Celebrating club football and shining the light on incompetent and biased journos indulging in stereotyping and negativity.
It is very ambitious to hope to achieve the treble or even the double over consecutive years. For sure, this was not the greatest year for Inter Milan. The 2009-2010 season was it, and it has put the bar very high in terms of titles, incredible feats, valor, spirit and emotional ups and downs. How could one compete with that?
And yet they have done it. Like the Bride did to Budd, the nerazzurri’s cup win at the Stadio Olimpico last night (against Palermo) once again demonstrated to those who had hoped to bury this squad and be done with it (and notably certain people with a heavy spanish accent with a silly goatee to match) that they had another coming. One would have thought that the comeback against Bayern would have imprinted that clearly in most minds, but where there is a numbness of the will, there will be a way for bad faith. It does not matter to the fans though. That was a unique night for the fans, emotionally uplifting and up there with the greatest moments of 2009-2010. Even just for that, we are grateful.
Sunday night was also special and beautiful not only for the win, punctuated by yet another imperious performance by Eto’o and a glorious return to scoring ways for Diego! Alberto! Miiliitooo!, but also for a great game of two teams who both wanted the title and where the outcome hung in the balance until the dying minutes when El Principe sealed the win for the nerazzurris with a delicious tap-in from a well worked Pandev cross. Unlike the slaughter on Saturday night, which may have appeared deceptively balanced to some due to the Man U’s goal in 1st half, this was a true contest, with a bold and entrepreneurial Palermo side that refused to back down and who fought for it until the very end, thereby still giving their fans pride and joy even in defeat.
That performance was not missed on any who had observed it including Inter’s players, who quickly opened their arms to their opponents on the night for moral support and recognition, which was reciprocated in an emotional show of passion and respect that was glaring in omission on Saturday. This was a men’s moment, one which is not accessible to a bunch of emotionally undeveloped brats for whom winning is now an obvious entitlement, and for whom fair play and exchanging respect are perfunctory elements of protocol learned in school, performed with a cold heart of ones who have yet to experience major disillusionment. But it will come, don’t worry.
So now it is hopefully clear to all that Inter is not a squad that will give up the ghost easy. While most if not all of the talk in offices today was of Barça’s smothering of Manchester United, yet Inter again claimed center stage in Italy with this powerful and emotional win, undeterred by the chorus of the soft consensus around Europe’s new champions. And why should they be intimidated? With the lion king Samueeel Eto’ooo (grazie Recalcati) at the helm, the blue and black are still champions of the world, at least until November. And with the kind of performances that his teammates Milito, Pandev, Julio Cesar, Lucio, Wesley Sneijder, Chivu, Nagatomo and last but not least il capitano Javier Zanetti also put in, sprinting down the right wing at the end of the game like a fresh kid just subbed on from the bench, I think they have every right to want to claim it back very soon.
As Leonardo has himself framed it so well (watch here), the end of period accounts don’t look so bad after all: 1 Super Cup (won against Roma), 1 Clubs’ World Champion Cup, and to top it off, another Italian Cup. It is a mini tris of sorts, indeed. Joking apart, it demonstrates the extent to which this squad was committed to building on the successes of last year, not content to kick back and rest on its laurels. If you add to that a solid 2nd spot in the calcio as well as an exit in quarter finals of the Champions League, there isn’t many clubs who wouldn’t sign for such a season. Ask Arsène Wenger to start with, or Carlo Ancelotti for that matter, not to mention the Juve.
And if you didn’t quite get that point, think about the striking comparison with Palermo. Of course, the southerners had never won any title, so for them to be even present in the final in Rome was an achievement in of itself. Maybe the English press can convince itself that the same applies of Manchester’s showing in the final. That’s OK if low horizons is your cup of tea, my chummy chums. But the black and blue dreamed to achieve more: and the dream goes on.
So it’s now definitely over in the U.K., Italy and Spain and although there is still one more day left in France, Lille have definitely clinched the title (and thereby a double) with the key point squeezed from a tightly contested 2-2 against PSG. Excellent goals all around, see highlights here. I, like many, do feel that this was well and truly properly deserved, Lille showing both flair and consistency through out the season – as demonstrated by Eden Hazard’s graduation from “best hope” to “best player” at the French player awards show (UNFP). Marseille will finish second no matter what now, while Lyon and PSG will battle it out on the last day for the all important Champions League play-off spot. 7 sides are still hanging on to avoid the last remaining place for the drop: AJ Auxerre , Stade Brest, OGC Nice, Valenciennes FC, SM Caen, AS Nancy, AS Monaco will be wanting to get a win from that last game next Sunday to make sure they stay up. If I have to choose one, I’d put my money on Monaco as they are the worst off of all the above, and I trust Aulas will do everything possible to ensure that Lyon does not miss out on the CL spot.
