Wednesday, March 5, 2008

'Milan: The End'

The Italian press react to Arsenal's victory over Milan at San Siro

Paolo Bandini
Wednesday March 5, 2008
guardian.co.uk

Defeat to Arsenal saw Milan fail to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time since the second group stage was abandoned in 2003-04, and the first time they have failed to reach the semi-finals since 2004-05. With Milan's starting XI boasting an average age of over 30 last night, and 39-year-old captain Paolo Maldini set to retire at the end of the season, it is unsurprising, perhaps, that the Italian press have greeted last night as the end of an era.


"Milan: The End", booms the front page headline - written in English - of today's Gazzetta dello Sport, while other papers have taken a similar tack. "[Milan manager Carlo] Ancelotti's era is over", insists a Corriere dello Sport headline, despite the fact the club's owner, Silvio Berlusconi, has insisted he plans to stick by his manager even if he fails to qualify for next year's Champions League. "End of the Road", concurs the Corriere della Sera.

Nevertheless, few writers have been particularly critical of Ancelotti's team - most preferring to reflect simply on a remarkable spell of European dominance. "Now that it is finished, before explaining why it is finished, let's have a round of applause for the exit of the champions of everything," says Gazzetta's Franco Arturi. "Milan deserves it. They carried for a long time a legend, founded on their play, class, and desire, around the world; they are one of the most successful Italian brands. They burned themselves out as they did so often, pushing themselves to the very edge of their limits. A serene end, if not a glorious one, to years spent in the very best way.

"Ancelotti knew he had a squad on its knees, one that had been bouncing for months between Wednesdays and Sundays to an unsustainable rhythm: the last high, the intercontinental cup won last winter, was paid for at the highest price possible, with an impossible calendar. To try to repeat the miracle achieved last year would have required a complete turnover of players between the championship and the [Champions League] - 10 players in and 10 players out each time. Milan's precarious position in the league wouldn't permit such a course of action."

To a man the Italian press corps seem in accordance that Arsenal fully deserved their victory, but nevertheless a few were left ruing the timing of Cesc Fábregas's opener. "I have to admit I allowed myself to be fooled in the last 20 minutes of the game, when the exhausted Milan drew out their very best, through sheer heart and positive thinking," says Gazzetta's senior writer and former editor Candido Cannavò. "Some members of the team called for the physio, but the flashes from Kaka and [Alexandre] Pato allowed one to keep dreaming."

Corriere della Sera's Mario Sconcerti agrees. "With the sort of irony that often accompanies goodbyes, Milan's run ended with the concession of a goal in their best moment of the match," he says. "Arsenal were no longer managing to hold on to the ball, [Arsenal striker Emmanuel] Adebayor, extraordinary atypical monument of modern football, had disappeared. Indeed, Fábregas had understood the slowness of his team and took the responsibility of going it alone. He got lucky, but neither he nor his team-mates stole anything. They dominated the game. In the first leg and the second."

Arsenal are lauded for their attacking intent, La Repubblica's Gianni Mura noting that: "Arsenal brought seven players looking to play the ball in Milan's half, while Milan for long periods were restricted to two: Pato and [Filippo] Inzaghi forward, sometimes supported by Kaka, and the rest a long way behind." Fábregas, meanwhile, comes in for special praise from Mura's colleague Andrea Sorrentino. "Here he is, the splendid midfielder who disappointed a little in the first leg. This time he was the master of the pitch, in front of the defence to shut down (well) Kaka, then indefatigable weaver of the play, often the furthest forward, avoiding Gattuso and Ambrosini's traps and even getting himself into positions from which to shoot."

Inevitably, however, the acknowledgement of the end of an era has also opened the discussion of how Milan can progress from here. "The elimination now opens the route to a remodernisation," says Sconcerti, "maybe even a real refounding. The last time, at the beginning of the 2000s, Ancelotti managed to find new solutions on the fly. He had a 23-year-old Pirlo, a 28-year-old Inzaghi, a 25-year-old Nesta. He had leaders as well as champions. This team now, however, is a decadent Milan that no longer has a firm point of reference. Kaka goes on his own, Pato is a kid and outside of any communal initiative. Pirlo follows but doesn't lead. I don't think it was by chance that their worst night arrived when they were missing the one truly charismatic player they have left - [Clarence] Seedorf."

The last word was saved for Maldini, for whom last night marked the sad end of a glorious European career in which he has picked up five European Cups across three decades. All of the major Italian dailies named him Milan's man of the match. "In London, Maldini had been 'magnificent' according to the English press," concludes Corriere della Sera's Paolo Tomaselli. "Yesterday Paolino was simply one of the best in Ancelotti's team. One of the last to give in to the evidence of a generational clash which Milan couldn't win."

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