What a Trip into Milan’s Past Tells Us About the Club’s Future

 

 

I grew up in Padova, a city close to Venice and a 3 hour drive to Milano. Despite fact about 240 kilometers separate the two cities, there are strong ties between Padova and Milan the football club. Recently El Shaarawy joined the rossoneri after becoming one of Italy’s best prospects at Padova, and before becoming a world class midfielder at Milan, Albertini, also played for Padova. But the ties between Milan and Padova start in the 1960s-  the first coach to win a Champions League for Milan (back when it was called Coppa dei Campioni), Nereo Rocco, also arrived from Padova. I recently went back to Padova on vacation and had many Milan related experiences I wanted to share with you. I do believe these stories offer great insight on what is currently wrong at Milan, and more importantly, what needs to happen for the club to return to glory…

On the first night in Italy I had dinner at the Ristorante Cavalca where Nereo Rocco used to hold court before matches when he coached Padova (the picture to left of Rocco is from the restaurant). As I was dining on baccala’ alla Vicentina (salted cod) and bigoli al ragu’ all’anatra (homemade pasta with duck meat sauce) I was told numerous great stories about Rocco, both about his time with Padova and Milan. He was the coach who made “catenaccio” popular in Italy (the defensive strategy was actually invented in Switzerland), while he wasn’t a great in game manager ( he believed there was only so much he could do to control players on the pitch, and that ultimately it was up to them to perform) his biggest strength was his ability to motivate and manage personalities. He was known for being a father figure to his players, while he was a tough guy (his nickname was “el paron” which in dialect means “the master”) his players also knew he had their best interest at heart- he was well known for going to night clubs to catch his players who were breaking curfew.

 

Rocco was instrumental in developing Rivera (pictured here with Rocco and Trapattoni), arguably Milan’s best player ever and certainly their best home grown talent. While at Milan, Rocco coached Trapattoni and Cesare Maldini who would follow in his footsteps as coaches. Rocco was known for having an incredible memory and a great sense of humor; while he was coaching Padova before a match against Juventus, a Turin based reporter told him after an interview “May the best team win” to which Rocco famously responded “Cio’ speremo de no” (in dialect it means “let’s hope not”). Rocco left Padova for Milan in 1961, in two tours of duty with the rossoneri (he left in 1963 to join Torino for 4 years because he didn’t get along with the sporting director) Rocco won 2 scudetti, 2 Coppa Italia, 2 Coppa Campioni (today’s CL and he was the first Italian coach to win one), and 1 Intercontinental Cup.

 

I strongly believe Nereo Rocco is exactly the type of coach Milan could use today. Rocco would have the ability to set boundaries for Balotelli, while also making him feel like he had his best interest at heart. He also would be able to fix Milan’s leaky defense while ensuring the same mistake wouldn’t keep happening over and over. Finding the new Nereo Rocco would go a long way in turning Milan around. While Allegri is about as popular with Milan fans as Miley Cyrus is with parents of teenagers, Milan did hire it’s two best coaches ever (Rocco and Sacchi) from smaller clubs, I personally think that would be a wiser than picking someone like Inzaghi, Seedorf or Shevchenko since in my opinion there is a better chance they are the new Ciro Ferrara rather than the new Antonio Conte. Up until a few weeks ago, I was convinced Inzaghi would be Milan’s coach next season, but fact that he is Galliani’s pick really hurts his chances now that Galliani appears on his way out next season.

 

On the second day in Padova, I got to meet Gianluca Di Marzio in person. I have been contributing to his website since July but this was first time we got to shake hands. While I was expecting a short meeting over coffee, I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with him and watch him work. While we chatted about the state of Calcio, he got a phone call about Milan being interested in signing Sagna next January (he has an expiring deal with Arsenal so this would be a move similar to Juve’s with Llorente) to a contract. While this happened on October 21st, Di Marzio didn’t post this news to his site until November 7th. It was very interesting to hear Di Marzio’s perspective on Milan, he isn’t so convinced the team will start investing heavily once there is a new coach (he did point out all of Milan’s recent signings, except for Matri, were free transfers or loans with options to buy) but he was very impressed with the acquisition of Honda. I can say that Di Marzio is a great guy, for someone that has accomplished so much in his industry, he is a very humble and down to earth person- he greeted me like a brother and I can totally see why he is so good at his job. Relationships and confidentiality are so key in his business, and his energy is contagious.

