Tag Archives: San Siro

Former kings of Europe now live in the shadows of their success

Once the kings of European club football, AC Milan have been looking decidedly less regal in recent seasons.

After 21 games, I Rossoneri currently sit seventh in Italy’s Serie A with 31 points – 23 behind leaders Napoli and 12 off the Champions League positions.

Last summer AC Milan’s new Chinese backers spent over 200m euros on the likes of Leanardo Bonucci, Ricardo Rodriguez, Andre Silva and Hakan Calhanoglu with the aim of building a squad strong enough to challenge for the title and qualify for the Champions League.

However, none of those players have lived up to their price tags, with striker Silva, brought in from Porto for 38m euros, already being linked with a move away from the club.

Centre-back Bonucci, signed from Juventus for 42m euros, has not been able to reproduce his outstanding form for Juve in Milan.

Some would argue that even spending 200m euros on several players in the current market is not enough when judged alongside the astronomical sums paid for the likes of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Philippe Coutinho.

But even with Chinese money behind them, do AC Milan have the financial firepower to compete with likes of Manchester United, PSG, Barcelona and Real Madrid?

Instability

Another major issue facing the San Siro-based outfit is a lack of managerial continuity.

Milan have had nine different team bosses since 2009, and only one of those – Massimiliano Allegri (2010-14) – has lasted for more than one full campaign.

For the past decade, the club have been locked in a cycle of new manager inheriting someone else’s players, buying new ones but not being give enough time to revive its fortunes. Then a new man is hired, and so it goes on…

This season they have already sacked Vincenzo Montella and appointed club legend Gennaro Gattuso (pictured) to take his place.

The renowned hard man of the Italian game was running Milan’s youth team and has limited managerial experience.

Gattuso made 387 appearances for Milan between 1999 and 2012, so has plenty of goodwill from the fans on his side. But will his twitchy owners show patience if results don’t improve during the remainder of this season?

Past glories  

Milan’s current struggles are a far cry from their former glories.

They are joint-second with city rivals Inter in the list of Italian league title winners with 18 Serie A crowns, behind Juventus who lead the way with 33. They have won the Coppa Italia five times, and have seven Supercoppas Italiana to their name.

Milan have won the European Cup and Champions League seven times, but have not lifted European club football’s premier trophy since 2007. They have failed to win Serie A since the 2010-11 season. Juve have since reigned supreme.

After their last Scudetto win, followed by a runners-up spot in 2011-12, Milan’s fortunes tailed off dramatically, both domestically and in European competition.

At home, in the past five seasons they have finished in third, eighth, 10th, seventh and sixth positions; Champions League football is no longer a given for one of Europe’s most storied and successful clubs.

Hope for the future?

In 2016, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi – who had controlled the club for three decades – finally sold it to the Chinese investment management company Sino-Europe Sports Investment Management Changxing Co.

The jury is still out among Milan’s supporters on whether the new owners, headed by chairman Li Yonghong, can restore their club to its former status among Europe’s elite.

In the short term, the team are in the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia after beating local rivals Inter, and can still qualify for next season’s Champions League by winning the Europa League if their Serie A fortunes fail to reignite.

So, all is not lost for AC Milan even though there are not the same team they were 10 years ago.

But they have new owners who are willing to spend as they seek to recreate their successes under Arrigo Sacchi, Fabio Capello, and Carlo Ancelotti.

An awayday experience in Milan

Six years ago, Inter Milan were winning Serie A, the Champions League and Italian Cup while Southampton languished in League One after nearly going bust and being in administration.

So what a thrill it was for Saints fans (including myself) to travel to the San Siro and see them outplay the European giants in the Europa League. If only we hadn’t lost…

Qualifying for Europe adds something special to a season, and a rare chance to watch your team take on the one of the game’s biggest names is something not to be missed.

So when my friends invited on a four-night trip to Milan it was definitely something I had to do – albeit as cheaply as possible.

The first thing needed was a cheap flight, and Ryanair flies to Milan Bergamo, about an hour outside the city. Then came tracking down the most budget accommodation that central Milan had to offer – Queen’s Hostel.

 Packed

Arriving at Stansted to travel out the day before the game, it was surprising to see so many Southampton shirts at the airport – but then I guess everyone had the same idea of looking for bargain flights.

Duomo di Milano – worth a visit

The sense of excitement among the fans was already evident, and made the usual boring slog through security and passport control less of a chore.

