Derby della Madonnina reminds us of Mauro Icardi’s undeniable importance

In a game that promised much but provided so little, Mauro Icardi, the Inter Milan captain, showed us why Luciano Spalletti depends on him.

A 92nd-minute winner in the Derby della Madonnina to seal all three points for your side? Who are you going to call?

There was only one man you could have placed in the penalty area to read the flight of  Matias Vecino’s right-footed cross from the right-hand side. There was only one man who could have used his power of mind control to persuade Gianluigi Donnarumma to vacate the safety of his goal line to enter the unwanted corridor of uncertainty, no-man’s land.

It seems to always be one man.

He was ready for this game. “Derby is coming”, his caption read on one of his Instagram posts. “I’m Ready.” His wife’s name was inscribed into his blue boots.

“WANDA 10.”

So were the names of his step-sons.



Comments are disabled for all of his posts, and with good reason. Controversial as he may be, revelling in the role of pantomime villain but orchestrator of all that is good for Luciano Spalletti, he does all of his talking on the pitch.

“Mauro Icardi touched the ball 15 times in 90+ minutes,” Paolo Baldini tweeted, “But it only takes one.” Alessio Romagnoli and Mateo Musacchio tried to mark him, tried to keep their eyes on the one man you cannot take your eyes off for one second. You have to look constantly at every move he makes because his movement is to die for.


With the signature cusping of the ears as if to taunt the Inter ultras or the untucked white T-shirt that is worn under the blue and black vertical stripes, Icardi is one of those centre-forwards that you cannot mistake. His job is simple, and Spalletti, who once described him as the “perfect striker” when it comes to finishing, must have a shrine that pays homage to a man that steps up for the Italian when he needs him the most.

It sometimes may not even matter how Spalletti sets up. He could have a team of nine defenders, but one good ball into the area and the game could be decided because of this special talent.

AC Milan were blunt going forward, and unfortunately could not get their own weapon of striking destruction, Gonzalo Higuain, firing. Inter were more pro-active and were able to find their man when it mattered the most. This derby was always going to be the story of one of these elite foxes in the box, two of Argentina’s very best in one of the signature games of the Serie A season. They only need one chance. Higuain was the spectator; Icardi was the match-winner.

Sometimes, it is hard to believe that Icardi is not somewhere else, earning half a million Pounds or Euros, playing for Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Paris-Saint Germain – anywhere else, but Inter. It is also hard to believe that for long periods, controversy aside, he was behind Higuain in the Argentine pecking order.

Yet here he is, beginning his sixth season with the Nerazzurri, the captain who is more of an anti-hero like Deadpool or Venom, but continues to be a source of great gratitude and relief in a team that could so easily be labelled, “The Mauro Icardi team.”

Why do we not read of him more often? YouTube is filled with videos of his incredible prowess in front of goal. There was one that really caught the eye and caused the brain to shut down for a moment in this fixture that ended 3-2 in favour of Inter last season. From a low Ivan Perisic cross, Icardi contorts his body to somehow strike a well-timed sliced volley with his wand of a right foot, jumping off the ground with his left foot, eyes firmly fixed on the ball. The Italian commentator exclaims, “Mama mia!” 


There are some elements of football that you cannot coach, elements that need to come naturally from within, especially finishing. Icardi exhibits the qualities of a well-rounded centre-forward at the age of 25, especially the ability to keep one’s chin up and shoulders upright at all times even when it looks like the ball will not find you where you want it the most.

Wait. Wait. Wait. Then strike. In a team like Spalletti’s Inter, Icardi is the perfect fit: efficient as he is effective.

His ability to create something out of nothing, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of the hat, is his signature. He rarely finds himself in the nitty-gritty of the build-up play and focuses on being between the width of the penalty area, the hunting ground for a man with keen predatory instincts. The Champions League game against Tottenham Hotspur was a prime example of why Spalletti needs him. If he could marry him, he probably would, although Wanda Nara may be the first one to oppose of such a union.

With the ball dropping from Kwadwo Asamoah’s cross, Icardi swung his majestic wand, striking the upgraded blue and silver Champions League ball with a whip and a swerve that saw it leave his boot like a shooting star. It sparked delirious celebrations, only ever seen when he scores it seems, such is his popularity with the Inter supporters even after his off-field antics of the past.

