April 03, 2011

Milan–Inter 3–0: when it matters…

Milan’s derby is the most important match in the season, regardless of the table and the stake. But yesterday’s was the first one in a generation with an Italian title at stake, with Inter behind Milan by only 2 points. In fact the only derbies I remember with an important stake were in Champions League, the semifinals 2003 and quarterfinals 2005, both obviously won by Milan - as again yesterday. In Milan, a productive, non-nonsense city, you can tell who is best when it really matters. Milan literally dominated the match from the first minute (Pato’s goal) to the last (Cassano’s goal). Inter, on paper the Italian, European and World’s champions in charge, were lost in the fog and their ugly version of football was obscured by Milan’s spectacular lights.

Both teams express the nature of the city, the only cosmopolitan one in Italy. Milan has an English name, from its founders, and Inter stands for Internazionale – an appropriate name given that hardly any Italian has played for them recently. Both teams were forced to change their unpatriotic names under fascism, respectively to Italian “Milano” and to “Ambrosiana” (from Milan’s own version of the Catholic Chruch). Inter was the team of the Church, and the only one allowed to win under Fascism, together with Roma and the royal family’s Juventus. It’s a matter of pride for Milan not to have won titles in that period. Milan was the bourgeoisie’s team, but after the war it was embraced by the masses of immigrants from the South, especially Sicily: I have inherited Milan’s faith from my mother side. As a result of demographic change it became a much more popular team, and in the 1970s and 1980s this was also reflected in a political divide, with Milan’s “ultras” of the South End waving Che Guevara flags and Inter’s preferring neofascist symbols on their North End. Red and black are by far more popular than black-and-blue. The downside of popular support, however, is to be easy prey of populist politics...

Milanese supporters (especially Milan’s – Inter’s are more pragmatic and prefer German players to Dutch and Brazilian ones) have a unique taste for the technical, stylistic act, the opposite of the attitude of British fans. The best personification of Milanese styles were Rivera and Van Basten, players who would often choose form over substance, and a more difficult way to score a goal as long as it was more beautiful.

Art is even endorsed by the fans. Milanese fans, who years ago had won an award for a reproduction of Munch’s scream to mock Inter fans despair, yesterday produced a reproduction of that most famous piece of Milanese painting, Leonardo’s Last Supper, where Judah was the only back and blue figure in a red-and-black, in reference to another Leonardo, who after being a Milanese hero has just ‘defected’ to the other side. The paradox is that Leonardo, both as player and manager’ was an excellent personification of the classy Milanese spirit, and that he left Milan in protest against Berlusconi’s style.


It was nice to see the San Siro stadium (aka La Scala del Calcio) so full and ‘warm’ again, as it always was in the 1980s and 1990s, even when Milan played in the second league. However, in recent times it is mostly half-empty, killed by TV football, ultras’ sectarian violence and excessive rotation of players. Football is a team sport and changing five players every six months kills its nature. Fortunately Milan still has its good ‘old guard’ (Seedorf and Nesta were impressive again yesterday), but the majority of players have a job tenure of a year of two. Which, as an employment policy, is always bad, whether by football clubs aiming to win sponsors at all cost, or university departments aiming to maximise REF results – at the cost of everybody else.

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