How far have Milan fallen when they are resigned to signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic at 38?

Even though AC Milan won the Serie A title in 2011 they have had a poor decade in football where they have seen major stars leave the team and Juventus take over their mantle as the strongest side in Italy.

Indeed whilst not as quite bad this Milan team is very near how poor the club were back in the 1970s. You used to look at Milan teams and your jaw would drop in the quality that was on the field; Ruud Gullit, Carlo Ancelotti, Paolo Maldini, Marco van Basten, Andriy Shevechenko, Andrea Pirlo the list is endless because Milan of the 80s and 90s and even into the 2000s were as strong and brimming of quality like Barcelona and Real Madrid.

But the 2010s were not kind to the team, football seemed to leave them behind and apart from the odd special result Milan have been quite forgetable on the European stage. They haven’t even played in the Champions League now for several years, even though that competition was supposed to be ingrained into their DNA, after all they have won it 7 times.

Currently the club are in 11th place and 21 points behind the league leaders and we are only at the half way stage of the new season. What will be even more grinding is that the club in front are their arch rivals, Inter Milan, a club where they share the same ground. Indeed everyone seems to have moved into Milan’s territory, even Inter who have, for long periods, been in Milan’s shadow and yet of course out of the two Milan’s they are the last to have won the Champions League when they triumphed in 2010.

As January announces itself Milan have hit back, well kind of. They have signed one of the great strikers of the modern game in Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Now let’s not dot around here, Ibrahimovic is a superb player, the clubs he plays for win games, win titles, win trophies and he always scores lots of goals, most of them contenders for the season. But Ibra as he is fondly known is 38 years old.

When his signing was announced there were no groans or media backlash, even at 38 the fans have got behind the player and their club. From the moment he has arrived in Milan he has been treated like a superstar, crowded by fans, with his name chanted. At 38 the Swedish player is expected to be the messiah and save the club.

His goal scoring instinct will ensure that he scores goals for the club though it is questionable how many he will be able to get. Surely the objective this season will be a European finish, the club are 8 points adrift of a Europa League position, so it isn’t impossible, But being 14 points behind a Champions League position seems a little too far this season.

One wonders if Ibrahimovic’s transfer isn’t something different? Firstly to become the voice and guide in the dressing room and then possibly get into management and for this first job to be with Milan. If his advancing years takes away his goals, we still have an incredible character, a true leader who may well be able to shape Milan’s future like he did with his goal scoring boots when he first signed for the club more than a decade ago.

The jury is out but not in Italy where the player simply can’t fail with the fans. If anything the very fact he is back at the San Siro will give this very average Milan side a boost. But how far have the club fallen getting excited over a veteran Ibrahimovic? Maybe they know something we don’t?

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Can Inter Milan upset Juventus and win their first Serie A title in 10 years?

No Inter Milan fan even in their worst nightmares could have predicted the fall of the club after Jose Mourinho upped his sticks and left the club in the summer of 2010 for Real Madrid. Now they are dreaming again almost a decade later.

Back in 2010 Inter under Mourinho’s infamous dogs of war and arguably his most successful period as a football coach not only won the league title but also completed for the first time in Italian football history the triple. That is the league title (Scudetto), the Italian cup and the creme of them all the Champions League. Indeed it was Inter’s first triumph in Europe since 1965. It all felt like a dream, but it was reality. Not only were Inter the champions of Italy but the champions of Europe.

Inter had finally stepped out of AC Milan and Juventus’ shadow as a club to be reckoned with and then Mourinho left and rather quickly Inter’s fortunes disappeared. It was as if by reaching the top of the mountain the only way was down. To add salt into the wounds Milan their eternal nemesis would win the league the following the year.

Since then countless coaches have come and gone and whilst Inter have always been there and thereabouts they have never looked like recapturing that glory at least domestically until this season. It has been a decade dominated by Juventus and their 8 in a row titles.

This season Inter have started superbly, losing just one game so far in Serie A inevitably to Juventus and the grand old lady remain their biggest obstacle to picking up their first title in what will be 10 years. But can Inter do it?

With the international break upon us Inter are just one point behind Juventus with 31 and that has been achieved out of a maximum points total of 36. In short in most seasons Inter would be in 1st place with a healthy lead. But there looms always the threat of Juventus.

