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In Milan's footsteps
16.4 || jcagney

It’s the day after Internazionale of Milano have been ‘officially’ exiled from this season’s UEFA Champions League (such an abundance of flares haven’t been seen since the premiere of Saturday Night Fever). A six-match stadium ban (with two suspended for three seasons) and a massive fine of 300,000 Swiss francs (spare change to Signor Moratti) accompanied the confirmation of Milan’s place in the semi-final line up.

The bookmakers have installed Milan and Chelsea as joint favourites for the most coveted prize in club football. The prospect of this particular Anglo-Italian cup final would leave the fans of both sides (and for that matter, the neutrals) salivating profusely for weeks on end.

In terms of history and prestige the two have little in common, with Milan’s trophy laden annals a stark contrast to the scattering of silverware currently on show at Stamford Bridge.

However, there are glaring similarities in other areas, most notably the club’s respective billionaire owners (disparities for fondness toward publicity aside) – ‘media baron’ Silvio Berlusconi in the red and black corner and ‘oil baron’ Roman Abramovich in the blue and white corner - and the manner in which the two took to implementing their vision of world domination (football wise, naturally).

When Berlusconi took control of an ailing Milan in the mid-eighties he immediately sought to snap up Europe’s best, bringing in untried Arrigo Sacchi to oversee the likes of Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit as well as the Italian vertebrae of Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini and current Rossoneri coach Carlo Ancelotti.
Abramovich adopted a similar approach when he rescued debt-ridden Chelsea, bringing in Jose Mourinho to mould an all-conquering side from players such as Didier Drogba, Claude Makalele and Arjen Robben to further enhance the English nucleus of John Terry, Frank Lampard and, to a lesser degree after having recently found his best form, Joe Cole.

It was Fabio Capello’s Milan which first revolutionised the use of ‘squad turnover’ - an idea first implemented in England by former Milan hero Ruud Gullit when manager at Chelsea.

In Petr Cech and Nelson Dida, Chelsea and Milan have two ‘keepers perennially battling it out with Gigi Buffon for the title of world’s best shot-stopper. Both clubs have inspirational home-grown captains, step forward Paolo Maldini and John Terry, marshalling ‘super-squads’ the envy of teenage ‘console managers’ around the globe. Squad depth further demonstrated by both clubs’ ability to prevail for long periods this season without their main attacking protagonist – Ukrainian Andriy Shevchenko and Dutchman Arjen Robben - due to injury.

Defensively, both sides can point to more clean sheets than a finely tuned money laundering operation and are extremely difficult to break down. Although it seems that Chelsea have saved their allotment of clean sheets for Premiership football only, conceding an amazing nine goals in their four Champions League knockout games, whilst in the same period of time Milan conceded none.

Of course, the ‘dream final’ doesn’t always come to pass and both Liverpool and PSV Eindhoven will have plenty to say on who ultimately gets to the Istanbul showpiece. In fact, of the four semi-finalists, it is only the London club who have failed to win European football’s top prize with Milan and Liverpool enjoying 10 triumphs between them.

PSV will take heart from the fact that their one and only Champions Cup win, a penalty shootout victory against Benfica in 1988, was orchestrated by current coach Guus Hiddink – the man who broke Italian hearts in 2002 when his South Korean side eliminated Paolo Maldini and co from the World Cup finals.

Liverpool can also point to the track record of their current manager as reason for optimism. Rafael ‘Rafa the Gaffer’ Benitez led Valencia to UEFA cup glory last season and he has already shown this season, particularly against Capello’s stingy Juventus in Turin, that he can mix it tactically with the best of them.

But what price, IF Chelsea and Milan were to meet in the UEFA finale on a hot summer night in Istanbul on May 25th, a Chelsea player (namely, Argentine striker Hernan Crespo who is on a season-long loan spell at Milan from Chelsea) scoring the goal that would win the game for Milan?

Written by John Cagney

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