 

Most of my third day in Padova revolved around the Padova-Juve Stabia match that I got to attend (it’s such a hassle to get a ticket to any Calcio game in Italy, but that deserves a separate column). While the match itself didn’t really have to do with Milan, I talked to many rossoneri fans before the match. One thing that stands out to me, is that unlike what you read on Twitter, most Milan fans I talked to in Italy aren’t obsessed with firing Allegri. While most of them would agree Milan should have a better coach, they see much bigger problems at Milan that won’t be resolved with Allegri’s sacking. Most people I talked to in Italy believe Allegri is an ideal scapegoat, it’s easy for fans to focus on his goofy press conferences and his puzzling lineups, which pretty much gives Galliani and Berlusconi a free pass.

 

 

On Sunday morning I went to one of the oldest Milan fan clubs in Italy- “Da Giovanni” which is located in Mestrino (a small town between Padova and Vicenza)- this is a restaurant/bar with plenty of Milan memorabilia. Going to this place is like hopping into the time machine and returning to the 1960s. The chairs and tables are older than Taribo West and this is the type of place without a menu where you basically eat whatever the cook was in the mood to make that day.

 

SES

On my final night in Padova, I went to dinner with a dear friend of mine who is a Padova ultras but but who also loves Milan. He knew El Shaarawy a little bit when he played for Padova (check out the game worn jersey). He told me SES is a very quiet and shy person, who isn’t very outgoing. In his opinion it’s not surprising that El Shaarawy had his best stretch of games when Milan didn’t have Ibrahimovic or Balotelli. While he really likes El Shaarawy he doesn’t believe he will ever succeed with Balotelli as a teammate. Obviously this is just one person’s opinion, but I did find it interesting that someone who knew El Shaarawy a little, and who is both a Milan and Padova fan, would say this. I am also personally a big admirer of El Shaarawy since he reminds me very much of Del Piero, my favorite player ever, and another player who was at Padova prior to joining a big club. To me El Shaarawy is the most similar player to the first version of Del Piero we saw at Juve in early 90s (before he bulked up and the knee injury). Just like El Shaarawy, Del Piero was everywhere on the pitch- he was willing to sacrifice to help his team’s defense and midfield, this type of quality typically makes you a fan favorite. I do hope things work out at Milan for El Shaarawy, but my educated guess is that it will be unlikely for both El Shaarawy and Balotelli to be on Milan this time next year.

 

I had a great visit in Padova. While I’m not a Milan fan, they are a club I admire very much, and for the sake of Serie A as a whole, I do hope things improve for them soon, and my trip to Italy gave me insight in how that could happen. Overall I got the sense that getting rid of Allegri (and I’m personally not the least bit surprised he has been able to hang on as long as he has) will by no means make a big difference beyond making many fans happy. What would really help things is a commitment from the club to do the things that made Milan great in the past- having a strong coach, getting players who fit the system rather than being just names that attract attention, and more importantly, not settling for mediocrity.

 

A huge GRAZIE to my dear friend Alberto Fagari who took me to many places to research this article

Follow me on Twitter @DavidAmoyal

2 Thoughts on “What a Trip into Milan’s Past Tells Us About the Club’s Future

  1. RossoneriFido on November 14, 2013 at 2:25 PM said:

    Thanks David for this article and for the others translated on twitter.
    Now onto Milan I think most of the milanesti on twitter have acknowledged the fact that Allegri isn’t the biggest problem. Yes he is the perfect scapegoat. His stubborn and calm personality is keeping him at Milan. I would’ve resigned if I was him by the end of last season.
    As for finding another great coach you need Berlusconi to have interest in Milan which seems unlikely. No matter how great the coach is he is not going to deliver good results with many mediocre players.
    We always expect our top players to be sold in the future when we face problems and with no UCL money next year Milan will have to sell either El Shaarawy or Balotelli or both.
    As for Sagna it makes perfect sense if Milan decided not to renew Abate’s contract who is set to expire by the end of the season. Again another step backwards for the youth movement.
    Finally thank you Dave for sharing your respected thoughts and Forza Milan.

  2. RossoneriFido on November 14, 2013 at 2:51 PM said:

    Forgot to comment on Shaarawy pairing with Balotelli and Ibra.
    I think it’s too early to judge. At his first year with Ibra he was never a starter to begin with. Last year he carried Milan when no one could in the first half of the season.That says a lot. When Balotelli arrived he took away all the media attention from El Shaarawy. If Stephan was shy he shouldn’t have struggled imo. He shoukd have thrived more in the second half. I believe El Shaarawy had a terrible 2013 because he was everywhere on the left side of every match in the first half covering for Constant’s errors at the left flank. I believe El Shaarawy can play well with anyone as he can shoot well and is a decent passer. I just hope when he is fit he gets the same confidence Matri gets from Count Max.
    Again thanks David and Forza Milan.

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