Monday, 19 February 2007
Associazione Calcio Milan
Ground: San Siro (Stadio Giuseppe Meazza), Milan
Nickname: Rossoneri (The Red And Blacks)
Celtic vs AC Milan : Tues 20th February 1945 hrs
AC Milan vs Celtic : Wed 7th March 1945 hrs
Both Benfica and Manchester United were two of our qualifying group opponents who could rightly claim to be celebrated European clubs. In terms of footballing celebrity and pedigree however, not even the English league leaders can hold a candle to AC Milan. Like them or loathe them the Rossoneri are among the undisputed royalty of world football.
In the year that Celtic were celebrating their first decade of football in the East End of Glasgow, the British government appointed Alfred Edwards Esq. as vice-consul in Milan. Alfred decided that it would be just splendid if the Italians could learn to play cricket and give him something to watch of an afternoon whilst sipping his Pimms and orange. While he was at it, thought Alfred, he?d throw them a soccer ball and see what might happen. As such the seeds were sown and a year later Edwards appointed another Englishman, Herbert Kilpin as captain and coach of the newly formed Milan Cricket and Football Club. The Milanese public proved to be less than convinced of the entertainment value of cricket but bought into the footballing events with a real enthusiasm. In 1901 Kilpin led the footballing division of the club to the National League title, becoming the first team other than the previously all conquering Genoa to claim the flag.
In 1909 several factions within the club made it clear that they believed that the privilege of wearing the red and black should be reserved for paisanos, fellow Italians. A number however disagreed and felt that the club needed a more international flavour, they left the club to form another team under these international principles, and so began the Rossoneri?s greatest rivals, F.C. Internazionale Milano.
A decade later cricket was officially a dead duck in Italy and the club became simply Milan Football Club. The name change coincided with twenty years of underachievement and frustration at mid-table placings and the only notable excitement was yet another change (this time in the 1930?s), occasioned by Mussolini?s regime, when Il Duce decided that Milan Football Club didn?t sound remotely Italian enough and suggested at pistol point that Associazione Calcio Milano may be preferable.
Mussolini, as history tells us, picked the wrong side in the big stramash of 1939 and Italian football, like most others in the early forties, was all but disbanded. When competition resumed later in the decade, AC were on the ascendency and in 1951 clinched the Scudetto for the first time since 1907.
With the 60?s came coach Nereo Rocco, and his newly devised Catenaccio or ?door-bolt? tactic. Across the city Helenio Herrera was to take note of the style and impose it on his Inter team. The tactic itself was, unfortunately as dull as dishwater to watch but highly effective in shutting out opponents, relying as it did on defensive structure and ?tactical fouling?. It worked for Nero though and in 1963 AC Milan took out their first ever European cup, defeating Benfica 2-1 in the final. Hailed in Italy for most of the 60?s, eleven hooped Scotsmen sounded the death knell for the catenaccio when they tore it apart in the 1967 European Cup Final, recording an unprecedented 43 shots on goal.
While the seventies were a lean decade for the club, and culminated in a 1979 relegation to Serie B as a result of yet another Italian match fixing scandal, the 1980?s signalled AC Milan?s rise to genuine pre-eminence, a rise which has remained virtually unchecked since that time.
Where do we start? Try this on for size ; 17 Scudetto (National Titles), 14 times runner up. Twice winners of Serie B. 5 times Coppa Italia winners, 5 times Super Coppa di Lega winners. A remarkable 6 times winners of the European Cup / Champions League and 4 times runner up. Throw into the mix 2 European Cup Winners cups, 4 European Super Cups and 3 World Club Championships and you end up with the most successful side in the history of world club football, other than Real Madrid. AC Milan also hold the distinction of being, as at Feb 2007, the number 1 ranked team (by co-efficient) in the UEFA confederation.
Only one player has plied his trade in the Rossoneri and the, eh, Biancoverde. The sublime yet ridiculous, genius fascist heidbanger, Paolo Di Canio, who Tommy Burns signed from AC in 1996. Both clubs have also employed Carluke?s finest, big Joe Jordan, although on different sides of the touchline.
The memory of the two clubs recent (2004) Champions League encounters will be fresh in the mind of ?Tic supporters when a stoic Celtic performance held the Italians to a 0-0 draw in Glasgow in December, regaining some respect after an error ridden 3-1 defeat in Milan two months earlier.