That all seems to be behind him – did it ever bother him in the first place? – and now, he is making headlines for the right reasons. As humans, we are prone to making mistakes and can be found on the wrong side of the moral high ground, but Icardi has not let this affect his performances in any way. Since joining Inter in 2013, he has amassed 104 league goals in 166 appearances and has shown us that beyond the controversial tabloids and bad boy persona, there is no controversy in his natural centre-forward play that cannot be ignored for much longer.

My admiration for him has not gone unnoticed but how can one not be in awe of his supreme magnificence?

I may have pushed my admiration a bit too far there.

Either way, he is not perfect, not the best role model, but he is perfect enough for Spalletti, for Inter. His values may be questionable, but his value is undeniable. Unapologetically himself, long may he ignore the “haters”, long may he ignore the outside noise.

Long may the predator in the box continue to execute his football God-given capabilities.



The battle for Milan: Inter vs A.C.

Two historical giants of European football, under Chinese ownership, with squads full of expensive talents, big egos and even bigger expectations.
Welcome to the battle for Milan…

By Charlie Dawson

Mauro Icardi, once hated by the Inter Milan ultras, now loved by the Nerrazzurri. On Sunday 15 October, Icardi singlehandedly beat AC Milan 3-2, after a brilliant hat-trick from the Inter man, including a calmly slotted penalty and a brilliantly inventive half volley, in a Milan derby that fully lived up to the hype.

Inter currently sit second in Serie A, two points behind the domestically undefeated Napoli, and three ahead of the surprise-package team, Lazio, and ever-present defending champions, Juventus. AC Milan on the other hand reach the dizzying heights of tenth after their defeat by the more established half of Milan.

AC Milan spent over £162m this summer on 11 players. Among these were the likes of Italy and Juventus’s creator from the back, Leonardo Bonucci, Portugal’s new hope, Andre Silva, Wolfsburg’s set-piece taker and ever-present left back, Ricardo Rodriguez, the Turkish free-kick wonder, Hakan Calhanoglu, Villarreal’s defensive general, Mateo Musacchio, Antonio Conte’s former favourite wing back, Andrea Conti and Lazio’s former defensive screen, Lucas Biglia. Incoming on-loan were Franck Kessie of Atalanta, Nikola Kalinic of Fiorentina and Fabio Borini of Sunderland – all with a view to buy.

All these acquisitions have been given to AC Milan manager, Vincenzo Montella, to mould and fit together in the puzzle that is a cohesive and effective Milan team. A hard task by any stretch, especially when considering the pressure on Montella to lead AC Milan to the UEFA Champions League, to offset their spending. AC are of course competing with the other sleeping giant of Italian football, Inter, for Champions League football this season.

AC Milan’s struggling manager, Vincenzo Montella.

Inter Milan conversely have spent £72m on the likes of the Spanish playmaker Borja Valero, Nice’s high flying fullback Dalbert, Italian centre back Alessandro Bastoni and former Sampdoria man, Milan Skriniar. Inter manager, Luciano Spalletti has reinforced an already powerful squad with frugal options, giving Inter depth in almost all positions. Inter have a squad of high potential, settled players, with a few new additions to supplement the squad in multiple competitions. Compare that with AC Milan’s newly assembled squad, with a new player in almost every position. It is clear which is more likely to have consistent success in the near future; and that logic is proving to be accurate when considering each team’s league position eight games in.

Both Milan clubs are fighting for a position in the top four of Serie A, a position which is already tightly congested between the likes of Napoli, Juventus, Lazio and possibly Roma. The first three are performing as expected and have taken a position in the top four, with third spot being taken by Inter at present. Assuming Juventus and Napoli continue their dominance of the Italian league, then that leaves two spots for guaranteed UEFA Champions League qualification for the like so Inter/AC Milan, Roma and Lazio, with a surprise run from Sampdoria, Torino or Bologna also possible.

With both Milan clubs so experienced in the Champions League, and used to European and domestic success, the pressure is truly on for them to reach the top four. Stakes are higher still, when considering both clubs are owned by Chinese Investors, the Suning Holdings Group (Inter), and Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux (AC Milan) which is owned by Li Yonghong, who brought a 99.9% stake in AC for €740m this summer.

