Alex Ferguson once said everyone’s so stylish in Milan, all the women look like Miss World contestants.
Coming from an old dude from Scotland, that’s really not saying much.
But last week, I had the chance to find out for myself, to see if Fergie’s taste in style and women is as good as his eye for players.
I was sent to cover the Canali fashion show in Milan, which on any other weekend would already be an awesome enough experience.
But last weekend was different. One of the first things I had to do when I arrived was ask our taxi driver if there was any chance I could get tickets for what would be an even greater showcase – the Derby Della Madonnina.
Taking its name from the statue of the Virgin Mary on top of the Duomo di Milano (the Milan Cathedral), the Milan derby between Associazione Calcio Milan and Football Club Internazionale Milano (you could, of course, just call them AC and Inter Milan) is a spectable every bit as grand as the marbled walls of the Duomo.
Everybody in town seemed buzzed about the game. It just seemed to take hold of the entire city. Everybody is a fan one of the clubs, or at least the daugther or wife of a fan.
People were walking around in their club scarves, and the sports channels were already showing previews of the game – featuring some mighty good-looking female presenters – several hours before kick-off.
It was just hours and hours of interviews with experts, coaches, former players and a whole bunch of other people I don’t know and definitely did not understand. I didn’t mind, of course, because it meant I’d have more time to ogle the presenters.
I had an interview of my wn in Milan too, because my assignment included some time to speak with Paolo and Elisabetta Canali, grandchildren of the founders of Canali and the people currently running it. They too, have their football allegiances.
After a long interview about trends in formalwear, the hallmarks of traditional Milanese style and them being the current torch-bearers of a generations-old fashion company, we hit them with the big question: AC or Inter?
“There is a bit of a family divide!” said Elisabetta after having a bit of a laugh. “It has caused quite a lot of problems.”
Apparently, while their fine tradition in suit-making survives through the generations, football loyalties don’t last quite that long in the Canali family.
“It always skips a generation,” said Paolo with a wry smile. “My father is an Inter fan, I am a Milan fan, and now my son supports Inter.”
Not surprisingly, our taxi driver, an AC Milan fan, told me to forget about getting tickets at the San Siro for this game. It would be completely packed.
I then asked if he would be going, and he said: “No. I have two children,” with a sucks-to-be-me look on his face.
Just as well for me, because a stab wound from some of Italy’s infamous ultras fans probably wouldn’t have made a good accessory for the fashion show the next day. And I’d probably get intimidated by another huge African guy into paying him five euros for a piece of string “for African football” that was forcibly tied onto my wrist, which is exactly what happened when I visited the Sforza Castle. Travellers to Milan, beware. Do not make eye contact with them.
In any case, the atmosphere was pretty good around town on the day of the match.
At the pizzeria where we eventually settled down to watch the game with a feast of seafood pasta, pizza and wine, everyone was engrossed in the game – even the waiters.
Of course, Fergie was right. Everyone in Milan – young and old, male or female – is just ridiculously and effortlessly stylish.
Unfortunately, I can’t quite say the same about their football. The game was, in purely footballing terms, a labourious affair.
Inter were content to sit-back and contain their cross-town rivals, who were too blunt in attack to break them down.
It was simply a case of who could be worse, and in the end the game was decided by a defensive error. AC Milan’s Ignacio Abate misjudged the flight of a long pass, which landed at Diego Milito’s feet, and his expert finish was one of very few moments of style and quality in the game. Final score, 1-0 to Inter, and bragging rights for the next couple of months to their fans.
And it’s no surprise either how laboured the pace of the game was. There were 12 players 30 years or older on the pitch, five for Milan, seven for Inter.
While Manchester United and Arsenal have recently reached into the past to help them through a difficult patch, it seems the Milan clubs have never truly emerged from it.
Players like Alessandro Nesta, 35, Mark van Bommel, 34, and Gianluca Zambrotta, 34, all started the match for Milan while Clarence Seedorf, who will be 36 this year, came off the bench.
And that’s not including players like Filippo Inzaghi, 38, and Gennaro Gattuso, 34, who are both still on the club’s books.
Inter do not have legends of the same age group as that generation of Milan players, but don’t be surprised if they held on to their heroes from the 2009/10 Treble-winning season for several more years, even though they all seem to be past it even in their early 30s.
But to be fair to them, keeping Javier Zanetti around, Serie A’s answer to Ryan Giggs and the oldest player on the pitch, has worked out pretty well.
The 38-year-old was exceptional as usual in his midfield role, but still didn’t have the vigour and invention needed to bring Inter out of thier defensive shell.
The mediocrity of the derby seemed to me a reflection of the rest of the Italian league, where the table shows a significantly higher number of draws compared to the Premier League.
In the notoriously tactical and slow-paced Serie A, the top five have already played out 25 stalemates in 18 rounds of games. In the Premier League the top five have just 17 draws, having played three more rounds of games.
If you just take the top two, Juventus and Milan have drawn eight and four times respectively. United and City only have three each.
Also, United and City have scored over 100 goals between them. Juventus and Milan? They have less than 70. That’s less than England’s current fourth and fifth best teams, Chelsea and Arsenal.
Of course these statistics could also mean that the rest of the league in Italy is stronger, that the other teams pose more of a threat to the top five.
Based on what I saw during Derby Della Madonnina, however, I find it unlikely.
Milan were the highest scorers in the league with 37 goals, but there was nothing in the performance of their attackers, the predictably unpredictable Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the struggling Alexandre Pato, or ex-Portsmouth player Kevin-Prince Boateng, to prove they could achieve the same status in the Premier League.
Still, in a city where it can be fashionable to be traditional, perhaps there is more to football than just a deluge of goals, or adrenaline-boosting, fast-paced football featuring expensive foreign imports who know little of the traditions of the club or the cities in which they have been adopted as idols.
As it is in life, there are some finer things in football as well, such as the charm of a club steeped in tradition, or the joy of supporting a club based solely on that tradition and not on whether they are playing well.
The football at the Derby Della Madonnina might have been a little slow and cautious for my liking, but the experience of watching an entire city divided and united at the same time over one game, gave me a new appreciation for an entirely different aspect of the beautiful game.