On paper, Juve’s 1-0 extra time defeat of Milan in last Saturday night’s Italian Cup final in Rome hardly comes under the “surprise” category. After all, in the season which has just finished, Juventus closed top of the league, fully 34 points clear of 7th placed AC Milan.
Curiously, however, no such superiority manifested itself in a game in which Milan made much of the running, only to lose out to a piece of “routine goalscoring” from a seemingly undermotivated, uninspired Juventus. The point of course is that, as always, motivation decides everything.
At the end of a season when – at least since late October – Juventus have played like unbeatable extra-terrestials, the Old Lady was perhaps just a little mentally exhausted. In contrast, at the end of a season when they have distinctly underwhelmed, Milan had a lot riding on this game since victory would have guaranteed them a place in the Europa League.
Thus it was that the more motivated Milan had by far the best of the exchanges, especially in the first half. Sharper finishing from Andrea Poli and Slovakian Juraj Kucka might even have put Milan in front before halftime. In the end, though, Juventus rode out the storm, brought on useful subs in the shape of Colombian Juan Cuadrado, Spaniard Alvaro Morata and Brazilian Alex Sandro and wrapped up the game in the 110th minute. Not for nothing, the winning goal came from an accurate cross from Cuadrado, brilliantly slotted home by Morata.
So, as the Juventus juggernaught rolls on, with its gaze ever more firmly fixed on the Champions League, Milan find themselves out of European competition for the third year in a row. Worse still, at the very moment when Milan’s tycoon owner, Silvio Berlusconi, could have done with a little European sunshine, he instead finds himself having to watch the two Madrid teams contest next Saturday night’s Champions League final in his home stadium, the San Siro in Milan.
How indeed the mighty have fallen. Whilst Juventus have everything to look forward to next season, in contrast the immediate future of Milan seems shrouded in uncertainty. For more than a year now, Mr. Berlusconi has been involved in negotiations with different, mainly Chinese investors, reportedly keen to buy into the club.
The most recent reports suggest that there is a Chinese consortium willing to shell out €500.000 euro for a 70% share. As always, however, in this long running saga, it is difficult to believe that Mr. Berlusconi really wants to sell his favourite plaything. Signficantly, he was at the Olympic Stadium in Rome on Saturday night and, even more significantly, he reportedly told Milan coach Christian Brocchi that he had not seen his team play so well for at least two years.
One of the most oft-repeated criticisms of the Berlusconi handling of the club in recent years concerns the high turnover of team coaches. For nine years from 1987 to 1996, only two men coached the “great” Milan of Van Basten-Gullit-Rijkaard fame, namely Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello. Yet in the last three seasons, the club has gone through five different coaches in Massimiliano Allegri, Clarence Seedorf, Filippo Inzaghi, Sinisa Mihajlovic and now Brocchi.
Perhaps, Mr. Berlusconi’s praise for Brocchi was his way of suggesting that, after all, it had been a good idea to appoint him to see out the last six games of the Serie A season. Given Milan’s 7th place finish, out of European competition, not everyone would agree. Many would argue that this current Milan side simply lacks the sort of squad strength which enabled Juventus to bring three players like Cuadrado, Morata and Alex Sandro off the bench, late in the game.
One set of “neutral” fans who were more than happy with the Cup Final result, of course, were those of little Sassuolo who in only their third season in Serie A find themselves in the Europa League. Had Milan won the Cup Final, then the third Europa League spot along with Inter and Fiorentina would have gone to them rather than Sassuolo who had finished sixth in Serie A, four points clear of Milan.
In ten years, this remarkable club from a 40,000 inhabitant Emilia-Romagna town have won three different promotions from Serie C1 (3rd Division) to Serie B to Serie A. Ironically, one of the coaches who helped them along the way was none other than current Juventus coach Allegri who guided them into Serie B in 2008. Last Saturday night Allegri did Sassuolo an even bigger favour putting them into the Europa League, much to the delight of the thousand or so fans who gathered in front of a giant screen in the town’s central Piazza Garibaldi.
As for the Old Lady, worth pointing out that she becomes the first ever Italian club to pull off consecutive Cup and League doubles – yet another feather in the cap of a hugely successful season. Perhaps the only disappointing note for Juventus concerns goalscorer Morata, on loan at Juventus from Real Madrid for the last two seasons.
Juventus would dearly like to buy out the loan and have reportedly offered €20 million euro for the 23-year-old. Most observers suggest however that Real, who are only too aware that Morata might fetch twice that amount if offered on the Premiership market, will reject the Juventus offer. You win some, you lose some. Mind you, this Juventus loses very, very little.