Carlo Ancelotti has been coach at AC since leaving Juventus in 2001 to succeed the ousted Turk, Fatih Terim. Ancelotti had been an accomplished player in his own right, anchoring the midfield for both AS Roma and AC Milan and boasting 26 caps for the Italian national side in the 1980?s. After retiring from playing in 1992 he was appointed assistant coach at Reggina and gained a reputation as an astute task-master. So much so that when Nevio Scala jumped ship from Parma in 1996 Ancelotti was asked to return to his first professional club as head coach. In his first year he took the club to second place behind Juve in Serie A, their best ever finish in the competition. In 1999 ?Carletto? as he was known in his playing days, was offered the opportunity to replace Marcelo Lippi at Juventus and he jumped at the chance. His two years in Torino were laced with promise but were ultimately trophyless. Nonetheless, Berlusconi saw in Ancelotti a man who could motivate and team and when, in 2001 Juve started making grumbling noises over the lack of trophies and dropping not so subtle hints about how welcome Lippi would be if he wanted to return, Il Presidente made his move and brought Ancelotti to Milan. The moved proved an astute one and within 2 years ?Carletto? had won the Champions League, an achievement made all the sweeter by beating Lippi?s Juventus in the final. (Albeit a final which is a leading contender for the dullest of all time). In doing so Ancelotti became the fourth player to win a European Cup as both player and manager. Last year Frank Rikjaard would (with the timely assistance of Henrik Larsson) become the fifth. A 2005 disaster in the CL final against Liverpool aside, Ancelotti is, undeniably, a manager of intelligence and ability who will know Celtic very well by the time the two teams meet tomorrow.
Who To Look Out For.
This is an AC team that just oozes class. Not as full of foreign mega-talent as in previous era?s it is built around a core of home-bred players who work very hard for each other and are as combative as they are skilful. The stand-out creative player is undoubtedly Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite ? Kaka to you lot, and at only 24 he has already shown at every level of football that he can punish teams single-handedly. Kaka however is not our special pick for this Milan team; that is reserved specially for the man known throughout Italy simply as ?Il Capitano? ? the Captain.
Paolo Maldini is inarguably one of the finest defenders in the history of the worldwide game and is revered by those who follow the Rossoneri. Making his debut in 1984 Maldini has made over 750 appearances for his club making him easily the longest serving Rossoneri of all time. He also holds the distinction of having made the most Serie A appearances of any player, the most international caps of any Italian and has captained his country more times than any other player. A quite incredible CV.
With Maldini in the line up AC are a better unit, and a better team.
The first choice Milanese (and Brasilian) keeper, Dida, will not be travelling with the squad. The man between the sticks is likely to be Marco Storari. Storari has spent 10 years in Italian football but only 3 in Serie A. He is a real journeyman who was brought to Milan just last month when back-up keeper, the disaster prone Australian, ?eljko Kalac picked up a knee injury. The Parkhead crowd has the capacity and the opportunity to really, REALLY, unsettle Storari. You know it makes sense....
If Milan are lacking anything it?s certainly not defensive options and definitely not experience. Their starting defence is likely to have a combined age of approximately 150. Maldini is 38, Cafu is 36 and Costacurta is 40. Add in any of the additional centre back options, say the 29 year-old Marek Jankulovski and their back line is nudging 144 years old. Now this guarantees a couple of things; firstly they will all have played against far, far superior players to any in the Celtic line-up and they will all adapt to the big occasion with ease. It also means that if Kenny Miller plays and runs like he did against Benfica at home then at least 3 of them are likely to have hernias trying to catch him. They are incredible professionals who know each other inside out and play their system to perfection but pace can and will unsettle them.
The midfield that has been named to travel North is one of the finest to visit Glasgow in a long time. Players like Kaka, Seedorf and Pirlo are household names and Celtic fans especially are well aware of Gennaro (Rino) Gattuso, who is a fine player, and a much more accomplished and polished one than the teenager who appeared at Ibrox. Lookout for an appearance by Yoann Gourcuff the 20 year old Frenchman that the French press have christened ?Petit Zizou? given his similarity to the legendary Zidane. If ever Nakamura was presented with an opportunity to prove his ability it could be against this Milan midfield. If Shunsuke can make an impression against talent such as this then our little playmaker will have the world at his feet. Unfortunately the world has big pay-cheques and its not inconceivable that a standout performance would make him damn difficult to hold on to.
We?re lucky that Inzaghi has been declared unfit and will not travel to Glasgow. We?re unluckly that Gilardino however has been given the go-ahead after picking up a knock last week. The youngster moved to Milan in 2005 after an 18 million pound transfer from Parma. It would be fair to say that his success since then has not been unqualified. No one has ever attempted to dispute his talent but he has perhaps not been as prolific as the man whose understudy Gilardino was intended to be, Andriy Shevchenko. The 24 year old went through 12 games in the 05-06 Champions League campaign without finding the net once.
With Inzaghi injured and the newly signed Ronaldo cup tied, Ancelotti?s other striking options are limited to former Betis striker, the Brazilian Ricardo Oliveira, and reserve team up-and-comer Davide Di Gennaro. Oliveira is not an established star of the Brazilian side but he has scored goals wherever he?s been and Strachan will not take him lightly.
Class. And lots of it.
Lets not kid ourselves here. AC Milan are the top ranked club side in Europe. They have a team packed with internationals and an almost perfect combination of experience, pace, strength and talent. They come to Celtic Park however with a dodgy third-choice keeper and their two best strikers injured. Celtic CAN beat this Milan side in Glasgow. In Italy however it will be desperately hard to hold onto anything less than a three goal lead and our European away record does not inspire confidence. A few of this current Celtic squad have the opportunity to write their names in the history books.