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|Serie A Special: A changing of the guard as Milan bid farewell to Nesta, Gattuso and Inzaghi|
It was back on May 28th, 2003, at Manchester United’s Old Trafford. A Milan side consisting of Alessandro Nesta, Paolo Maldini, Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf took to the field. It had been eight years since the club reached the final showpiece of the Champions League. For a club that had defined itself not ten years prior by its European pedigree, it was eight years too long.
But, the good times were about to return. It took no longer than 120 minutes and a bit more for them to do so as Milan were again crowned kings of Europe. It was the sixth time in the club’s history. The good times had well and truly returned. And, this was just the start of it.
Over the next five years Milan would go on to reassert itself amongst Europe’s elite by dominating the competition they claim to be ‘in their DNA’. Few could have disagreed with such a sentiment during this period as Milan would go on to make the quarter finals the following season, the final again in 2005 followed by a semi-final defeat to Barcelona the year after. The pinnacle was, no doubt, their triumph in Athens against Liverpool in 2007.
Filippo Inzaghi was the man of the moment with his two goals that helped Milan to victory and, in the process, making amends for their mysterious collapse against the same opposition two years prior. All of Milan’s European triumphs have become part of the club’s folklore, but, this one was of particular importance given the context. It was ‘extra special’, as Kaka said after the match.
Just as in 2003, Nesta, Seedorf, Gattuso and Inzaghi all played on that night in Athens’ Olympic stadium. And this was by no coincidence. This group of players were the backbone of this all-conquering Milan side that, during their time at the club, claimed two scudetti, two European Super Cups, two Italian Super Cups, one Coppa Italia and the Club World Cup in 2007. For Gattuso, make that three scudetti (1999).
If there need be any further evidence of their greatness, it came in 2006. The contributions of Nesta, Inzaghi, Gattuso and Pirlo helped Italy on to become world champions. The latter two, in particular, playing key roles.
Following their victory in the 2007 Club World Cup against Boca Juniors, a game where Nesta scored one of his ten goals of his Milan career and where Inzaghi, as typical on any big occasion, collected a brace, the trophies dried up.
The reason for this could be laid down to a number of factors; the departure of Carlo Ancelotti and Kaka in 2009, Leonardo’s ill-fated spell at the helm and the lack of investment in the team.
But, one factor probably stands out; the club’s over-reliance on this group of star players. It is understandable, given what they had achieved together, why the club continued to trust in them. Yet, at the same time, they were not getting any younger. They were no longer to maintain such high levels over the course of a season. Injuries started to take their toll too; no more highlighted by Nesta’s complete absence from the 2009-10 season due to injury.
Time was catching up with them. Yet, their place at the Giuseppe Meazza continued to be assured with the club unwilling to depart with its past and embrace the future; whatever it may have held.
Therefore, it has come as no surprise that it is the players themselves who have decided to call an end to their Milan careers – and maybe football for good. They will know better than anyone else what their bodies are capable of. And, as Nesta suggested during his press conference this week, if he feels he can no longer contribute to the club in the same way he has done so in years gone by, then, out of respect for himself and love for the club, he would rather depart. Gattuso and Inzaghi’s decision bares the same sentiments.
It is not that Nesta has nothing left to offer. He does. The same goes for Inzaghi and Gattuso. But, as we have observed over the last couple of years, it is not to extent nor of the same consistency they have produced during their more fruitful years. And, as true professionals, for them this is not good enough. They do not want this.
Therefore, we have now arrived at this inevitable juncture, one that marks the passing of time. The winds of change have swept through Milan this week. Their gales, perhaps finally, have been too strong even for this club, so resistant to moving on, to contain. In a matter of days, everything has changed.