El Clasico. The Old Firm. There are many infamous derbies in the world of club football, yet few of them have the passion and prestige of the Derby della Madonnina, or the Milan Derby.
Earlier this week marked the 222nd official meeting of the two Milanese sides. With both in different stages of rebuilding after several years as shadows of their former selves, which half of Milan looks to be closer to returning to the top?
In April of 2017, Chinese businessman Yonghong Li completed his takeover of AC Milan, leading many fans of the Rossoneri to believe they were on the verge of something special. What in fact followed was 16 months of disarray and disaster before, mercifully, the American hedge fund behind Li pulled the plug due to a lack of loan repayments.
However, by then the club was already staring down the barrel, with UEFA handing them a yearlong ban from European competition due to Financial Fair Play violations. In addition, they had an underwhelming revolving door of managers. All of this had left the club seemingly directionless.
Many also feared that Elliott Management Corporation, the company who removed Li from his position at the club, would simply drive the team further down the table, whilst just seeking to turn a profit. Yet when all signs seemed to point further down the road to ruin, Il Diavolo sparked a turnaround.
AC Milan look to bounce back
Changes quickly began occurring within the hierarchy of the club, with the ownership throwing their support behind manager and club legend Gennaro Gattuso. Less than a fortnight after the club changed hands, former sporting director and World Cup winner Leonardo returned to his role, with other notable club legends such as Paolo Maldini and Kaka also joining the project shortly after.
Arsenal Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis was also snapped up and over £100m was invested into the squad, with a heavy focus on youth. Dead weight players like Croatia’s World Cup rebel Nikola Kalinic were shifted and replaced with proven talent like ex-Madrid and Juve star Gonzalo Higuain. The message was clear: Milan were on the rise again, and the Champions League was the goal.
Likewise in the blue and black half of Milan, their own Chinese takeover had heeded mixed results. After five years of Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir the club seemed to be treading water and despite some initial hope following Zhang Jindong’s near £240,000,000 takeover in June 2016, a run of bad results and 4 coaches in under a year left fans of the Nerazzuri fearing the worst.
However, the appointment of Luciano Spalletti in June 2017 marked a change in the clubs fortunes and less than a year later the fans were celebrating their first Champions League qualification in 6 years.
Summer of change for Internazionale
Like their city rivals, plenty of changes took place at Inter under this new leadership. Players associated with the ‘banter era’ of the club, like Yuto Nagatomo and Eder, were shipped out and the core of the team was built upon in an arguably more structured way than Milan had done.
Kwadwo Asamoah and the sought-after Stefan de Vrij joined on free transfers, whilst World Cup finalist Sime Vrsaljko added to the team’s Croatian contingent and Roma stalwart Radja Nainggolan was brought in to improve the midfield.
Youth was not forgotten either, with Keita Balde joining from Monaco and the exciting young Argentinian striker Lautaro Martinez shunning offers from other big European clubs to play alongside countryman Mauro Icardi at the San Siro.
And so as the two sides lined up on Sunday it felt to many like the start of a new era. Both clubs had something to prove, both wanted to show the world that they were on the up. Therefore, it was appropriate that the bitter rivals would battle tooth and nail for almost the entire duration of the game before, with the score tied at 0-0 in the 92nd minute, Inter’s talisman would come up trumps.
Derby settled by a dramatic goal
Mauro Icardi, the man who had been with Inter through the hard years, who said upon signing in 2013 that he “wanted only Inter”, caught out Gianluigi Donnarumma and nodded home his 104th Serie A goal for the club. It took the Argentine further into the club’s history books, making him the 7th all-time league top scorer for Inter. It took his team to within 6 points of league leaders Juventus.
It was a suitably dramatic end to a wonderfully well-fought derby, but until the 17th of March next year the bragging rights shall remain with Inter. Both sides lost this week in European action. It could, however, be argued losing to a Barcelona side playing as fluidly as they did is no comparison to being beaten by a Betis side that has scored 5 goals all season.
Milan’s chance to bounce back comes this weekend as they host Sampdoria at the San Siro, a game they really should win. Inter, on the other hand, face a trickier test in a trip to Rome to face Lazio on Monday. Regardless of who will be celebrating both have a lot to look forwards to in what’s shaping up to be a very bright future for one of Europe’s most historic footballing cities.