AC Milan – the very viewing of the words on a page invokes numerous thoughts to even the most casual of football fans. Memories of the great and good that have adorned the famous red and black striped shirt flash through the mind and there is no doubt of the club’s synonymity with success. They are second only to Real Madrid having won 7 European Cups to Real’s 10 and have won no less than 18 Serie A titles.
Stats like these are the reason I couldn’t believe it when I read about this week’s goings on at the San Siro in The Guardian. As part of a promotional stunt for a skincare product, actors were hired to take to the pitch in full AC Milan kits and perform an All Blacks-style Haka in front of Milan’s opponents for the night, Carpi, on Thursday evening. Yes, you did read that right. And if you don’t believe me, you can watch it in all it’s cringeworthy glory right here;
There’s almost so much wrong with this that it’s impossible to know where to start. Let’s forget the fact that such an outlandish marketing ploy probably has no place in a professional league match. Let’s forget the fact that the Carpi players are forced to stand on and watch, made part of an embarrassing charade that is not of their own doing. Let’s ignore the fact that Milan didn’t even have the ability to win the match off the back of such a brazen act (drawing 0-0 in the end). And let’s completely ignore the cultural insensitivity shown by Milan to a native tribal dance of the indigenous people of New Zealand. I have to ignore all these points because, quite frankly, to provide any kind of coherent justification for any of them is beyond me. What I want to know is – how did one of football’s greatest clubs come to end up here?
Milan, as I’ve already said, are one of football’s biggest clubs with a history as illustrious as you’re likely to find. Some of their greatest ever players are also among the best to have played the game and need little introduction. Listing off the names is proof enough of the high pedigree of player they have enjoyed throughout their history – Baresi, Baggio, Weah, Maldini, Van Basten…. and I could go on. The feature image used at the top of this piece was displayed by Milan fans at a Serie A match in April 2015 and points exactly to this fact. Fans hold aloft banners showing names of club legends including Desailly, Rikjaard, Van Basten and Boban as hashtags, as if to remind the world of what has gone before. Other fans hold signs saying ‘VENDESI’, Italian for ‘For Sale’, with the final, most prominent and most damaging hashtag adoring the front of the stand – #SAVEACMILAN.
It begs the question, what do the fans want their club saved from? And is it in any way connected to the apparent demise suffered by Rossoneri in recent years?
The ownership of Milan has, of course, been somewhat in turmoil for a considerable time now. While owner and majority shareholder Silvio Berlusconi has been in talks with Thai businessman Bee Taechaubol since last summer, Goal.com reports as recently as last week that the full sale of the club to a Chinese consortium could be tied up in around six to eight weeks. To further contribute to this unrest, the club have recently sacked manager Siniša Mihajlović after less than a year in charge, making current caretaker manager Cristian Brocchi the 17th man to take the helm at Rossoneri in the last 20 years. Even the club’s home can’t be viewed as an anchor of any kind, with rumours abound that the famous San Siro stadium is to be sold.
Those kind of changes don’t make for a solid foundation on which a club can continue to build on their already-considerable success and, it must be said, this instability from the boardroom, through every facet of the club, is being reflected where it matters – on the pitch. It’s almost a decade since the last of Milan’s 7 European Cups was won and, at the end of this season, it will shockingly be two full seasons since Milan appeared on the European stage in any guise. This kind of record, combined with no Scudetto in 5 years, is one just not befitting of a club with such illustrious history and brings into sharp perspective exactly why the fans are making displays such as the one in the main picture. As if to add to the negative feeling around the club, father of legend Paolo and ex-manager and player himself, Cesare Maldini, passed away earlier this year. Morale will be low amongst the fans who, rightly, would like to be able to look to their team’s performances to help lift their spirits.
And that’s why, I imagine, the display on Thursday against Carpi will have been so hard to swallow for Milan fans. Ignoring the afore-mentioned awkwardness and downright cultural-insensitivity of the stunt, it could be argued that such marketing exploits could be seen as more excusable if the club was at least delivering on the pitch. Without the delivery of trophies prizes, such an exercise only serves to make the club look desperate.
Whatever happens in the future for AC Milan, whoever the owners are and whatever position they find themselves in, both geographically and in terms of the footballing hierarchy, there is no doubt that they will look back on this period, and the Haka in particular, as one of the lowest points in the club’s history. Still struggling in the wake of the Calcioppoli scandal nearly 10 years on, fellow clubs involved such as Fiorentina and Lazio seem to have been able to rebuild and advance in the face of much harsher punishments, with Juventus all but regaining their reputation as one of the most dominant sides in Italian football in the last 30 years. Here’s hoping it won’t be long before we see the famous Black and Red stripes back at the top of Serie A and at Europe’s top table because I, for one, feel there’s something lacking without them there.