In Italy, Inter finished off with a fairly convincing win at home against Catania, with 2 goals from Pazzini (a magnificent volley for the 1st) and a 3rd from Nakamoto – watch here. The nerazzurris thus comforted their position in 2nd spot with 6 points behind Milan AC but also 6 points in front of Naples, who drew with Juve in Turin. On the number of games in charge, Leonardo thus concludes his half-term with Inter as the best coach in Italy but more on that later. Udinese drew with Milan in the evening and thus secured the right for the Champions League play-off spot: let’s hope they do better than Sampdoria last year – the blucerchiati have been going downhill ever since that terrible night on August 24 last year when they went down in the return fixture against Bremen after they initially looked good to have qualified, and things really got tough after both Pazzini and Cassano departed. The two wolverine brothers Lazio and Roma will compete to regain some prestige in the Europa League next season, with the bianconerris looking enviously on with a lot of bitterness – “una stagione disgraziata, la peggiore degli ultimi 20 anni”. Even those words, albeit from La Gazzetta, are quite revealing of Juve’s profound malaise because what could be worse than the calciopoli and relegation? These words are also symptomatic of the lack of understanding of the causes of the stagnation of the club, which is primarily the responsibility of the club’s management that has been unable to create a sound basis for stability and the building of squad cohesion. Things are not likely to improve next season as the club looks on for another providential but probably inexperienced saviour from the past.
In Spain, Sevilla have incredibly managed to hold on to 5th spot despite achieving the same number of points as the two Atleticos, thanks to arelatively good recent run of results and last night’s victory against Espanyol, and in particular two magnificent goals from Alvaro Negredo – watch here. For a fairly chaotic season including a messy change of manager and the departure of one of the two main goalscorers (Luis Fabiano), that’s quite an achievement. Real Madrid finished 4 points behind Barça, evil José’s defensive outfit managing to put a paltry 8 goals past bottom placed Almeria. Cristiano Ronaldo thus finishes as top goalscorer. Valencia and Villareal confirmed their spots as 3rd and 4th, respectively, which they have been holding on to for some time, so it was only logical. On a sad note, Deportivo la Coruna drop down to Liga B: incredible to think that not so long ago they were challenging Milan, Manchester United and other European greats for European trophies.
In England also, the season came to a climactic finish with a mega relegation scrap between Wolves, Birmingham, Blackpool, Blackburn and Wigan. After a pretty thrilling 90 minutes of switcheroo for the drop spots, destiny settled on Blackpool and Birmingham. There will be general sadness for Blackpool who put in a very entertaining though defensively naive campaign, conceding far too many goals including on this final very important day, but not as much for general meanies Birmingham, and especially none from the Emirates. Smiles all round here though for Wigan and their coach Roberto Martinez, who would have to be top candidate to win the prize for the most positive coach in football today, maintaining a serene and positive outlook on his team’s potential through the most difficult of times. And I’d like to believe that it had a part in them finishing well – remember: not many people win away at Britannia. Elsewhere, Mancini’s Mancity (or the other way around) finished off in convincing style by seeing off Bolton 2-0. Arsenal settle for fourth place and will have to go through the Champions League’s play-off round to see some European football next season – I’d love it to be against Villareal. Well done to West Brom’s own Big Chief Tchoyi for grabbing a treble to save the blushes from his coleagues’ atrocious defending. I certainly wish I’d seen these ones coming for my Fantasy Football team selection but like Blak Twang, I ain’t done too bad. Following the day’s games, Chelsea have finally put an end to the least thrilling gossip trail of the second half of the season by confirming the dismissal of Carlo Ancelotti. All bets are now on as to who will be Roman’s next big money move – it would be nice to see Pep Guardiola trying out his skills in a different environment so the world can assess his skills outside the warm nest of Daddy Cruyff.
P.S. Speaking of Everton, thought Id mention that – thanks to a perceptive WSC reader’s letter a few years ago – upon watching MOTD tonight I was delighted to anticipate Everton defender’s Seamus Coleman’s second yellow and thus red card and thus confirm that the BBC’s golden rule “if they show you a player getting a yellow card, that means he’s getting the second later on” is truly and well still operational.
