Straight from the dark heart of Italy
When AC Milan won their first post-war title in 1951, the players shook hands on the pitch and their Hungarian coach Lajos Czeizer – known as “Zio” [Uncle] even by his players – took the team for a well-earned bowl of pasta and a glass of wine.
Massimiliano Allegri may not have picked up the tab for Saturday's lavish dinner topped off with a celebratory cake, but the club spared no expense in the San Siro celebrations which rivalled the Eurovision song contest in outlandishness, right down to Kevin Prince Boateng’s Michael Jackson impression.
There was no repeat of the gaudiness of last weekend in Rome: no running around in underwear or aiming fouled-month rants at Leonardo, although the Ultras in the Curva Sud couldn't resist a dig at Inter – unfurling a banner which read “18 titles, all of them on the pitch” in reference to their neighbours' court-awarded 2006 title in the wake of Calciopoli.
And on the pitch, everyone was back on their best behaviour as Allegri’s men steamrolled Cagliari 4-1 and then duly kept their brand-new kits on to parade in front of the packed stands.
As strobe lighting highlighted the names of those who had played their part in lifting the club’s 18th title – and their first in seven long Inter-dominated years – the pressing questions were already being raised. Is this the beginning of a new era of Silvio Berlusconi-funded dominance, or the glorious final curtain for a group of players who have served the club (and themselves) very well?
In the wake of the 2007 Champions League triumph, the club handed lavish contracts to Clarence Seedorf (now 35), Alessandro Nesta (35), Gennaro Gattuso (33), Andrea Pirlo (32 this week), Filippo Inzaghi (37) and current club captain Massimo Ambrosini (33). However, apart from Gattuso and Inzaghi, the other members of the old guard are out of contract in the next few weeks and the club must decide to cut them loose or reward them with further riches for another year or two.
Berlusconi’s right-hand man Adriano Galliani must reduce the €130m annual salary bill without threatening the defence of the title – and more importantly a genuine assault on the Champions League. While Ambrosini (who earns €3m a season – about £50,000 per week) and Nesta (€4.5m) are reportedly ready to accept a much reduced contract, Seedorf and Pirlo are seemingly less inclined to forfeit one last big pay-day for another tilt at European glory.
Milan may now be demonstrably the best team in Italy but in Europe they've fallen a long way from reaching three finals (winning two) in five years under Carlo Ancelotti between 2003 and 2007; since that last win – which marked a record-breaking seventh success in Europe's premier competition – they haven't even reached the quarter-finals.
Galliani has been postponing negotiations until the title was clinched but this week will bring tough decisions all round. Seedorf has claimed that he could accept mega-offers from Dubai or Russia but he won't use that as leverage; if money's not a major issue in his life he may well remain, unless Galliani greatly reduces his current €4m salary.
"Let's stay together": straitened times for Nesta, Seedorf and Pirlo
The matter is more complex for Pirlo, who doesn't fit in with Allegri’s plans – according to the coach’s assistant Mauro Tassotti, who let that open secret slip out last week. The midfielder is the club’s second-highest paid player on €6m – roughly £100,000 per week. He won't see those figures again but his languid (read: sluggish) style clashes with Allegri’s high-paced approach of getting the ball forward as quickly as possible.
Pirlo has also made conciliatory overtures that money isn't important – well, up to a point – but now that he has some silverware in the cabinet and his feet under the table, Allegri may feel that the party is well and truly over for Milan’s old swingers and it’s time to hand the dance floor over to a new generation.
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