AC Milan versus Inter Milan. Ten years ago this game would have been one of the biggest in world football; a seismic battle between two superpowers of the game.
A 3-2 win for Inter in the 2005/06 season was a fiery affair, but there was skill mixed with the passion. In a match that ebbed and flowed, Kaka was in his prime, making lung-bursting runs from deep, Andrea Pirlo was passing the ball around with ease, Figo was playing teasing balls into the box, Andriy Shevchenko was scoring goals, Javier Zanetti was reliable as ever and Alessandro Nesta was a rock at the back. Cafu, Paolo Maldini, Clarence Seedorf, Esteban Cambiasso, Adriano, Jaap Stam, Filippo Inzaghi… the list of great players just goes on and on.
The following season, Inter would record a 4-3 victory in another thriller, a game where the Nerazzurri’s strikers Hernán Crespo and Zlatan Ibrahimović were in imperious from. Sunday’s 2-2 draw was another entertaining game, but it just didn’t have the same class and grandeur of years gone by.
Suso was the standout performer for Milan, but his two strikes brought his total league goals tally to a meagre five since he arrived in January 2015 after failing to break into the Liverpool starting XI. Some other players that featured in Sunday night’s game failed to arouse much excitement either. Gary Medel flopped at Cardiff City, Mauro Icardi, who Inter are often dependant on, is hated by some of his own fans and Gabiel Paletta is mostly known for his unsuccessful spell at Liverpool.
Many would have you believe that Sunday night’s game signals an upturn in fortunes for the two sides, but the successes of old are a long way off. Milan are third, but don’t look like challenging pacesetters Juventus, while Inter are ninth and in transition once again after dispensing with manager Frank de Boer.
The question has to be asked how have both Milan teams declined so drastically in a similar fashion over the same time period? The Calciopoli match fixing scandal would be one reason, but that affected all of Italian football, and the worst affected side, Juventus, have returned to the summit of Italian football with relative ease.
Owners Massimo Moratti and Silvio Berlusconi must take some of the blame; they have spent significantly less money than they used to and that has harmed the club’s fortunes, with neither AC or Inter being able to bring in the right calibre of player to replace retiring club legends.
However, last summer there was indeed an increase in spending, but it wasn’t spent wisely. Inter, according to ESPN, spent a combined €70 million on the unproven Joao Mario and Gabriel Barbosa, who has only played once this season, and this figure could rise even further with bonuses.
Milan, on the other hand, were outspent by the likes of Pescara and Cagliari, according to Betinf.com. Both Inter and Milan’s business was overshadowed by Juventus, who brought in quality players such as Gonzalo Higuaín, Dani Alves, Mehdi Benatia and Juan Cuadrado. They replaced stars like Paul Pogba, and manager Massimiliano Allegri has carried on the stellar work done by Antonio Conte.
Allegri has previously managed AC Milan, but never achieved much success. However, it’s not Allegri’s managerial ability that was in question, but how he was allowed manage the club and the time he was given to do it. Since 2011, Juventus have had two managers, AC Milan have had seven and Inter have had a whopping nine.
The stability Juventus have managed to cultivate at all levels of the club is key to their ongoing success and domination of Italian football. Juve’s signing of midfield maestro Pirlo in 2011 on a free transfer after his contract ran out at Milan is an example of the disparity between the way the two clubs operate these days.
Is there a way back for Inter and/or Milan? Not for the foreseeable future. Both are still two hugely supported clubs with passionate fan bases, but Inter haven’t played in the Champions League since 2011/12 and AC haven’t made any impact in Europe either over the same time period.
Managers must be given time to get across their ideas and bring in the players they want. The shambles with De Boer can’t be allowed to happen again. The players that are brought in must be held to a high standard that is fitting of both of these great clubs.
If the example of Juventus is followed then in a few seasons’ time we may yet see the Rossoneri and the Nerazurri battle it out on Europe’s biggest stage once more.
Michael Cole, Pundit Arena