This is a day I never wanted to live: I’m back to work after two weeks of shutdown. I flushed my eating habits down the drain and have yet to rid myself of the astonishing haggardness that colours the first few days of this New Year.
I could delve into a bit of transfer market news/rumours. Or, maybe not: I can only afford a few minutes’ autonomy in front of SKY News 24 before scoffing, repeatedly, until I reach for the remote control and flip to whatever is on Comedy Channel (yes I have access to it).
The silly season, for those who thought so, is not over yet. Until the end of this month we will trudge through what looks like the busiest January session of the last few years, with some of the most resounding names in the sport moving clubs. As we speak, disgraced talent Antonio Cassano has joined AC Milan after being released by Sampdoria (a bout of Tourette’s aimed at president Riccardo Garrone did the trick wonderfully) and Bosnian heavyweight Edin Dzeko is finally moving from Wolfsburg after two years of haggling. He will settle as yet another player on the sheikh’s payroll, under the orders of Robert Mancini, home of the training bust-up, knowing that with his signing Manchester City have now cost Sheikh Al-Mansour just over a billion quid. Sweet.
On the benches, Newcastle and Blackburn replaced their managers before the festivities in what amounted to two ridiculous sackings; four weeks later Roy Hodgson seems to be moving in pretty much the same direction as Liverpool hit yet more rocks. Chelsea, too, look like they will make Ancelotti walk the plank. Winning a double is not enough: if a Russian oligarch is your boss, then he affords to stamp his authority by sacking your assistant manager and install a henchman like Emenalo. Ancelotti’s been on the plank a few times with Berlusconi already, so, time for another plunge into cold waters.
Talk of plunges… oh, that Leonardo chappie. I loved him, and secretly I still do: a gifted player, immeasurable technique, can play anywhere and speak in many languages. A gentleman (save for an incomprehensible elbow and red card in World Cup ’94) and a true sportsman, never a word out of line, Leonardo just ditched twelve years of loyalty to AC Milan by joining despised rivals Inter.
In all fairness, a bit of clarification here is due. Milan ditched Leo before he turned tables on the club: a year at the helm of a team who was never assembled to win a thing, Leo learnt a few things from his faithful tonto, Tassotti, and drove Milan to a third place which was no more, no less than they deserved. Beaten soundly by Mourinho’s Inter over two derbies, Leo’s tactical acumen on the bench is no match for the likes of the more experienced managers in the Serie A (where managers aren’t that bright anyway). He did well, overall, but a few blunders that were overly visible cost him the job. For one, he played Klaas Jan Huntelaar as a winger on a couple of occasions, when, really and truly, Huntelaar is a born and bred fox in the box with immaculate finishing skills. No wonder he left Milan after a year. Leonardo also endured frosty relationships with senators in the squad, mostly Gattuso, who might look like an old whingeing pitbull but has a big say in the dressing room.
That said when Leo left, no one was surprised, he was widely applauded at San Siro as Milan trashed Juve 3-0, but not quite missed by anyone. That’s about it, end of a long story.
His “sudden” move to Inter (his name was already touted by the media in June) in December, replacing the eminent Benitez, caused a lot of ruptures among Milan fans. For what reason?
The word “loyalty” is bandied round way too easily. Leonardo was a free agent and certainly he cannot be expected to sit idly and wait for someone to offer him a job behind a counter at Sainsbury’s. If Inter, fresh from their triumph at the World Club Championship or what they heck they call it these days call Leonardo offering him a golden seat and an eighteen month contract (less than the Maltese civil service that is) you’d expect him to sign.
I don’t see Leonardo as a traitor. In today’s football patience wears out easily and managers have a short shelf life. What surprises me, though, is the actual choice of Leonardo. Inter won the World Cup and sacked Benitez immediately after, using his media tirade on the lack of transfer money as an excuse, a plank. Therefore, while they had perfectly no reason to fire the Spaniard, who didn’t do badly on paper, the choice of handing over a squad of experienced veterans to a rookie seems like a really bad call.
Massimo Moratti’s vision seems strangely blurred by the fog of war. With Milan, a hated rival, leading the Italian Serie A with 13 points’ advantage (albeit Inter have two games in hand) at the end of Inter’s most successful year ever, with former idol Ibrahimovic deciding much of Milan’s fortunes, it is no wonder that the nerazzurri supremo is suffering a severe bout of asthma at his city rivals’ sudden flourish.
Nothing better than paying back the Ibrahimovic charade in summer with Leonardo, then, he must think. His teeth are still clenched over Cassano’s move to Milan, and then, of course, there’s Mario Balotelli stoking the fires back in the UK with his continuous, if frankly irritating, love declarations to Milan.
Kaka is being touted as another target for Inter’s January market session. If he moves, half of the Rossoneri fans will be in a revolt. I will be with the other half, sitting calmly watching as the world class player nurtured by Milan flounders sadly in a team which is not his, will never be his, and which tactically will not accommodate his style of play.
Another name? Paolo Maldini. Why not take Franco Baresi too, seeing they have the lesser of the brothers on their payroll? Oh, Van Basten already said no thanks.
Inter seem to be panic buying, like a spotty teenager on the last day of a bin sale. Tonight, Leonardo will sit on the Inter bench for the first time. I will not wish him luck, but I will not call him traitor. Moratti’s purse opened for the wrong coach, in my opinion, but maybe Leo can prove me right.
And I’m off to fry a Mars Bar.