Inter have a 7 point lead over 3rd place Lazio which is massive and Inter should be able to finish at least 2nd this season. But only winning the league will do and this team does have the tools to do it. Headed by Romelu Lukaku the Belgian has found a new lease of life after going a little stale at his former club Manchester United and he has already scored 9 goals this season. Even the great Cristiano Ronaldo only has 5 so far for Juve.

But Inter also have quality in their ranks such as Stefano Sensi who has already scored 3 goals from midfield and assisted in another two. In Antonio Conte Inter have a very successful coach the one who masterminded so many Juventus league titles, everything looks in place.

Can Inter go that extra mile and stop another Juventus win? This title looks like it will go down to the wire which, if anything, will be great for Italian football rather than the normal procession.

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Maurizio Sarri was right to substitute Ronaldo and the Portuguese legend must understand that

The big clash in Serie A at the weekend was against Juventus and AC Milan, which in truth meant a lot more 15 years ago and it was a game that Juventus would narrowly win 1-0. But the result was not the talking point, indeed it was all over a substitution.

In world football there are two players who, if they get subbed, can make headlines. One is Lionel Messi and the other is Cristiano Ronaldo and at the weekend for the second consecutive game in a row, the Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri substituted CR7 a.k.a Cristiano Ronaldo.

When it happened in the 55th minute the game was 0-0 and Ronaldo was none too pleased. He trundled off in what appeared to be a huge mood and then reportedly make the bizarre decision to leave the stadium before the end of the game. If this is true he has completely undermined Sarri. Sarri himself tried to play the incident down, saying in a nutshell that it was normal for Ronaldo to be upset and that he would be worried taking off a player that didn’t show emotion. It was nothing more than a textbook response, and Sarri should be boiling inside at Ronaldo’s actions.

On the face of it there has been a falling out and Sarri has no fears about making the decision that most coaches would fear in bringing off Ronaldo. But there is more than meets the eye and it seems that the Portuguese player has been suffering with a niggling knee problem the past few weeks.

It was also reported that before his substitution he had looked at his knee, hobbled a little and looked at the bench. However if true why would he be so angry at coming off? There is a competitiveness but there is also a danger of taking that too far and picking up a much worse injury in the long run.

Ronaldo is a total professional most of the time and nearing 35 next year is still scoring the goals and performing in games. However he got it wrong this time and Sarri was simply trying to protect his player. Maybe he was listening to recent comments too where Ronaldo admitted that he would only want to play in the very important games and Champions League ones.

The game ended with a Pablo Dybala goal, and to rub the salt into Ronaldo’s wounds, Dybala was the player who replaced Ronaldo.

Let’s hope Juventus and Sarri has the courage to fine Ronaldo for his actions, could you imagine a younger player doing the same and getting away with it?

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Coaches in Italy still refuse to believe in fans racist chants after Balotelli almost walks off

The problem with racism in Serie A reached new heights at the weekend when Verona took on Brescia. Mario Balotelli who has been repeatedly subjected to racist taunts much of his whole career when in Italy was again targeted.

The incident happened in the second half when Balotelli went over to take a corner and the section of Verona fans started doing the monkey chant. Rightly disgusted Balotelli kicked the ball in the air and then threatened to walk off the pitch. After a few minutes of whistles and jeers and with both sets of players from both sides convincing him to stay on he did just that.

But racism is going nowhere in Italy, in fact it is getting worse and this was highlighted by both coaches after the game. Where in England you would expect a manager in the post match press conference to speak up against racism, in Italy it feels that coaches do not see the problem.

The monkey chants were clearly audible and yet Verona coach Ivan Juric said: “I’m not afraid to say, today there was nothing. Lots of whistling and teasing against a great player, but there was nothing else. I have also taken so many insults over the years, I know what it means, but today there has been nothing. On the reason of the reaction you have to ask him. When there is racism, I will have no problem saying so because it sucks, even if it comes from my fans. But today I heard nothing. We don’t create a case where there isn’t, it would be a lie.”

How Juric had the gall to say such words is up to him, but what it did was underline that in Italy they do not hear or see a problem such as racism in football. His statement like many others before him seemed to want to make light of the incident and sweep it under the carpet. Perhaps and hopefully in the coming days with video evidence he will change his mind.

It is worrying when a situation is obvious and the coaches and presidents of clubs do not speak up. After the game Balotelli went to social media to thank his teammates but at the end of the day he must be disappointed with Juric’s comments. Aren’t we supposed to be taking steps forward and not backwards? However when UEFA do very little to educate and reinforce racism- banners do absolutely nothing- then we are left at a stalemate.

