Not only has the city of Milan been dominated by a succession of empires, with the Romans, Spanish and French all having claimed dominion over the capital of Lombardy, powerful families have also held sway there. The Viscontis were deemed ‘lords of Milan’ from the late thirteenth century through to the middle fifteenth, and the Sforza family later took up this control around the Renaissance period. Nothing is for ever though. Empires crumble and families wither, and a similar fate appears to have befallen the city’s two football clubs. Once dominant in Serie A with an imperial strut to their performances, both AC Milan and Internazionale appear to be in decline, and the Berlusconi and Moratti families whose respective ownership of the Milanese clubs has identified them over recent years, appear to be following a following a similar pattern.
For the Rossoneri, the days of European domination under Arigo Sacchi and Fabio Cappello, when the likes of Gullit, van Basten, Maldini and the imperious Franco Baresi wore the famous striped shirts, seem a long way distant. They currently sit eighth in Serie A, a full 20 points astray of leaders Juventus, after a home defeat to Atalanta. Realism seems to be breaking out around the club however with manager Pippo Inzaghi now declaring that any talk of a top three finish is nonsense.
The players too seem to have accepted that, for this season at least, a realigning of aspirations is in order. Club captain Riccardo Montolivo was quoted last week in Gazzetta dello Sport as admitting that, “None of us draw comparisons with the past. They used to have sacred beasts at [the] Milanello [training ground], legends of European football. There is a clear difference between that Milan and this Milan.” As if to underscore this, when the club tweeted a picture of the number 22 shirt, allocated to Italy international Alessio Cerci, secured on an 18 month loan deal from Atletico Madrid, fans were quick to respond that the shirt used to belong to Gennaro Gattuso, and the number 10 one, next to it was, not so long ago, graced by Kaka.
Whilst his team’s fortunes plummet, it’s a similar story for the once all-powerful Silvio Berslusconi. The populist politician who bought the Rossoneri in 1986 is now in disgrace after being convicted of tax fraud in 2013. It’s a long way down for the man who served for nine years, across three terms as Prime Minister of Italy, making him the country’s longest-serving post-war leader. This is also the man that Forbes magazine ranked as 12th in their list of The World’s Most Powerful People in 2009. As a 78 year-old, Italy’s legal system exempts him from serving his sentence for the fraud in prison. Instead his penance is carry out unpaid social work. If his club’s fall has been humbling, his own is much more so.
For the Rossoneri, there may however be a measure of cold comfort that their fellow tenants of the San Siro are also in decline – and perhaps an even steeper one. Go back only to 2010, and the club were crowned Champions of Europe under the tenure of Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese had been brought in to take the club the extra step after Roberto Mancini had dominated the domestic league with a hat-trick of Scudetto titles, but failing in Europe’s most prestigious competition. Today however, they sit almost alongside their neighbours, on the same number of points, a mere goal worse off.
Although Massimo Moratti and his family, owners of the Nerazurri, are not in anything like the same position as Berlusconi, the realities of the modern financial world mean that after apparently subsidising inter to the tune of some £530million, the money needed to try and keep pace with the nouveau-rich of PSG and Manchester City as well as the seemingly perpetual powers of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United, was simply not there. As a consequence, Moratti has sold a majority stake in the club to Erick Thohir, an Indonesian financier. It remains unclear how much difference Thohir can make, with the club haemorrhaging money at an alarming rate. For Moratti and his family however, the link with Inter has diminished.
The big question of course arises as to why two of the aristocrats of European football have both spiraled downwards at the same time. It’s certainly something of a modern tale however as the ever-increasing demands to raise money and fight for a spot at Europe’s top table excludes more and more clubs. At the end of the 2010-11 season, Milan and Inter finished first and second in Serie A, with Milan breaking Inter’s monopoly of five consecutive Scudettos. From there however, as Roma and Juventus have forged forward, the Milanese clubs have drifted back.
As is his wont, Mourinho’s side was packed with players in their prime, but these 30-somethings quickly tumbled down the other side of that age-old hill, and replacing them en masse was always going to be an expensive exercise. Exit Mourinho stage left to Real Madrid. A similar fate befell Milan who lost not only Gattuso, and the wearying Kaka, but also the reliable Nesta and the omnipresent Seedorf.
It would be wrong however to assume that Berlusconi and Moratti merely gave up the fight, the wage bills at both clubs even now are only bettered by those paid out by Roma and the Old Lady of Turin. This despite them being slashed by almost half compared to figures of a few years ago. For mid-table clubs, that’s a strong case of largesse in anybody’s calculations. There has however been a cut in big money on transfers. From the high-life spending in in the 2008-09 season when the spending of the two clubs combined to reach an eye-watering 120million euros, the total fell to less than a quarter of that last year. Of course FFP played a part, but financial reality was the big factor.
Is there a way back to the top for the red-and-blacks and the black-and-blues? Maybe, despite their nicknames, it’s not all black ahead. Xherdan Shaqiri is one of the brightest young talents on the continent, and the return on Mancini will give Inter’s fans hope anew. For Milan, Cerci brings a promise of goals and there’s talk that despite his tribulations Berlusconi still plans to invest in the cub, with rumours of a new stadium being floated.
For now however, the Milanese may need to get used to a little austerity, at least in the short term. Tomorrow may be a brighter day, and it may even reach the heights of yesterday, but in a city that has seen the great and good, come and go, it’s time for a bit of a reality check.