The flight itself was packed with Saints supporters, some of who spent the whole journey singing songs whilst the beers kept coming.

This wasn’t your average away trip to Stoke or West Brom – we were heading to Milan to cheer our team on in one of Europe’s most famous stadiums.

The following day, the visiting supporters tended to group around either the San Siro or the clubs and bars of Navigli in the build-up to the game.

The city centre, where there are some spectacular sights such as the Duomo di Milano, is definitely worth a gander but it’s a bit of a tourist trap and better suited to those with budgets slightly bigger than mine.

Of course, as English football fans looking for home comforts, many of the Saints supporters located an English-style pub screening Sky Sports.

Unfortunately, trouble there a few days before meant it was closed to them in the run-up to that evening’s game.

It didn’t dampen spirits too much, however, as 7,500 away fans – around 13 percent of Southampton’s population – generated a real buzz in Milan’s bars and restaurants.

Deflated

img_0348
But I ordered a large… pizzas in Milan

Arriving at the San Siro, it felt like a home game at St Mary’s in some respects as everywhere you looked there was Saints fans.

Inter, who have been overshadowed by Juventus in recent years, were in poor form going into the match and struggling to get decent crowds.

The English contingent made up over a quarter of the evening’s overall attendance, and created plenty of noise in the two-thirds empty stadium as Saints dominated the game.

However, the Premier League outfit were left to rue several missed chances as Antonio Candreva popped up with a 67th-minute strike against the run of play.

The hosts hung on for the win, despite the late dismissal of Marcelo Brozovic, and Southampton and their travelling army of fans were left distinctly deflated by the defeat.

But the disappointment was eased by the fact that we had outplayed our illustrious opponents on their own ground, and the night was still young.

Unfortunately, many of the bars we tried were pretty unaffordable while others had closed early to avoid any rowdiness, so the day ended in anti-climax.

Explore

14826377_1858565234373787_1623006223_n
Sleeping in Milan airport

For the remainder of our stay, we explored the city, soaked up some local culture and, of course, sampled the food which was of the highest quality.

You can actually eat pretty cheaply in Milan if you look hard enough, and for just €9 you can get a pizza so large it won’t even fit on your plate.

This is one of my favourite parts of an away trip – the opportunity to check out a new city, to experience adventures and do things that you might not have ever done without football taking you there in the first place.

The trip ended on an uncomfortable note, sleeping in the airport as we waited for out flight home at an ungodly hour. I guess it just shows what you’ll put up with to go and support your team.

If you can afford it – and it can be done on a tight budget – I really recommend trip like ours.

Experiencing the delights and sights of a new city with your mates while indulging your love of football is something you won’t forget.

 

 

 

 

 

Emanuelson still aiming high

We meet where it all began for Urby Emanuelson, back at boyhood club Ajax’s training complex De Toekomst, less than a mile away from the Amsterdam Arena.

The versatile Dutch international, who can play at left back or as a winger, is currently without a club but cheerfully insists he is in no hurry to sign for a new one.

“Spain, England, Italy, Germany – I’d like to play in one of these four leagues,” says the man nicknamed ‘Ema’ during his time in Italy with AC Milan, Roma and Atalanta.

“He is reluctant to discuss where things went wrong at Roma… he is not the type of person who washes his dirty linen in public”

“I’ll just wait and see what happens. For now I am training with Ajax and keeping myself in form.”

Can his future be as illustrious as his past? There’s every chance. But although he turns 30 next June, Emanuelson is biding his time and none of the many offers he has received through agent Mino Raiola have appealed to him.

When I suggest he might return to AC Milan, he replies: “Milan? I think that chapter is closed. I had a great time there, I loved Milan, but I have moved on.”

‘Ema’ is engaging and animated company, no trace of arrogance, and always with a big smile on his face. He certainly doesn’t fit the stereotype which alleges Amsterdammers feel they’re slightly superior to other Dutch people and Europeans.

Tormented stints

A product of Ajax’s famous academy, he played for his hometown club for seven years before joining Milan in 2011, going on to make 73 appearances for them.

After a 2013 loan spell with Fulham in the Premier League, he endured tormented stints at AS Roma and Atalanta Bergamo and found himself out of contract at the end of last season.

Urby+Emanuelson+Parma+FC+v+AC+Milan+Serie+PRh0wNwL9bvl
Emanuelson playing for AC Milan

He divides where he once united, with criticism levelled at him by fans and the media for his apparent lack of dedication and his below-par performances.