Li Yonghong (worth around €500m, €6.5 billion less than previous owner Silvio Berlusconi) bought the club with help from an US hedge fund Elliot, who loaned around €300m to Li for the purchase of AC Milan. All of which must be paid back by October 2018, along with an 11% interest rate and a €15m arrangement fee on top. Yet, as it stands, AC Milan have been losing around €70-80m a year on average, and lost over €180m in 2014-15.

AC Milan’s new owner, Li Yonghong.

The interest from China has come as a result of the Chinese government wanting football to establish itself in China and to be part of, and eventually win, a FIFA World Cup in the near future. This desire for footballing success alongside the expansion of the Chinese Super League, has led to Chinese businesses investing in football clubs, with a view to establishing themselves in a positive of favour with their nation’s government. However, the over-spending of clubs in the Chinese Super League and by Chinese investors has led to government officials taking a dim view on over spending and risky investment. This puts the success of both Milan clubs at paramount importance, to ensure the reputations of their owners and key shareholders in their native countries remain intact.

Considering the debt Sport Investment Lux now owe for the purchase of the club, the yearly losses, exuberant spending and lack Champions League income, AC Milan desperately need to re-establish themselves as regular contenders in the UEFA Champions League, and as domestic contenders, to ensure the financial state of the club.

Rather conversely to AC, Inter Milan were taken over by Suning Holdings Group, a group that brought a 68.55% share in the club in 2016; sharing the club with Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir, who remained as the Club’s President. Inter have reinforced well, and brought high potential young players, while supplementing their spending with loans, and the sale of high wage and ageing players. Inter’s success so far, may be down to luck to an extent, with the likes of Ivan Perisic, Icardi, Joao Mario, Antonio Candreva and Samir Handanovic all improving and performing at a consistently higher level compared to recent seasons.

Inter Milan’s majority shareholder, Erick Thohir.

Unfortunately for AC Milan, after all their spending, it is their youngsters and cheaper purchases that have had the most success on the pitch. Young Italian striker and AC youth system product, Patrick Cutrone, is the club’s top scorer with seven goals in all competitions, one more than €38m summer signing, Andre Silva. Vincenzo Montella has managed to successfully integrate youth prospects into his expensively assembled squad, and would arguably have been better off without the added pressure of the clubs desperately needed success, had all this money not been spent. Alessio Romagnoli and Gianluigi Donnarumma have both become key players in the Montella’s team, and are a credit to the Milan academy, and should be their main source of squad reinforcement.

Quite why AC Milan have seemingly failed to establish themselves this season can be argued for a multitude of reasons. Whether it be the large purchases and pressure to succeed, weighing down on both the players and the manager, combined with inexperiences and inconsistency expected with a young team. Or possibly as a result of the Leonardo Bonucci signing seemingly forcing Montella to abandon his favoured 4-3-3, and opting for the Bonnibauer’s favoured three at the back formation. In the matches where AC Milan have managed to score, they often score from set pieces and concede irrespective of their performance, which would indicate a lack of cohesiveness on the pitch when all the clubs new signings and ideas are being used.

Inter’s success and more gradual rise up the Italian table, may be as a result of their manager, Luciano Spalletti, who has instilled his footballing philosophy and formation onto his Inter team. Spalletti has years of experience managing the likes of Roma, Udinese, Sampdoria and Zenit St. Petersburg. The Inter man is used to big personalities, adversity, overachieving and high quality players. Montella on the other hand has had a relatively short managerial career, managing the likes of Catania, Fiorentina and Sampdoria since 2011. Montella’s top-flight managerial career stands at only six years, 16 less than that of Spalletti, and the pressure and demands of this AC Milan side may be have come too early in Montella’s career.

Inter Milan manager, Luciano Spalletti.

Milan is a city of intense competition throughout the years, and hopefully that intensity will continue with a close fought battle between the two Milanese clubs. Inter are ahead in the race for domination of the city, and look likely to continue their run in Serie A and find themselves back in the Champions League before long. Yet, the quest for success is a long one, and AC Milan could yet find themselves competing should they find a run of form and play with a pragmatic approach that suits the squad and their resources.

However, only time will tell if it’s better to approach the task of resurrecting a European giant by following the example of the tortoise or the hare.

The Berlusconi era nears an end

Christopher Weir looks into the AC Milan malaise of the past four years, and comes to the conclusion that the problem lies right at the top of the food chain.

