When You’re In Hell Only The Devil Can Save You!

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AC Milan 1 v 1 Inter Milan (23.11.2014)

You don’t need to embark on academic research to conclude that Serie A has fallen on tougher times. They say a picture paints a thousand’s words, but a quick glance at the team sheets ahead of the Milan derby said it allFrom a player perspective Serie A is not quite the place it once was. From a fan culture perspective it’s still right up there!

As I cast my mind back ten years to 2004 which was the last time I visited Milan for the ‘Derby della Madonnina the difference in playing personnel between then and now is quite staggering. A decade ago the AC Milan team was littered with names that just rolled off the tongue. Kaka, Shevchenko, Maldini, Seedorf, Rivaldo, Cafu, Rui Costa, and Nesta. Today the stand out names were Mexes, Essien, Muntari and Torres.

Similarly, back in 2004 Inter’s team featured names such as Toldo, Zanetti, Adriano, Cannavaro, Kily Gonzalez, Recoba, Vieri, and Stankovic. In stark contrast it was Handanovic, Ranocchia, and Palacio that were the only real names in the current side that I was familiar with.

Ok, perhaps that doesn’t say much for my current knowledge of Serie A, and if I had a BT Sport subscription maybe I would be better acquainted with the current crop of stars in Serie A. But even after the sad demise of Gazzetta Football Italia from our terrestrial screens back in 2002, the names that subsequently graced the Italian top flight were still some of the most recognisable superstars of the game at that time.

The table below compares the top 10 player salaries in Serie A back in 2004 with those in 2014. Its quite remarkable to see that only two players from today earn more than the top 10 earners did a decade ago, and that’s Gonzalo Higuain and Danielle De Rossi. This in itself begins to highlight the financial difficulties facing the Italian game. In an era of billionaire takeovers, global marketing, inflated TV rights, and six figure weekly salaries that are dished out like monopoly money, that last stat is pretty incredible.

Table 1 Serie ASource: Sportyghost

If you now compare the current top 10 earners in Serie A with those in Spain’s La Liga and England’s Premier League, it’s a whole different ball game – quite literally!

Table 2 La Liga & Premier League 1

Sources: Talksport / Sportyghost

There are clearly a number of factors that have contributed to Serie A’s recent financial decline – a decaying infrastructure, the Calciopoli scandal of 2006, and a fall in investment and TV revenue have all made their mark. Match day ticket sales are also on the slide and reflect a wider ‘disillusionment’ amongst the punters. At the beginning of the 2014/15 season AC Milan had sold just 17,350 season tickets – their lowest in the Berlusconi / Galliani era. Current salary levels reflect a combination of all these factors, and highlights the problems now facing the beautiful game in Italy.

Now I’m no economic genius, but when it comes to attracting ‘the very best’ players in the world to your club or league, clearly money talks. And if you just take the average weekly salary of those top 10 earners in each of those leagues (highlighted in the tables above), the difference is huge. If clubs in Spain and England have the financial clout and capability to offer the best players in world football between 170% and 240% more in earning potential in comparison to those in Italy, Serie A clubs are hamstringed before they even get to the negotiating table as they simply cannot compete with this.

Nothing illustrates this better than AC Milan’s line up for the recent derby. Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari started in central midfield – both good players in their own rights, and to be honest they looked a really useful partnership on this outing – but deep down you know they wouldn’t be first choice in many of the top sides in Spain and England. Similarly Torres, a players whose confidence seems shot to pieces, has recently moved on to Italy to try and revive a career that once promised so much more. He’s taken a massive pay cut to try and achieve that, and whilst £60K a week is a ridiculous amount of money, If Torres was the player he was 5 years ago I think its fairly safe to say he wouldn’t be plying his trade in Serie A right now, and would be commanding wages at least double that

In terms of financial spend there is a fairly level playing field between the big clubs in Serie A, but that % difference when compared to Spain and England gives the clearest indication of the challenges that face Italian clubs in trying to compete on the European stage. That inability to attract the very best players to Serie A in seasons to come will have a knock on effect on their ability to really compete in the Champions League. Poorer performances in Europe means even less prize money, and the cycle is likely to spiral from there.