In England racism has almost disappeared from the stands. Yes of course it is there, but who remembers Balotelli having to stop a game and getting visibly upset when he played in the Premier League? Perhaps he needs to check again if playing in Italy is the right career move for him. However being Italian why shouldn’t he play in his home country, why should he run? The real problem is inside the football dressing rooms and outside the stadiums, sadly it seems that nothing is going to change quickly.

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Juventus Top Perfomers in Round Six vs SPAL

Juventus did not bother showing up until the final stages of the first half, but then insisted in their pursuit of the kill-shot after getting the lead and their wish was ultimately granted, allowing a tranquil finish for a change.

Matthijs De Ligt (5 points): the Estensi attackers did not pose much of a threat and were pretty poor technically even when they tried to go forward, but the Dutch youngster still made his presence felt on few occasions, perfectly forestalling the opponents with ease. His best intervention came in the first half where he thwarted a three vs two. He has been growing in each game and it is a matter of time until he is back to Ajax levels. A diligent game for Leonardo Bonucci as well, who was just a tad nonchalant on a ball in the box late. Gianluigi Buffon surpassed Paolo Maldini with his 903rd club appearances and that was the highlight of his day, as the enemies never took a shot on goal. Continue reading

Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci’s shame as he fails to back team mate Kean after racist abuse

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Moise Kean has been in one word spectacular the past few weeks for Juventus as the promising young striker has stepped into the Juventus team and started scoring goals right off the bat. He has notched 4 goals in a few weeks and helping to ease Juventus to another Serie A title.

But in the match against Cagliari everything came to a head when Kean suffered racist chants from a frustrated and very confused set of Cagliari fans. His best response of course was scoring the goals which condemned Cagliari to defeat. What happened next was shocking. After he had to put up with racist chants he wasn’t even given the support of one of his teammates Leonardo Bonucci, a superb defender with ancient views.

Bonucci instead claimed that the racist chanting towards his team mate was 50/50 for the share of the blame, because Kean had faced off against the rival support. Did his face off warrant racist chanting? Anyhow that chanting had started before his goal celebration.

But Bonucci has thrown down a shocker- could one even fathom any England player for example not defending Raheem Sterling’s latest racial abuse? Bonucci has had to come out and say that his words were misunderstood, but this is cheap talk from someone who should know better.

The truth is that the Premier League in England is head and shoulders above any other major European league when it comes to stamping out racism. Yes there are still problems within the game- the lack of black managers being one, and yes you could argue that racism hasn’t disappeared from the English game but there is back up, organisations and education that would never lead someone like Bonucci to come out with such a response.

Unfortunately there is still no huge understanding of racism in some European countries- some would even just call what fans say banter. That’s the sad reality of it and we have been down this road so many times- why do you think that Mario Balotelli does not play in Italy, when he could? He was another player subjected to racist comments, and that was over a decade ago.

Sadly it seems that very little will be done and little will change within the game of Italy. And of course it must also be pointed out that there are many great fans, who are not racist in Italy and that the chants and singing are from a minority of so called fans.

Bonucci most probably regrets what he said, and is a good person. But questions must be raised as to why he would want to partly back the fans with his 50/50 comment. It feels that in some countries there is this respect with the ultra fans, because they make a noise at games. That respect must be dissolved when racist chanting comes into effect.

What huge leagues like Serie A must understand is that if you don’t curb racism it affects everything right down to sponsorship which means less money for the game which in turn means less quality players in the league. Italy has already felt that effect in the past 10-15 years, does it want to go further under?

What is certain is that Kean who could have ended up being a Juventus legend will most probably leave the club and country. In short change is needed, but will it happen has to be questionable.

 

Jose Mourinho should avoid Ligue 1 and go back to Inter Milan where he is loved

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The Special One Jose Mourinho is still head hunting for a job after being sacked at Manchester United last December. Just a few weeks after his departure Mourinho was being linked to a return to his native Portugal, possibly with Benfica.

Of course the thought of Mourinho coaching Benfica after his success with Porto never looked like being a realistic option. That would be like Mourinho returning to Italy to coach AC Milan after his incredible success at rivals Inter. All you do in that process is tarnish fans memories of what had been before and it rarely works out with a smile on your face.

