Udinese 2, Milan 3: Justice for Mike

Some matches are bigger than football. Udinese fans chose to make this one about everything but the football. Udinese fans in their Curva racially abused Mike Maignan. He could be seen notifying the referee, Maresca, pointing to the fans and gesturing like a monkey. They were racially abusing him. It happened again, and the match was suspended. Maignan walked off the pitch, and his teammates followed him. I have never been so proud. This forced a stoppage of over five minutes, which got the attention of the stadium, the fans, and the world. And although Udinese came back and scored two morally excruciating goals to go ahead, our team stood up and stood by their teammate and made sure that racism did not win. The 3-2 victory for Milan over Udinese was not so much a sporting victory as it was justice for Mike.

The best way to defeat racism is on the pitch.

Maignan said he heard the abuse from the first time he went to clear the ball, but he did not do anything at that point. When he heard it again, he informed the fourth official and the bench. In the 26th minute, we all saw him talking to Maresca, the head referee, and informing him of what was going on. Credit to Maresca, instead of punishing Maignan like previous referees have done with other players who were abused, he confirmed that the fourth official had heard it, and calmly tallked to Maignan.

Finally, a referee who listened and followed protocol instead of punished.

When Maignan signaled that it was happening again, Maresca immediately blew his whistle to stop the match, and again walked over to speak with him. Clearly not satisfied with play merely stopping, Maignan bravely walked off the pitch, and his loyal teammates stuck with him, offering him hugs and support the whole time. They waited for a minute on the sideline, then Maignan decided that was still not enough, and he started taking off his gloves and heading down the tunnel into the dressing room.

Adli and others joined him, and were talking to him. He reported afterward that he did not want to play the rest of the match, but his teammates did, they were a family, and he did not want to let them down. So eventually, they convinced him to return to the pitch. During this time, you could see Balzaretti, Udinese's Sporting Director, Cioffi, the manager, and Pereyra, the captain, in various stages of concern that the match might be abandoned. Forfeiting the match due to their fans would give Milan an automatic 3-0 win, and they clearly did not want that.

Loftus-Cheek took the first punch against racism.

Milan had left the pitch up 1-0 due to a goal from Loftus-Cheek scored in the 31st minute, in between Maignan's conversations with Maresca. Unfortunately, Maignan was absolutely rattled by the events. He is always so focused, but this is the one thing that gets to him. Play resumed, and Udinese's official Twitter account posted that the match "was halted for a few minutes, but they disgracefully failed to even mention the abuse. So shameful. I think Milan's defense were a bit rattled as well, and Samardžić equalized in the 42nd minute. 1-1 all. Scoring on Maignan. Right in front of the racist fans. That was absolutely brutal. And Maignan looked like he had been sucker punched.

The second half did not get better in that sense, as Cioffi's substitution, Thauvin, scored a second goal after a defensive comedy of errors from Milan and another unfocused attempt to save it by Maignan. 2-1 Racists Udinese. I felt absolutely sick inside, and so angry that they were ahead. I felt completely abandoned by the gods of football. But my anger also fueled a righteous anger inside of me that I hoped the players would share. And they did.

Giroud celebrates Jović being in the right place at the right time to finish what he started.

Pioli subbed Okafor on for Reijnders in the 68th minute, the Florenzi for Calbria and Jović for Pulisic in the 75th minute. Inspired subs that paid off. In the 83rd, Giroud fired off another great shot (he had several in this match,) that ricocheted down from the bottom of the crossbar and partially crossed the line. But not to worry, Jović was there to pounce on the opportunity and make the Racists Okoye and Udinese pay with his diving header. 2-2 all. Game on.

Theo Hernández got Milan's only player yellow card in the 88th minute for a foul on Isaac Success, and one of Pioli's assistant was also shown a yellow shortly thereafter. Cioffi had an assistant shown a yellow card earlier in the match, but Udinese had a total of seven yellow cards for players as well. For once, Milan were not the ones with the discipline problems. 

Okafor's carnage making the racists pay.

But it was in the 93rd minute that Milan made the Racists Udinese pay. Giroud headed the ball into the area, and Okafor made no mistake, slotting it home for the win. 3-2 Milan Mike. While Okafor and much of the team were celebrating in front of the racist fans who had abused Maignan, Adli and Florenzi raced down the pitch to embrace the embattled goalkeeper. Everyone knew. This win was for him. This was justice served on a platter of agonizing pain. A goal scored in stoppage time to teach those horrific fans a lesson. Racism does not belong in football, or anywhere at all.

While Udinese had beaten Milan at the San Siro in November, and has been a bit of a curse in the past, Milan were wearing our third kits, which were marketed to be a "symbol of diversity." The irony of Udinese fans abusing Mike while the team were promoting inclusion and diversity was not lost on me. But it was the Racists who lost the three points. Diversity is one of Milan's strengths. Loftus-Cheek had a great match. Gabbia had a fantastic game. But their decision to make this about something other than football was their downfall, because it only forged and unified the team even more.

Celebrating a moral victory.

The match wasn't pretty. Udinese were very physical, and with only 30% possession, they somehow  managed six shots on target, with two goals. But in the end, they had to watch Milan celebrate, and they dropped points again. Balzaretti made an appropriate statement from Udinese, while Cioffi tried to gloss over it. They vowed to find the fans responsible, but I hope they still ban the fans who were responsible for the abuse. FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, spoke out about the incident, having just awarded a trophy this week to Brazil for wearing shirts to try to end racism (clearly an effective tool.) and Mbappé tweeted support for his national teammate, Maignan. 

Maignan made powerful statements to the media and also on social media, but at the end of the day, it is unlikely that the Lega Serie A, the FIGC, UEFA, or FIFA will do anything effective about this recurring issue in Italy. If you have been fortunate enough to never be discriminated against, perhaps you do not understand just how much harm events like this do to everyone involved. But Maignan does. Despite speaking out previously and ensuring that the racists know that he is not a victim, he had to deal with all of this yet again. But against all odds, the team united and had his back. The Racists lost on every level, and Milan provided justice for Mike.

This post inspired by the music of The Pretenders' "I'll Stand By You"

Our next match is 
Serie A Week 22
Milan vs. Bologna
Suaturday, January 27, 2024 • 20:45 CET (2:45pm EST)

Udinese 2, Milan 3: Justice for Mike Udinese 2, Milan 3: Justice for Mike Reviewed by Elaine on 4:30 AM Rating: 5
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