Visiting one of the most iconic stadiums in world football should be an exciting affair. Regardless of how the residents are faring, the very thought of being present at one of the homes of the game should not be missed. The San Siro, of course, is home to two of the giants of the Italian game – AC Milan and Internazionale. Both clubs have had better seasons. Indeed, you could say Milanese football is in, or about to enter, crisis mode.
The pre-match talk was centred on how much time Filippe Inzaghi has to turn things around. Before Milan’s game with a struggling Cagliari, the media were predicting that Inzaghi would be gone before the summer break. But it wasn’t the only gripe outside the San Siro as fans were planning a protest about the way Silvio Berlusconi is running the club. When Game of the People arrived in the ground, scaling the heights of what is a huge stadium, vast sections were deserted and the traditional areas for the ultras behind the goal were empty but for some banners:”Game Over” and “This is the end” implying that patience was wearing thin.
It’s a noisy multimedia experience visiting this mighty venue, though. I couldn’t help feel that it was fairly typical that, this being Milan, they should employ a DJ of catwalk material to host the show (Jeremy Menez shared his playlist, which was really quite awful) and we were treated to a big screen interview with Milan legend Franco Baresi.
The stadium seats are filthy and many supporters brought newspapers or cushions to sit on. Vendors walked among the seats selling drinks and snacks. Most seemed to be of North African descent and, embarrassingly, we mistook one seller for someone who had gone to retrieve a drink for us. We ended up buying two lots as a result. “We all look the same,” he laughed.
Milan’s opponents, Cagliari, had sacked their coach Gianfranco Zola only two weeks earlier, reappointing Zdenek Zeman. They were in genuine relegation trouble and hadn’t won since late January. A couple of hundred of their fans had made the trip from Sardinia and they were perched up on the third tier behind the goal, shielded from the action by screens of Perspex and mesh. Not a great experience, I would wager. Occasionally, you caught a whiff of cannabis coming from the top tier of the stadium.
As for Milan, by their standards, they are having a poor time of things. They were not in Europe this season and it’s looking like they won’t do it this time. You only need look at their team to see why. Their main striking hope at the moment is Matteo Destro, 24 year-old on loan from Roma. Then there’s attacking midfielder Keisuke Honda, a Japanese international who seems to be involved in everything, but lacks the technique to make if count. Milan also have that music expert Menez and young Dutch midfielder Marco Van Ginkel, a loanee from Chelsea.
Italian fans are renowned for their dissecting approach to interpreting the game. As Milan laboured through the first half, occasional shouts of advice came from the sparsely populated stands. It wasn’t just “you’re shit, Honda” or some similar form of abuse normally heard at UK games, but more drawn out, with hand gestures and flowing sentences. Italian is a beautiful language and I’ve always sensed that their criticism of the match would be something prosaic like: “Honda, your passing is like sheaves of corn blowing aimlessly in the wind”. More likely, they were really calling: “Take him off Inzaghi.”
Milan took the lead with a fine goal from French international Menez after 22 minutes, but Cagliari scored an incredibly soft equaliser through Brazilian Diego Farias after 47. This triggered off some abuse from the crowd. Two minutes later, however, a tame volley from another Frenchman, Philippe Mexes, restored Milan’s advantage.
Cagliari almost levelled when Farias’ compatriot, Joao Pedro, struck the crossbar, prompting our neighbour, a San Siro veteran, to declare: “Mama Mia”. The points were made safe, though, in the 78th minute when Milan substitute Alessio Cerci was brought down in the area and Menez scored his second of the game.
The win took Milan to seventh in Serie A. Crisis, what crisis? You might ask. But this is the club of Rivera, Gullit, Van Basten and dozens of other marquee names. The crowd, just 30,000 (it seemed less), in the giant stadium was very lost. Victory also brought Inzaghi time, but one assumes it is only a stay of execution. Nevertheless, a great experience.