But whilst money and wealth in football constantly fluctuates, the one steadfast in all of this is the ultras. Season ticket sales maybe down, and those household player names of yesteryear may have dissipated from the Milan giants line up, but the derby day experience at the San Siro is still one of those ‘must have’ football experiences. Any place that can make the hairs on the back of your next stand up and give you goosebumps is definitely worth adding to your footballing bucket list! There’s still a raw edge to Italian football, and the Milan and Inter Ultras take their place on the middle tiers behind each end hours before kick off. The pre match choreographies are carefully prepared and the atmosphere begins to build. Bellowing chants of ‘Milan, Milan’ and ‘Ole Ole Ole Ole, Inter,’ can be heard on the streets outside as fans congregate around the lines of panini vans on the walk up to the stadium. Cans of beer and mini bottles of sambuca are served by them all at 5 euros a pop, and makes for a fantastic pre match drink (albeit a slightly expensive one) as both the blue and red sides of the city mingle before ko.

The San Siro really is one of the great footballing arenas, a colosseum of football if you like. It rises up high above the local apartment blocks and leaves you feeling like you’ve arrived at the ‘Mecca’, and that’s just from the outside. Once inside the steep 3 tiered stands that encase the pitch below is a bit of a jaw dropper and leaves you feeling slightly in awe of the place. Chuck in 80,000 fans, a third of them fanatical ultras, a few large flags, some firecrackers and flares, and chants so loud it almost runs through your body like the bass from a loud speaker, and you have yourself the perfect backdrop to a game of football!

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As is often the case on trips such as this, the actual game of football can become secondary,  and quite honestly it could have been two local Sunday league sides playing out the derby, such is the contribution of the fans to a football experience like this. Half the time your eye will wander to the ultras located at both ends!

As the teams emerged from the tunnel both sets of ultras unveiled their carefully choreographed tifos. Milan’s an image of a television set with the face of a devil, with the words “when you’re in hell only the devil can save you” written across a banner that stretched across the entire width of the Curva Sud. Inter’s a huge banner, which was later replaced by an impressive mosaic card display. See photos below:

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Curva Sud Milano…

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The Curva Nord: Boys San, Vikings & Irriducibili Ultras…

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Milan drew first blood. A perfect low cross from the left by El-Sharwaary was dispatched in style by Jeremy Menez, who cushioned a well executed side foot volley into the far corner from 12 yards to send the Rossoneri wild. Going behind only made the Inter Ultras louder, and although they were the ‘away’ team and outnumbered in bodies by about 6:1 they didn’t stop singing and chanting for the whole game.

As the teams came out for the second half Inter unveiled a second display, this time pyrotechnics and smoke providing a visual accompaniment to the banners that were dotted across the Curva Nord. A fantastic sight, and the smoke hanging in the air as it drifted out across the stadium only added to an already incredible atmosphere. Inter’s undying support was rewarded in the 61st minute when a poor clearance from Milan centre half Zapata fell to Joel Obi twenty yards from goal. A great first touch, and the strength to hold off the challenge from Essien was followed by a well placed low drive into the bottom right hand corner. Spoils shared in the Milan Derby then.

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How to get tickets:

Tickets for the Milan Derby are easier to get hold of than you would think, you will just need to be well organised to obtain them! Tickets go on sale 2-3 weeks before the game, so just keep your eye on the Ac Milan web site for release dates and details. The first phase of the sale is for members and ‘Cuore Rossonero’ card holders. You can apply for the Cuore Rossonero card online, and you will need to do this 4-6 weeks before you travel if you haven’t already got one. This costs about £12 and will give you pre general ticket sale access to all Milan home games for a 4 year period.

The membership number will enable you to purchase tickets in the members presale and you will receive email confirmation of your purchase. If it’s your first time using the Cuore Rossonero card you will need to go the ticket porta cabins located outside the San Siro to activate your card. Once activated the card is then scanned at the turnstile to give you access to the stadium. Any future ticket purchases will be loaded straight onto your card.

As to where you sit depends on what you want from the Milan Derby experience! A seat in the middle tier near the halfway line cost me 50 euros, and offers you great views of not just the game but the ultras displays at both ends of the ground as well. It will be half that price for a seat behind the goal in the upper tiers. You decide!

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  1. Pingback: Left-Wing Soccer – 100 blogs to follow in 2015

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