Beginning the 2014-2015 season at Roma, he was on the fringes of manager Rudi Garcia’s plans. Then his move to Atalanta after the turn of the year did not go to plan, further denting his chances of being recruited by a top club.

Brought in to be a leader, a voice and a presence in an inexperienced side lacking personalities, Emanuelson seemed overwhelmed by the responsibility and failed to meet expectations at the Bergamo.

He is reluctant to discuss where things went wrong at Roma. The Italian media suggested that he and Garcia almost came to blows, but the Dutchman neither confirms nor rubbishes those claims. He is not the type of person who washes his dirty linen in public.

Scintillating performance

It’s not so long ago – the 2010-11 campaign – that Emanuelson shone for Ajax against AC Milan in the Champions League group stages.

The first leg ended in a 1-1 draw and, despite some Luis Suarez heroics up front, Milan’s hierarchy were impressed by Ajax’s number eight who boasted pace, trickery and end product.

The return leg saw Ajax seal a 2-0 win at the San Siro, with another scintillating performance from the-then 24-year old who managed to keep Ronaldinho and Ibrahimovic at bay.

“He feels he still has enough in the tank to feature in more competitive leagues”

It prompted Milan to sign him during the winter transfer window, seeing off attempts by Manchester United and Arsenal to lure him to the Premier League.

That Ajax team he played in was blessed with some of football’s hottest prospects – Suarez, Jan Vertonghen, Christian Eriksen, Maarten Stekelenburg, Gregory Van Der Wiel and Toby Alderweireld – all well-known names among fans these days.

His move to the Rossoneri coincided with Suarez joining Liverpool in January 2011, but it’s unlikely the Uruguayan’s exit prompted the kind of pain felt by Ajax fans when Emanuelson departed.

He was “one of them” – “Ajacied” through and through. The bond remained strong, and when Milan faced Ajax in the 2013-14 Champions League season, the number 28 was given a hero’s welcome at the Arena, his substitution met by an emotional standing ovation from the home crowd.

Treasured recollections

Could a return to Ajax perhaps be on the cards? Maybe in a few years’ time. He feels he still has enough in the tank to feature in more competitive leagues than the Eredivisie, where the standard is no longer as high as it once was.

He has many treasured recollections from his days in Lombardy. “The Scudetto in 2011 and the Supercup in China against Inter are great memories. Against Parma in a Serie A match the year we won the Scudetto, I also scored one of the most amazing goals of my career.”

After winning the league in his debut campaign then displacing veteran Gianluca Zambrotta from the starting XI, his third season with under-fire boss Massimiliano Allegri was anything but rosy, and a series of shaky displays cost him his berth.

“It might be too late to follow in Davids’ illustrious footsteps but it certainly isn’t too late to rekindle his old magic”

His relationship with the manager was damaged and first-team opportunities became virtually non-existent. Emanuelson was frustrated as it started to sink in that Frenchman Kevin Constant had become the main man on the left wing.

He quit the Italian giants for Fulham and says that he loved his short spell in London with the Cottagers.

“I had such an amazing time, although it was just for six months. London is a great city and playing in the Premier League was a dream that came true. Great stadiums, great atmosphere and great players.”

Blossomed

Emanuelson was eight years old when Ajax last won the Champions League in 1995 in Vienna against, you guessed it, AC Milan.

That team, which won 1-0 thanks to a Patrick Kluivert strike in the dying minutes, boasted a wealth of gifted players such as Clarence Seedorf, Edwin Van der Sar, Finidi George, Frank and Ronald de Boer, Edgar Davids, Frank Rijkaard, Kluivert and Jari Litmanen under the tutelage perfectionist manager Louis Van Gaal.

Emanuelson admits to growing up in awe of Davids. “He was my idol. I looked up to him. We played in the same position, and when I was seven years old he played here, at Ajax, so it was easy contact.”

It might be too late to follow in Davids’ illustrious footsteps but it certainly isn’t too late to rekindle his old magic.

And unlike his compatriot, who struggled at AC Milan between 1996 and 1997, Emanuelson blossomed under the Duomo, leaving fond memories in the hearts and minds of Milan’s fans.

People say the reason things are sold cheap at the supermarket is they’re past their best, but although ‘Ema’ won’t cost a penny, this can’t be applied to him.

With any luck, he still has three or four years at the highest levels ahead of him. Whatever club takes him on surely won’t rue the decision.