Thursday, December 6, 2012

Guest Post: Pippo Inzaghi vs Liverpool 2007: Football’s romance

It is with great pleasure that I share this amazing Guest Post with you by Sam Lewis, deputy editor of Forza Italian Football. Thanks, Sam!

They say romance in football is dead. A lost trend, represented only by stories of terraced fans able to connect with the stars on the pitch, that their skill in football was the only thing that separated them from normality.

The world we live in is arguably more bereft of romance than any other period in human existence; Social Media nullifies the necessity of human interaction, celebrity status is now accrued from beauty and wealth rather than any ounce of genuine achievement, or even talent.

Arguably, this is none truer than in Sport, and more specifically, football. The world’s most globalised athletic event, where stars earn weekly wages higher than most fans earn annually, living lives of pampered prosperity, far removed from the reality experienced by those who pay money to share the same venue as them.

However, in my opinion – there is romance left in football. The romance in football is that of an imaginative child who grows up idolising his favourite players, dreaming of wearing  the sacred colours of his club and kicking a ball alone in his back garden, wheeling away, pulling the shirt over his eyes and imagining scoring that goal, in that final.

As the boy becomes a man, he still visits the stadium, cheering every win, remonstrating at every loss – and the brief moments of unbridled joy as his heroes score a goal, the man that he becomes reverts back to that little boy in the garden, even if just for a moment.

The game that made me a Milan fan, or to be more specific the moment I became a fan happened very late in my life in comparison to most footballing loving children. Whereas most kids grow up and fall into supporting their local team and grow old with the feeling that they are part of something that is theirs by birth and proximity, I did not experience such an emotion.

During my childhood, I was turned onto Italian football by my Dad. Now, my old man is no Calcio fan, and suffers whilst following his, and my local team – Wolverhampton Wanderers. However, like many an English football fan – he watched Channel Four’s La Gazzetta, and revelled in the sights of players like Marco Van Basten, Paolo Maldini and Roberto Baggio. As a young boy, these were my first forays into European football as a whole – falling for the colour, the Curva and the sheer exoticness of central Europe. Growing up I idolised Spanish football too, holding Luis Figo and Raul in high esteem - exhilarated by the glamour in a footballing climate that England could never replicate, still lost in rigid 4-4-2’s, cold weather and horrible Manchester United-supporting schoolchildren.

However, I had still not picked a team. I always loved Milan thanks to their bold colours, always remembering how enraptured I was as a child by their cooler-than-cool devilish red and black stripes, yet never called myself a true fan. I was an admirer, not yet a supporter.

As Milan progressed under Carlo Ancelotti and regularly challenged for European honours during the 2000’s, I began to take a further interest into the Rossoneri. I was silently pleased if I saw Milan beat a big English side, my sporting guilty pleasure the reason behind the frustration and misery of my Manchester United and Liverpool supporting peers. When the “Miracle of Istanbul” in the 2005 Champions League Final happened it was not felt with the same heartache it would resonate with me now, but it was met with a feeling of shame – that I would then have to listen to the gloats and jeers of the fans I knew at school.

Filippo Inzaghi was dropped for that game in Turkey in favour for Andrei Shevchenko, Hernan Crespo and Jon Dahl Tomasson.

 Signed from Juventus, “Pippo” Inzaghi perhaps connected more with fans than any footballer I have ever seen in my short existence as a football fan. Not blessed with the sumptuous ball skill most professionals take for granted, Pippo’s ascendancy into the highest tier of his profession came through hard work, attention to detail and reliance on an innate ability to read the game and out-think opposition players. As a result, Inzaghi is blessed with a level of humility that most footballers in his position consider alien. He is loyal, passionate and celebrates every goal like a fan, with the fans. He considers himself a fan that got lucky – the closest thing to the mutual feeling that the skill he possessed is the only thing that him and the Curva Sud, who adopted him like a born and bred Milanista. 

Pippo watched from the stands as Liverpool fought back and defeated his side, unable to do anything for a team that he considers as much his own as any other in the stadium. Pippo cheered like a fan, cursed like a fan and went home having not played a minute of football – just like a fan.

Two years later, Milan and Liverpool meet again. After once again doing internal, joyous dances as Ancelotti’s side oust Manchester United in spectacular style, the Rossoneri face up against the side that shocked them just 24 months prior.

Milan take a first half lead as Andrea Pirlo’s free kick hits off the rib of Inzaghi and flies past Pepe Reina in the Liverpool goal, but by no means is the game over. What followed was a 40 minute period of tension, ebbing and flowing as both side fought for control. In the 82nd minute Massimo Oddo passes the ball to Kaka about 25 yards from goal. Making eye contact with the Brazilian, Inzaghi makes a run that leaves his marker flat footed and Kaka plays a through ball that splits the Liverpool defence to meet Inzaghi. At the drop of a hat, the Italian is through. Pippo takes a touch, neatly rounds the onrushing keeper and rolls the ball into the empty net. He sprints off toward the corner flag, celebrating before ball even crosses the line. He reaches the byline near the fourth official and drops to his knees, screaming as he does so - frantically gesticulating towards himself.

For that moment as I watched, overjoyed at what I had witnessed, Pippo Inzaghi reverted to the little boy in the back garden, wheeling away and celebrating alone. For those few seconds, I connected with a man I had never met because there was a feeling that he and I were very alike. I, like he had dreamed of scoring a vital goal in Cup Final for club I loved. I, like he - wheeled away and exalted with passion, without shame or doubt. I, like Pippo Inzaghi – was just a fan.  

It was rare, real moment of humanity. It was a reminder that when it all boils down, when the cash, the status, the sponsors and the agents are removed – we are all merely people, sharing the same feelings, just with different circumstances. It was that moment where I felt a real bond to the man, the club and the colours, where I felt that his success was mine too, his emotion mirrored my own.

Since then, I became a true fan. I have Pippo Inzaghi to thank, yet I probably will never get to explain to him quite the way I feel and how he reminded me that there is a true romance in football, even for someone as far removed from him as I am. But I guess, that’s the beauty of it. 

Thanks so much to Sam for sharing this amazing post with us!
You can also read his review of the Trofeo TIM from this summer,
or follow him on Twitter @SamCalcio.

Our next game is
Torino vs. Milan
Sunday, December 9 • 15:00 CET (9am EST)