Sunday, July 10, 2011

Guest Post: “…So Why Milan?”

A guest post and Milan conversion story from one of our favorite obsessed AC Milan Offside friends, Avia...


"...So why Milan?" A question I've been asked regularly for nearly 20 years now, not you see, because I live in the middle of merda country, but because I'm located in the UK, or Scotland to be precise.

Now if you think Barca & Madrid have a monopoly in their league, I fear I live with something far worse! For here in Scotland the Scottish Premier League is hamstrung by the presence of Rangers and Celtic, referred to locally as the “Old Firm”, both of whom share the City of Glasgow with a rivalry that truly puts them on a par with Barca-Madrid. Milan-merda, Boca-River Plate.


Now maybe you think im exaggerating a little? Well, maybe, but the 1st  derby of the season ended up with a red card, a Rangers player confronting the Celtic manager mid match which was all topped off by both managers having to be separated at the end of the match (pictured). This was made worse by the fact that there was next to no football on display just lots of fouls and physical aggression, so bad was this match that the Scottish Government demanded a meeting with representatives from both clubs and the Police following the match as it was viewed as a national disgrace.


Now you might still be questioning if this is comparable to the heated rivalries of one of the “Big Derbies.” Well let me add in the fact that a year or two ago the Old Firm derby was followed by the Celtic manager (Neil Lennon) being knocked unconscious by Rangers fans after leaving a bar and being set upon, he was left face down and bloodied in the middle of Glasgow. This year’s derby was followed by several high profile Celtic fans, as well as the Celtic manager himself, receiving letter bombs (bullets are considered kinda soft around these parts). So obviously, things were calmer the next time the two teams met? Well kinda, there was definitely more of an emphasis on football but the Celtic manager didn’t exactly endear himself by gesturing to the Rangers fans at the end of the match.


That was then followed by a week or two later by Lennon being attacked by a rival fan DURING a match! No, I swear I'm not making this up, a pitch invader managed to strike Lennon during a match versus Hearts of Midlothian before being tackled and taken away by police.


Permit me to throw some stats at you in case you still harbour any doubts as to the ferocity of the Old Firm Derby and the affect it has on my population. It is alleged that domestic violence jumps between 50% - 88% across Scotland on any weekend when the two teams meet and when coupled with data that appears to show a spike in attempted murders, assaults and breach of peace incidents. It should come as no surprise that one of the most senior officers in the Scottish Police stated that if it was up to him he would simply ban both teams from playing each other. He added that he winced whenever he saw any incidents between rival players mid-match as he knew this would correlate to violence on the streets afterwards

The animosity historically stems from the make up of the fans: Rangers being Protestant and Unionist (i.e. Pro British & Pro Northern Ireland) with Celtic being Catholic & Nationalists with heavy links back to Ireland (and historically oppose Britain’s presence in Northern Ireland) with both sets of supporters having some ambiguous links to Irish based paramilitaries (hence those letter bombs I mentioned earlier.)

So I grew up knowing that wearing the wrong colour in the wrong part of town could literally cost you your teeth and had already grown kinda bored of all this long before the more recent incidents mentioned above. It was right about this time I caught a glimpse of the coolest guy I had ever seen playing football. He was wearing Red & Black and had long dreadlocks which swayed rhythmically when he ran with the ball “Who’s that?” I asked my uncle “That, my little man, is Ruud.” WOW! Even the name sounded cool, this was to be the 1st day of my love fest with the Rossoneri.


As a kid I can remember watching this team called “Meelan” seemingly attacking another team with such venom that it felt like I was watching a different sport, I can't remember the team they were playing against but recall that I felt sorry for them as they were constantly bullied & attacked by this Red & Black swarm. This, it later turned out, was to be my first and lasting impression of Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan.

Now I won’t profess to having watched every single match ever since but as I grew apathetic towards Scottish Football, I was naturally drawn to Milan and their apparent dynamism which then began to rejuvenate my love for football that had started to wane.

The speed, precision & compactness of Sacchi’s squad was something I had never witnessed before. A season or two later I was the kid at school arguing why Jean Pierre Papin or Marco Van Basten where better strikers than Rangers’ Mark Hately or Celtics’ Frank McAvennie (hard to convince the other party you’re right when they don’t know who the heck you are talking about!)


As much skill as Milan had at their disposal they appeared to rely on teamwork as opposed to highly skilled individuals. When they moved forward it was as a unit and when they lost the ball all appeared to work to get it back. It was relatively recently that I came across Sacchi’s comments on how he spent many hours and training sessions drilling his tactics into players who where doubtful of his ideas that I realised I had witnessed something genuinely special as a kid. He recalled that during one training session the players voiced their opposition to the new methods so Sacchi set up a match between 7 midfielders & forwards against 5 defenders. The mids and strikers were given carte blanche and allowed to play how they wanted meanwhile the defenders had to stick to Sacchi's new regime. After several failed attempts the attack minded players realised that no matter what they did they simply couldn’t keep possession for long enough to even get a shot at goal, it was after this the team fell into line and into one of the most amazing eras in football that was ever witnessed.

Meanwhile guys at my school would complain about how inadequate their local teams were in Europe whilst Milan were steadily marching to the finals pretty much year after year. It got to the point where some class mates would wager bets against Milan (which I was more than happy to take them up on) as they felt that this “Meelan” was a team not to be taken seriously, God how I loved to go to school the day after a CL match to collect my winnings! Over time I noticed that if Rangers, Celtic or ManUtd got knocked out of the CL people would then begin to ask me how my team were getting on and would reply with a sharp intake of breath or raise an eyebrow when I would recall 3-0 or 4-0 victories.

One of the highlights for me was the ‘94 CL final where it felt like the whole world bar me was rooting for Johan Cruyff’s Barca. All day during school I picked up on kids talking about the match, with Romario being mentioned constantly and how he was unstoppable and would lead Barca to victory, I remembered feeling the odd one out as it hadn’t honestly occurred to me that Capello’s Milan could lose the match! I was also stung by Cruyff’s apparent arrogance and the mocking tones of the English commentators who were pretty much stating that Barca would walk the match. By now I was a hardcore Milanista and felt that people weren’t giving Milan their dues considering what they had already achieved previously under former coach Sacchi.

The match result is history but the display put on that night lives on, people thought I was mocking them when I told them the following day that Desailly was simply a defensive mid and that we didn’t even have a full strength backline. For all the individual brilliance if Romario and Stoichkov they were ruthlessly put to the sword in what I still hold as the best footballing display I have ever witnessed and it was pure unadulterated pride when I was able to tell people “THAT’S my Milan!”

Our history is so rich and vivid, with names such as Sacchi, Capello, Van Basten, Gullit, Baresi, Maldini, Rossi, Boban, Weah, Kaka, Shevchenko and epics matches and victories along the way. I cant be thankful enough for becoming wrapped up in this Club with an obsession that used to feel out of place at times considering where I lived.

Where I once used to almost dread explaining myself, I now instantly grin whenever I’m asked the question “…So why Milan?”


Look for more of Avia's writings in the comments at the AC Milan Offside. You may also hear his guest appearance on the AC Milan Offside Podcast.