No Country For Old Men
Triumph, fail, or stagnate – this is not a eulogy because football clubs don’t die. Yet AC Milan, as we know them, are on the brink: domestically uninspired, and four points off the fourth Champions League spot with trips to Roma, Juventus and Napoli (inflictors of Inters only Serie A defeat of the season) still to come, things look bleak.
Then, on the 11th of May, the Derby della Madonnina arrives, and that should be the game in which Moratti’s charges assert themselves as the dominant force in Italy by procuring the title.
And it probably won’t be like last season, when the nerazzuri paraded their title in the shadow of Milan’s Champions League celebrations. It was much like the younger brother who was awarded a 100 metre swimming badge just as his older sibling had garnered a law degree and announced his marriage. Milan’s success was the main story.
If Milan are to party at the end of this season and Ancelotti is to save his job then consummation has to be found in the Champions League. Arsenal, the antithesis of Milan, stand in their way. The imperialist faces the revolutionary.
Circumstances mean that neither side is of great form, although the younger team and their tutor Wenger will no doubt savour the notion that each goal they now score will be worth intrinsically more than Milan’s. Score once and don’t concede twice will be the mantra.
The rossoneri have pondered and overcome such problems before, but then this is where it really differs – this is a Milan side just in name. There is no fluency no guile and – dare it be said – no humility. There’s one win in five league matches and yet the idea prevails that it is all a facade; as though the constant lacklustre displays are symptomatic of a team dynamic that cares only for the big games and the Champions League.
This arrogance could only be ‘more in your face’ were the Milan players, say, to actually stand in unison, choir boy like with bow tie, white shirt tucked into their black shorts and muse nonchalantly into the Sky Italia microphones ‘’We are AC Milan, we only win when we want to.’’
A couple of them have all but done so. Oddo says, quite rightly, “if we manage to play at our level, which is something we always do in these big matches, we’ve got a great chance. We rarely get it wrong in important games.” All the while implying that matches only gain significance when Milan themselves deem it appropriate.
Well, the Arsenal game is appropriate, and when Austrian Konrad Plautz blows the whistle at 20:45 to start the game in the San Siro it might just be the last sojourn in European competition this great Milan side takes. And if Arsenal find opportunities to counter, then the swift will humble the steadfast.
Ancelotti agrees with Galliani who moans that he is ‘fairly worried, as Milan are tired’. Inzaghi has mustered six goals this season. Gattuso, having returned from injury ahead of schedule for the first Arsenal leg, is still struggling to reach match tempo. Pirlo, l’architetto, has the form befitting a camel were it lost in the Arctic while Gilardino has proven as successful and popular as would a boutique lingerie store on the Himalayan slopes.
Elsewhere, Ronaldo’s career is in jeopardy, Seedorf has a thigh strain, Gourcoff struggles to deliver on his promise and in Kalac there is an ex-Leicester City reserve goalkeeper between the sticks.
Thus, Milan’s fate is left to the mastery of Nesta, an 18 year old Pato with precisely 77 minutes of Champions League experience, and the world player of the year, Kaka. Ricardo Kaka, though recently suffering from tendonitis, and Alexandre Pato are the embodiment of Berlusconi’s new Milan dream. Youthful, vibrant attacking and eternally exciting, the line between Milan’s couple of hopes and Arsenal’s whole team is somewhat transparent.
In Logans Run, the classic dystopian movie, the age of death was set at thirty. Hollywood being a reflection of society and with the average age of the Milan team being 33, we can safely calculate that the majority of the rossoneri are on death row or dead men walking. The old Milan is ill and although we can’t be sure that it will be this group of dreamers who will finish them off we can be certain that the rigours of modern day football comprise no country for old men.
We rightfully salute Ancelotti, Maldini, Cafu, Seedorf, Inzaghi et al, but everything comes to an end and at 22:30 on Tuesday the 4th March 2008 we might just be saying arrivederci to this Milan for the last time. A new AC is being planned and awaits us because the old Milan will be no more. Is it time to say adieu Ancelotti, adieu Maldini?