Convincing results for a number of favorite teams, and notably:
Calcio: Inter win at home (watch video highlights here) – following a convincing display on Tuesday at the Olimpico against Roma (0-1 victory for the black & blue in the 1st leg of the cup semi-final), it was always going to be tough to follow-up with another strong performance. And indeed it was not easy nor particularly graceful, but the result is there again: thanks to its character and resourcefulness, and aided a bit by the terrible state of the pitch (for once, though it has potentially cost us many points and also again Dejan Stankovic for another injury), Inter took all three points from a decisive confrontation with direct rivals Lazio. Down 1 goal and reduced to 10 men after yet another one of Morganti’s special favours that he mainly reserves for Inter – namely the red card for Julio César resulting in a penalty converted by Zarate – Inter seemed in a bad shape. But thanks to Wesley Sneijder’s free kick before half time and despite being one man down, the nerazzuri sourced serenity and skill from their deep stock of character and took the lead again through some cool finishing by Samuel Eto’o. Thought there were some close shaves in the 2nd half (Zarate going wide and/or hitting the crossbar on a couple of occasions), Leonardo’s squad were finally able to claim another important victory that sees them go second following Napoli’s second defeat in a row at resurgent Palermo (watch video highlights). Milan, meanwhile, maintained a clean sheet and grabbed a goal for another 3 points from Brescia.
La Liga: Sevilla win at home against fourth placed Villareal – initially knocked out by two quick punches in the 1st half (Rakitic free kick and another sumptuous goal by Negredo – see approx. on 13 seconds on this video highlight), the yellow sub marines (cheap pun intended) looked the more dangerous of the two outfits in the 2nd half. Subs Rossi and Cani both added potentcy in construction and Villareal came close on several occasions as Sevilla’s defense looked increasingly like its usual shabby self as the game went on. However, one important mistake allowed Sevilla to stretch their lead to 3-1 (Romaric) and despite Villareal pulling one back through Marchena, they ultimately held on to that one goal lead to claim 3 important points for a possible European place. It was not a pretty sight by any stretch, and by comparison the Barça-Real game on Tuesday way poetry compared to what went on (notably the new “ball-throwers” scandal which will undoubtedly go on for a few days despite condemnations by the president Del Nido and the coach Manzano). As noted earlier, Real Madrid won at Mestalla 6-3 against Valencia while Barcelona also got their 3 points away against Osasuna, winning 2-0. Atletico Bilbao is also doing quite well in 5th place thanks to claiming victory against local rivals Real Sociedad on Saturday.
Notable results / news from other championships:
To paraphrase that much revered sage that was Bill Shankly, why is football so much more important than life and death? Because in a totally irresponsible and careless way we commit our emotions to something which is totally out of our control, that is 11 lads (or usually less if it’s Inter) running after a ball aiming to take it and keep it away from another 11, both groups of which ultimately want to put it in the back of the other ones’ net. Sometimes that will yield incredibly exhilarating outcomes, putting the kind of wind in our sails that defies earthly laws; at other times, it will sink us to the bottom of our self confidence and morale.
For Inter fans (of which I am one), but also all the Inter haters (of which there are many, in Italy and beyond, most of which don’t have the courage to declare themselves openly as such), this week has seemingly stretched the depths of the latter. The double whammy of a scoreless defeat to Milan in the derby, followed by an even more humiliating drubbing by Champions League first timers Schalke 04, is threatening to put a serious stop to Inter’s confidence and ambitions.
But should we really doubt? Should this moment of doubt and contextual underperformance really rock the foundations of the renaissance of the dream that goes by the name of Leomuntada?
For sure, all is not well in the Inter camp: the last two games have highlighted again the importance of that key quality that the enemies of Inter often point to with feigned outrage as the “joga feio”: defensive robustness. The 7 goals leaked in the last 2 games have indeed exposed a recurring theme of this season, underscored by injuries, that of a certain (i.e. occasional) frailty in Inter’s defense. For these last two games, this should not really be so surprising to any informed observers of the game. Lucio, the current remaining (functioning) pillar of the nerazzurre defense from last season (the other one being Samuel), was absent from both games due to suspension, and a significant portion of the team was fatigued from its international duty commitments. Not as much could be said for either Milan’s or Schalke’s squads.
This is not to take any credit away from the performance of these opponents as indeed congratulations are in order, and especially for Schalke who exhibited the same kind of steel and composure at San Siro as Inter had done in the Allianz Arena two weeks before that. The aim is rather to highlight the specific current main challenging area for Leonardo’s team. The paradox illustrated by the two games that seems to escape most of the critics is that Inter – in terms of the features of its football system – has slipped not because of its supposed main and only quality (i.e. defensive and collective solidity) but rather due to its relative absence, at least in relation to its two winning opponents. If Milan is doing so well this season, it is not so much because of its attacking flair: true they have scored 54 goals so far, but both Inter and Udinese better that with 56 goals so far, and Napoli is not far off with 50. What is distinguishing Milan this season is their defensive strength, as exemplified by the lowest total of goals conceded at 22, 7 less than the next best Lazio who currently has taken in 29. The point is equally demonstrable on the flip side of the coin, namely the attacking front, as Milan failed to score against Tottenham Spurs over 180 minutes and has therefore found itself out of Europe once again. Inter, on the other hand, scored two brilliant goals on Tuesday, one of which may end up as one of the most spectacular goals of the season (Barça’s second goal against Shakhtar Donetsk, by Daniel Alves, being quite impressive too, by its audacity and elegance of execution).
