What sent me off on the tangent you're about to read, though, was the piece's subtitle:
Despite winning the Champions League twice in four years Milan have still to rival the glamour of Barca and Real Madrid.
Which put me in mind of a conversation I had with brilliant blaugrana blogger and fan Linda on the differences between Barcelona and Milan, two clubs one might find cause to link because of their long and illustrious history of Dutch influence. Just as one mightn't, given their complete opposition to each other's values and systems in the appearance of things.
Each club has its own bête noire/better half in its own league, and to all intents and purposes are rather similar in the essentials of their footballing style, but the difference between two G-14 clubs known for being attacking teams could hardly be greater in the face they present to the world. The gulf between Barca's football and Milan's may hardly be as wide as it is between, say, Barca's and Juventus', but as a comparison between equals [disavowing the columnist McCarra's proposition for the moment] I hardly think you'd find a greater difference: each taken at their best, Barca's lush, spread-out, unpredictable spontaneity and pace contrasts markedly with Milan's engineered, stately, textbook precision. If you want a reductionist argument, look at their figurehead Brazilians: Ronaldinho is pretty much the Jimmy Page to Kaka's John Paul Jones in the flair stakes.
And then there's the image, which is, a sportsman of old once said, everything. Barca, as that other pillar of the Guardian's sport columns Sid Lowe said only yesterday, have never been keener to present themselves to the world as the repository of all things romantically socialist and lefty, "a standard-bearer for liberty and democracy."
Milan, on the other hand, have long since broken with their own working-class, populist past and embraced -- and committed their own crimes of perpetrating -- a neoconservatism that aligns very agreeably with the consolidation of the Berlusconi era. When Milan market themselves, they don't fly the flags of revolution and visit [or not] Nelson Mandela. They dress in Dolce & Gabbana, speak in soft, measured tones of 'history,' and 'respect,' and insistently emphasize their notions of traditions and continuity [two words: Maldini. Dynasty.]. They keep players on their roster until retirement and speak of never showing any of 'their own' the door, even if their treatment of the Inzaghis and the Cafus of the world is more pertinent proof of this than their handling of the Gourcuffs and the Simics.
The grand gesture becomes force of habit. Their response to a grieving Sevilla, whom they played at the European Supercup in the wake of the death of Antonio Puerta, for example, was all grave stateliness. No hand-wringing or hysterics, but no stiff-upper-lip awkwardness or copperplate condolences either: the soundbytes, the flowers, the banners, the jerseys and the gestures all led to one Serie A director [whose name escapes me at the moment - might have been Zampa, though] to remark, a touch dryly, of calcio's need to 'direct' its image as well as Milan handled their response to the tragedy. When the Dida-diving incident at their game in Parkhead came up to embarrass both player and club immensely, Adriano Galliani's answer to questions about Milan taking action against the fan who ran at Dida was, "Of course not, we're European champions, we're representing this continent to the world, we don't want to create a fuss," -- an answer as disingenuous as it was sly, and one that pushed the image that the club has been working to create for the last few years; of Milan as the patricians of Europe, the old lions, the 'family.' Presumptuous, for a club that dared to be the Chelsea of the '80s to Juventus and Inter [who, I assume, must have cribbed as much as today's traditionalist Arsenals and Liverpools do].
Compare this with Barca, their almost exhibitionist lack of organisation and unshakeable contrarianism. Even at their most shamelessly capitalist, Barca will insist on marketing themselves as the heart and soul of their left-wing national ideal. There are some things money can't buy, but Barca's globalised peddling of Catalan pride isn't one of them, as Espanyol will testify. But whether or not it takes away the edge that 'more than a club' would imply in such a case, sometimes, marketing things just doesn't make them any less real. In the money-grubbing, amoral cartel that makes up the G-14, Barca's constant pushing of the symbolic values of freedom, their practically peerless contribution to developing local football with local youth, and their unquestioning shelter of the likes of Oleguer Presas in the same orbit as their galactic, global icons, is a beautiful thing to see, even when it slides into illusion.
I enjoy both. I try hard not to believe either, but I enjoy both.
What? Oh, right. McCarra's opinion piece. Well, yeah. Milan are particularly uninspiring these days, but I don't see a connection with either their dodgy history or their uncertain future to their current form. As for their lacking 'glamour,' uh. Okay?
Two things, though:
Milan have been champions of Serie A just twice in the past 11 seasons.
... and the fact that they lost most of those scudetti to a team that was convicted of fixing those championships doesn't occur to you because...?
Milan can revert to being an exceedingly fine team and the rout of Manchester United in the spring was magisterial, though the opposition were not at full strength.
Which annoys me whenever it comes up. You can plead any excuse you like to explain why England's most aggressively successful team looked like schoolboys in the San Siro this April, but you don't get to use the injury card against a team that played a fair few of last season's matches with a fully fit bench of eleven.
* - not to question the validity of some.