But let’s face it football misses Mourinho, even the negative side of Mourinho, glum face, no wins and arguments with players and officials. Modern day football has enough room for Mourinho and lets not forget his incredible successes. Say what you will about Mourinho, his presence does win trophies.

The latest news on Mourinho has come from left field and does feel like a surprise. Apparently he is interested in coaching in France’s Ligue 1. But with the PSG job unavailable, what other options does Mourinho have? Well there is Lyon who have always been a huge club and have had a solid season and have very decent players. They are currently in 3rd place trying to chase down 2nd placed Lille. But they are also 25 points behind PSG.

Lyon of course dominated French football in the 2000s winning 7 titles in a row but the money that PSG has now has changed the ball game in France. The other club he is being linked to is an even greater surprise- Monaco. Now of course Monaco did win Ligue 1 in 2017, but they are a selling club and much of that team has disappeared including the great Kylian Mbappe who was snapped up by PSG. Now Monaco are just trying to survive in Ligue 1.

Of course the destination of Monaco would greatly suit Mourinho but it is questionable whether he will be able to add to his trophy haul by going there. Plus how much disrespect can one man in Leonardo Jardim be shown? Sacked earlier in the season to make way for Thierry Henry. He was brought back in just a few months later when it was clear that Henry was not cut out for the job. Are we seriously suggesting he will be tossed aside once more to make way for Mourinho?

If the truth be told Mourinho should avoid Ligue 1 and go back to Inter Milan. Inter do have a lot of problems but at the same time they have shown great signs this season and if he was given a decent transfer budget together with the contacts he has maybe he could make something of it once again in Milan. Just think for a second how loved Mourinho is at Inter and love is what he really needs at this time.

It was evident again this past weekend when he was reunited with Inter when an all star team played an all star Tottenham side to open up Tottenham’s new season. Mourinho was the happiest that the public had seen him in quite a while.

The bottom line is that managing Inter and being back in Serie A would not be an easy job, and the club would have to challenge a Ronaldo led Juventus. But at the same time he would walk into  a city and club that 100% respect him.

Does he leave the memories as they are or does he come back for a second helping. In part when he did with Chelsea he got immediate success with another league title, but by the end of his reign there it had turned nightmarish and that is something that even after 3 years has not left Mourinho’s legacy.

Does the importance of club football hamper Messi and Ronaldo in international games?

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The domestic football season has taken a break for the next week and some of the football results have been a surprise. Portugal drawing 0-0 with Ukraine was one, featuring Cristiano Ronaldo, the European champions could not beat Ukraine on their home turf. The other match that stuck out was a Lionel Messi Argentina team who lost 3-1 to Venezuela.

Argentina’s result was seen as a huge shock, even though the match was just a friendly and as usual Messi was given the scapegoat tag. How could it be that such a wonderful gifted player who is in brilliant form for his club side Barcelona not be able to perform and inspire his side to what should have been, at least on paper, a routine win?

One has to wonder if the importance of club football and the ever decreasing unimportance of international football is having its effect? Look at the evidence. An international match of no significance has come up bang in the last moments of the Spanish league title. Barcelona are 10 points clear and should win, but in a couple of weeks they will be playing in the Champions League against Manchester United.

Messi should be preparing for these matches both physically and mentally. Playing against Venezuela in a match that counts for very little save a few FIFA rankings points makes very little sense. The only saving grace for him and other international players who have bigger and more important games coming up is that the match was in Europe, Madrid to be exact at Atletico Madrid’s ground.

Is it any wonder then that players like Messi are not motivated to play in the match? It can end up being  a physical game, so what happens if he gets injured and then misses important matches for Barcelona, that actually mean something? At least in Europe, UEFA saw that friendlies were meaningless and introduced the UEFA Nations League. Whilst that competition does have its own flaws, it is still much better than friendless.

As for Ronaldo the situation was different in the fact that Portugal’s 0-0 draw with Ukraine was a Euro 2020 qualifier, but still it took the Juventus man time to get into the game. True the match ended up being a one sided affair where Portugal had an incredible 18 corners and dominated possession. But it was also a match where they really should have strolled home to a victory. With several players involved in title run ins again it just feels that such matches with just two months of the season in Europe left to play, simply come at the wrong time.

With such a full football calendar that UEFA have, it seems that nothing is going to change in the short run. But especially when matches are friendly ones, we shouldn’t be too shocked if the worlds best players are not up for a game, with so many important competitive fixtures around the corner.