So this opera is far from over. What the champions must now do is regain their composure at the back and recreate the collective spirit of Nou Camp last April in tandem with the one that enabled them to put 4 past Milan on August 29, 2009. This challenge starts tomorrow against Chievo. For more inspiration, the nerazzurre (and their fans) can help themselves by watching recordings of that inspirational performance, or that of Deportivo la Coruna in April 2004 who scored as many against Milan in the second leg of the Champions League quarter final to see them out of the competition. After all, isn’t Schalke actually called Schalke 04? If that isn’t destiny calling, I don’t know what is.
Initially I was planning to wax lyrical about how Leonardo has been a major contributor and certainly a guiding inspiration for team’s rebound from the profound collective and personal malaise instilled by the faceless and profoundly antihuman régime of the goateed fatso from Anfield. On second thoughts (and I have had time to reflect since Tuesday), I do not feel the need to do that. Just as in January when they had to pick themselves up, these are the defining moments of champions DNA – finding the conviction and the resilience in the face of adversity. And we relish at that. Bring it on.
Is it a dream? Is it possible? My heart’s pace has not yet slowed down (and that’s not only because I was doing fitness biking during the game). Such comebacks are the stuff of legends. But could it be that a so called moribund catenaccio-only Italian team (and worse of all, that of José Mourinho), that pertaining to the supposedly declining Italian football as it is so common to hear nowdays (be it from the ever provocative Kaiser before the game, a nameless journalist in Le Temps or even from friends on Facebook), is capable of producing such drama and character?
It may be the Brescians who are of the Leonessa but even they won’t tonight deny that the lion’s heart was all black and blue tonight. The team that José built and that Leonardo is carefully tending to has demonstrated once again its incredible character and heart in fighting back from what possibly the worst nightmare scenario at halftime, achieving on foreign soil what only one other team had managed to do in European competitions past.
And each one played his part. Including Julio Cesar, whose second blunder (over the two legs) put a heavy dent into the nerazzurris aspirations after the game had gotten off to a seemingly great start with Eto’s first goal on the night, a typically swift pounce on a through ball at the limit of offside. The Brazilian goalkeeper and his team – along with the fans – had to suffer further humiliation when the 2nd Bavarian goal went in, a deft touch by Muller following an unintended deflection by Thiago Motta.
But it wasn’t enough to kill the hope and the spirit. This team’s lettres de noblesses in suffering have already been written in countless games that have helped to forged a unique fighting spirit: from Ukraine to home against Sienna, this team does not give up easy. Despite being down 3-1 on aggregate at halftime, not only did they pick themselves up and continue to fight, but did so with the composure of a winning team, not one looking at an early exit. Not once did they abandon the identity and discipline of play that had brought them results in the past. The same patterns that seemed so vain in the first half were repeated in the second, but ever more resolutely, starting with the back pass to Andrea Ranocchia following ball recovery, slightly forward on to Thiago, sideways to Maicon to create breathing space, again in to the center to Cambiasso, then wide again onto the other side for Chivu, then Sneider, then Eto’o, and so on.
Is there any one of them that stands out more than the other? Of course Eto’s ball possession, athletic stamina and technical skill will have journalists from Catalonia to Tokyo drooling in admiration; of course Sneijder’s determination and aggression will enter into textbooks; indeed yes, Ranocchia is phenomenally mature for a young player his age; and Julio Cesar was decisive in preventing Bayern from equalizing more than once; and the list goes on. But no: this game is the victory of a team that stood as a unit. And importantly, that includes the work and support of a patient young coach for whom this was certainly the most important test of his budding career, that stood by them and supported them through thick and thin, and especially Goran Pandev, whom it would have been easy to replace earlier on the basis of his misses this weekend as well as some glaring errors during the game. I can’t help but be reminded of a similar night in the spring of 2004 when a young Portuguese coach similarly stunned the old aristocracy of Europe with a surprise steal at Old Trafford.
Atone and grovel now for forgiveness at the feet of your only survivor and potential savior, Italy. You, as well as all the Barça brown nosers, have been given a demonstration in what football is all about: not a one sided execution draped in smug sense of aristocratic entitlement, but drama, grit, fighting spirit, discipline, flair, goals, attack and defense.
P.S. Manchester United returned to this season’s form with a sufficient but somewhat fragile win over Olympique de Marseille seeing them through to the quarter finals.