By Chris Weir.

On Tuesday, Sinisa Mijhajlovic became the latest victim of the AC Milan madness.

A string of average results meant the Serb became the fourth Milan manager to pack his bags in two years. The Rossoneri look certain to miss out on the UEFA Champions League for a third consecutive year, as youth coach and former player Cristian Brocchi takes up the reigns of another mediocre campaign.

However, the seven-times European champions should look to the top of the food chain to find out how they got into such a rut.

When Silvio Berlusconi bought the club in 1986, it signalled the start of a glorious trophy-laden era. Under Arrigo Sacchi, Milan won their first Scudetto in a decade before winning consecutive European Cups. Later, under Fabio Capello and Carlo Ancelotti, they went onto certify their status as the biggest club in Italy, playing some masterful football along the way.

Throughout this glittering period, Berlusconi was always the figurehead. The billionaire, who has a controlling stake in Italy’s largest media organisation Mediaset through his company Fininvest, has always used the AC Milan image as a boon for his political ambitions.

It came as no surprise that the Rossoneri winning the European Cup in May 1994 coincided with Berlusconi’s first of four spells in government as Italy Prime Minister.

Milan’s transfer policy has always fluctuated depending on whether Silvio needs a boost in the polls. For example, the signing of Mario Balotelli in 2013 bumped up his numbers in the Italian election, despite a conviction for fraud less than six months earlier.

It wasn’t the only controversy surrounding the media mogul during his tenure as club President. The former Prime Minister has certainly been busy both inside and outside of the office. Despite various alleged indiscretions, his status at Milan remained largely unaffected. It certainly helped that the club were still winning matches and trophies at that stage, and it goes to show that everything is forgiven as long as the victories keep racking up.

Yet Silvio, the saviour who rescued the club from bankruptcy 30 years ago, now seems the likeliest reason for the club’s current malaise. The sales of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2012 finalised the Rossoneri’s exit from the European elite, as the owner became distracted by his political machinations and funding for transfers subsequently dried up. In times of austerity, the spending of exorbitant fees on transfers may not have been something Italians looked on favourably.

Almost overnight the quality of football in Lombardy went from Prada to Primark. Rossoneri fans were cheering Alessandro Nesta and Rino Gattuso one year, Kevin Constant and Francesco Acerbi the next.

Four years after selling Zlatan and Silva to PSG, Milan continue to suffer from a lack of planning. The failures to replace the departing Clarence Seedorf, Pippo Inzaghi, Alessandro Nesta and co. were compounded by the decision to let Andrea Pirlo go to Juventus on a free transfer.

In 1987, Berlusconi proved he wasn’t afraid to make a managerial appointment from left-field when he called on Arrigo Sacchi, a man with no significant footballing background (as a player, anyway) before getting the job at Milanello. What was once a stroke of genius, however, turned into two acts of folly with the decisions to hire Pippo Inzaghi and Clarence Seedorf as manager.

The latter is particularly bizarre – whilst Inzaghi had some experience with the youth squad, Seedorf was still playing for Botafogo in Brazil when he accepted the call from Milan CEO Adriano Galliani. The results spoke for themselves, as the erudite Seedorf was sacked after four meagre months.

The appointments appeared risky at the time, and shockingly naive in hindsight. Cristian Brocchi will no doubt be making note of the obvious parallels between his signing and of those who’ve already fallen on Berlusconi’s eager sword.

Still, for a while this season it looked like they were on the way up. Milan thrashed cross-town rivals Inter 3-0 in the Madonnina, whilst the emergence of Gianluigi Donnarumma between the sticks has been a real find. They are in the Italian Cup final and they seemed to have regained a semblance of fight and spirit, despite lacking in creativity.

And then the sacking came. The players are unhappy with Berlusconi’s latest hatchet job, whilst the fans have also voiced their anger at the decision. The president appears increasingly out of touch with his football club, and his irrational management continues to weaken both the team and his own position. 

What next for Milan? As of yet, rumours of investment from Thai magnate Bee Taechaubol haven’t materialised into a real offer – but even if they do, who would be willing to work with Berlusconi given his calamitous leadership of recent years?

Milan fans will always be thankful to the President for the memories. Increasingly however, it seems that this is one leader who has reached the end of his term.

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