 

 

 

Can Juventus put Italy on the map once again and challenge for the Champions League?

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There was a time when Italy was the toast of Europe, regulary winning the Champions League and contesting in finals. From the inception of the competition in 1993, Italian teams featured in the final for 6 years in a row. Winning in 1994 with AC Milan and 1996 with Juventus.

In the 2000s despite the emergence and then the dominance of the Spanish La Liga, Italian football was still strong. There was an all Italian one in 2003 when AC Milan beat Juventus on penalties and Milan would go on to make the final in 2005 losing historically to Liverpool after being 3-0 up at half time and then getting their sweet revenge over the same club in 2007.

But it was around this time when Italy was hit by betting scandals that saw Juventus relegated to Serie B, teams banned and their league titles in the mid 2000s wiped out. And then came Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to put the nail in the hammer being in Spain and dominating with their clubs and end of year trophies.

Of course Inter Milan provided a speed bump by winning the Champions League in 2010 in incredible fashion but they remain the last Italian team to win Europe’s most sought after prize. Since then the flag has been solely flown by Juventus who have reached 2 finals in the past three seasons, losing to Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively.

Now Juventus equipped with Cristiano Ronaldo who has won the competition an incredible 5 times will have their sights on lifting the trophy next year for the first time in 23 years. It would only be the clubs 3rd title if they did so, not so many considering that Juve remain the biggest team in Italy.

But can they do it? Former goalkeeping legend Gianluigi Buffon who has never won the competition believes that they are one of three teams that will win this season alongside Barcelona and Manchester City. Buffon now plays for PSG in a last bid attempt to win it, the only major trophy missing from his resume.

Juventus have been strong this season and yet lost at home to a beleaguered Manchester United side, although they did beat them at Old Trafford. However if those two games had been a knock out one they would be knocked out now. As for Ronaldo he will be trying to win his 4th title in a row and 6 overall to equal the Real Madrid great Gento.

Juventus will be there and thereabouts and it would be a surprise if they didn’t at least reach the semi finals, and it will be fascinating if the old lady can finally rise to the challenge. They are in the last 16 now and have every chance to go as far as they believe in.

A move for Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the wrong one for AC Milan

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When was the last time AC Milan were the kings of Italy? Well that’s not too hard, one could say it was in 2011 when they won Serie A, before the Juventus domination. But even then all Milan were really doing were looking after the title.

In truth a dominating Milan have been largely absent from Italian and European football since they last won the Champions League in 2007, 11 years ago. The team have become a distant shadow of the club who were so powerful in the late 80s and throughout the 90s which also extended to the 2000s where they starred in 3 Champions League finals- 2003, 2005 and 2007, winning two of them.

It almost feels that football has passed them by- first it was being overtaken by the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid, two teams that Milan could once brush aside and then the clubs of the Premier League had their own victories over the Rossonieri.

Even in Italy, Juventus, Inter, Napoli, Roma perhaps even Lazio at times have left Milan somewhere on a deserted highway wondering where all their player pulling power has gone, because it really seems like it has.

Simply put Milan are historically a massive club, but in 2018 they don’t even belong in the top 20 clubs in Europe for aspiring players and the best to say, that is where I want to play. Milan have failed to play catch up. That is why the emerging story of them looking to re sign Swede great Zlatan Ibrahimovic should come as no surprise.

Now let’s not be silly about such matters, Ibrahimovic is an outstanding player and will be remembered as one of the best players of the first 20 years of this century. But Ibrahimovic is also 37 years old. True he is scoring goals for fun in the MLS where he currently has 22 goals from 27 games, but Serie A is a major step up for him at this stage of his career.

The signing if it does take place which does look likely almost feels like a nostalgia trip for Milan where Zlatan played for the club between 2010 -2012. There he scored 42 goals and won the league, he is a hero and a cult figure at San Siro even though of course he also played for Milan’s rivals Inter. So he will be welcomed back with open arms.

But one can’t help and think that the signing is just a luxury roll out on a Serie A season that is almost already over for Milan as they see Juventus running away with the league yet again. And that’s the real difference here. Whilst Juventus have also signed a legend in their 30s that so happens to be Cristiano Ronaldo who has an advantage of 4 years over Zlatan. You can’t help but think that the deal if it goes through won’t work out for player or club.