of the largest gothic cathedrals in the world and a magnificent sight in the middle of the city. I was able to climb up to the roof to get a superb view of the city below and get a closer look at the Madonnina, the golden statue of the Virgin Mary which sits atop the cathedral and gives its name to the meetings of Milan and Inter, the Derby della Madonnina.
Close by the Duomo is the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele, a lavish 19th century shopping mall and home to some of the expensive brands that have helped the city earn its reputation as one of the world’s fashion capitals.
And in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie you can see Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. As long as you book ahead, which we didn’t. So that’s something I have to do whenever I go back.
Doing the Tour
The museum is a treasure trove of memorabilia from two of the greatest names in European football, but with one catch – in 2010 there was no photography allowed inside. And with Smart Phone technology not so well developed (my device at the time was a somewhat old school Nokia) there wasn’t even the option of taking a sly photo as you pretended to check a text. So the only photos of the museum I have are of the interesting likenesses of Franco Baresi and Giuseppe Bergomi that flank the entrance.
Matters improved with the tour, aside from the fact the guide repeatedly reminded us that she was a Juventus fan. Must have kept that quiet in the job interview…
One huge difference was in how the home changing rooms were set up. Milan opted for a more luxurious approach. Individual seats for every player. There was even a neat trick where the guide waited for everyone to be seated and then turned on the screens above each chair so everyone could turn around and see whose chair they were sitting in.
Inter’s was a lot more Spartan. Wooden benches and bare white walls livened up only by paintings of former greats, small shields for each of their Serie A title wins and the odd splash of blue and black.
As you’d expect, the tour also took us into the stands and press area of the stadium. Being in it when it’s empty really brings home just how massive the San Siro is. My appetite for the match the following day was well and truly whetted.
Climbing one of the iconic towers in the corner of the ground to reach our seats was quite the challenge. The steps are very steep and the spiralling made me feel quite dizzy. And once we were up in the stand, it was extremely cold in total contrast to the temperature outside.
As the game got underway I couldn’t help but notice a large section of empty seats in the Curva Sud where Milan’s Ultras congregate. Seemingly a protest about television rights, the seats were filled up during the game.
Things did not start well for Milan, who were behind after 12 minutes. Former Barcelona striker Maxi López sprung a feeble offside trap and slid the ball past Dida. Then just before the break he turned provider, supplying the inch-perfect cross which was headed home by Adrian Ricchiuti. Perhaps it was the memory of this performance which persuaded Milan to sign him a couple of years later, although that turned out to be a mistake as he only managed two goals in 11 Serie A appearances.
But Milan were stung into action at the beginning of the second half and it was one of the big names we were so looking forward to watching that provided the spark. Pirlo dunked the ball forward to Seedorf, who nodded it across the six yard box for Borriello to head in. Game on!
The game became quite frantic as Milan pushed for the equaliser. The front four of Seedorf, Borriello, Ronaldinho and Huntelaar (later Inzaghi) had effectively no defensive responsibilities so that meant whenever Catania won the ball back in their own half, they could cause Milan serious problems on the counter, outnumbering the midfield and exploiting the lack of pace and mobility through the spine of the Milan team.
Eventually they did get back level with Borriello cheating down the ball inside the box before turning and finishing with aplomb. The remaining ten minutes plus stoppage time saw Milan throw everything they had at Catania to try and get the win but to no avail. The best chances fell to Inzaghi who was normally such a lethal poacher but on this occasion he couldn’t make the most of his chances.
Had they managed to win, Milan would have been only two points off the top of Serie A. As it was, the draw was a significant blow to their title aspirations and successive defeats over the next two games would kill off their challenge once and for all as they ended up 12 points behind their city rivals, who also went on to complete a historic Treble.
Reflections from 2019
There’s so much I would do differently if I was going back to Milan now. I’m a much more experienced traveller now, so I feel I could get much more out of it. I’d also allocate enough time to allow myself a trip out of the city to spend time in the lakes area to the north.
In a football sense, Milan are no longer the attraction they were back in 2010. Despite winning the scudetto the following season, there was always the feeling that the signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic had papered over the cracks of an ageing side. Players such as Ronaldinho and Pirlo were sidelined as Massimiliano Allegri favoured a more physical and robust midfield. Unthinkably Pirlo was allowed to leave on a free transfer and he promptly signed for Juventus, helping them win back the scudetto the following year and kick off an era of dominance which has shown no signs of stopping.
In contrast Milan entered a period of financial austerity, the long-serving likes of Gattuso, Nesta, Inzaghi and Seedorf finally departed, Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva were sold off to PSG. As Silvio Berlusconni tried to sell the club, big signings were out, cheap free transfers and loans were in and the club endured a number of miserable seasons, failing to even qualify for the Europa League.
An eventual takeover in 2017 by Chinese businessman Li Yonghong saw a spending splurge designed to catapult the rossoneri back into Europe’s elite. But it backfired on two fronts. Firstly a lot of the new signings failed to make much of an impact in Serie A and secondly, Yonghony didn’t really have the money. So less than a year later, Milan were effectively repossessed and taken over by a hedge fund management company. Attempts have been made to correct the mistakes of the old regime and comply with Financial Fair Play regulations, but this resulted in Milan forfeiting their place in this season’s Europa League.
They may have a highly-rated manager in Marco Giampaolo and one of the best young goalkeepers in the world in Gianluigi Donnarumma, who made his debut in 2015 aged just 16, but the harsh reality is that it’s going to take some time before Milan are back dining at Europe’s top table again.
It could be worse though, Catania’s travails in the years since put Milan’s into perspective. After equalling their best ever Serie A finish of eighth in the 2012/13 season, they ended up getting relegated the following season and suffered a further demotion to the Lega Pro in 2015 after President Antonino Pulvirenti admitted to attempting to fix five matches in the course of their relegation battle that season.
Farewell to the San Siro
Earlier this summer it was announced that the life of this most iconic of venues was coming to an end.
of its age (the original structure dates back to the 1920’s) and the fact that the decline in both Milan clubs’ fortunes means it is hardly ever full rumours have circulated for years about the clubs looking to relocate.
Under the plans announced in June, a new stadium is to be built adjacent to the current one and both Milan and Inter will continue to play there until the new ground is finished, estimated to be in 2022.
So if you haven’t visited the San Siro yet, time is running out to tick it off your bucket list.