They might not be the most famous club in the world – that dubious honour probably lies with Real Madrid, Barcelona or Manchester United – but they are one of the most successful club sides in the history of the game. They are a football juggernaut, with a hint of controversy about them and a record both at home and in Europe and at home that is second to none. Now, for the first time, they have touched down in Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup. Can Milan become the world champions? I’ll come on to that in a minute, but first of all, a quick history lesson.
The one curio about Milan that every schoolboy knows is the one about their name. Founded by an Englishman, they chose to keep the English spelling of their name, rather than changing it to the Italian spelling of “Milano”. In spite of this, the club’ name is pronounced differently in Italian as “Mee-lan”, rather than simply knocking the ‘o’ off the end of “Milano”, which would leave it pronounced the same as it is in English. Traditionally they are the working class Milan team, with Internazionale (who, as every schoolboy knows, should always just be known as “Inter” – there’s no such club as “Inter Milan” in Italian) drawing their support from the city’s more affluent areas, though this distinction has become more blurred in modern times.
On the pitch, they’ve won seventeen Serie A titles and seven European Cups, but the club have been tainted by the stench of corruption as well. In 1980, Milan and Lazio were found guilty of match-fixing in the “Totonero” scandal, which saw over fifty people receiving bans from the game, the most famous of which, Paolo Rossi, had his three year ban commuted by a year and then went on to score six goals in the 1982 World Cup. In 2006, they were found guilty of involvement in the Serie A match-fixing scandal which saw big clubs selecting favourable referees for matches. Initially docked fifteen points and banned from Europe for a year, they had this commuted to an eight point deduction and were allowed into Europe for the 2006-07 season. Making a complete mockery of their involvement, they went on to win the competition.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was more controversy in their run to last year’s European Cup final. They won through their group stage relatively comfortably, but were taken to extra-time in the Round Of Sixteen by Celtic, scoring an extra-time goal to set up a quarter-final against Bayern Munich. They looked done for after a mediocre performance in getting a 2-2 draw at home in the first leg, but the Germans froze in the return leg at the Allianz Arena, and Milan won 2-0 to set up a semi-final against Manchester United. Starting as underdogs, they lost 3-2 in the first leg at Old Trafford, but strolled to a Kaka-inspired 3-0 win in return leg to set up a final against Liverpool in Athens, and sparing us all from a Manchester United vs Liverpool at the same time. Two goals from Filippo Inzaghi gave them a 2-1 win against Liverpool.
This season has been a disaster so far for Milan. They won an easy Champions League group with ease, but they are currently sitting in tenth place in Serie A, their lowest position for years, and are without a home win in the league all season. There have been persistent rumours about Ronaldo’s fitness and their failings on the pitch have been magnified by Inter having won the last two Serie A titles and being five points clear again this season. It’s not an overstatement to say that winning the FIFA Club World Cup would be papering over the cracks of what has been a poor season for them so far.
After my hagiography about them last night, Boca Juniors made a dog’s dinner of beating Etoile Sportive De Sahel. You can see brief highlights here.