Outcome of Milan v Juventus will shape Italian football's short-term destiny

Of all the Coppa Italia finals played in recent years, I can’t remember one more important, or symbolic, than the 2016 instalment.

Balotelli Pogba

AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli and Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba could play key roles in the outcome of the Coppa Italia Final Source: Getty Images

We know all about Juventus. Even if you haven’t watched them closely, I’ll bet your social media has been flooded with their supporters hailing a turnaround even beyond their wildest dreams.

Yes, it will be an incredible double if they pull it off at the Stadio Olimpico this weekend.


It looked impossible late in 2015 but here they are once more, on track to replicate last year’s feat.

But the more fascinating story here belongs to AC Milan. Judging by the build-up, you’d think the Rossoneri would be lucky to fire a single shot on target in Rome.

I’m not so sure about that. This might be the night one of Italian football’s superpowers turns the corner.

It’s going to be hard. Very hard.

As you look at Juventus’s exquisite names - Buffon, Morata, Pogba, Cuadrado, Dybala, Marchisio, Chiellini, Bonucci - inconcepibile. There are no faded stripes on this zebra.

But there is a real question mark around the injured Sami Khedira, who missed the last two rounds of the Serie A season. If he doesn’t play, that’s an immediate morale booster for Milan. If the German is only half-fit, that’s a worry for Juventus.

If he’s fit and on song, well – Juve haven’t lost a game in Italy this season when he’s played. Not one.

But what are cup finals if not for upsets? And for dreams?

It’s strange to talk about Milan as though they’re some sort of underdog, worthy of sympathy and admiration. Right now, they don’t deserve much of each.

Put simply, they’re a mess. Owner Silvio Berlusconi’s failure to negotiate a realistic exit strategy has left the club paralysed by flux and without a plan.

Their transfer strategy – if they even have one – remains an ad-hoc mish-mash of individual talent and mid-level players.

Which is where they finished in Serie A, seventh. And the season before that, 10th. And the one before that, ninth.

It would be folly to think the club’s on-field performances haven’t been affected by the off-field happenings.

New coach Cristian Brocchi is no more than an interim solution to Sinisa Mihajlovic’s sacking and will probably revert to the primavera role next month. Eusebio Di Francesco, the brains behind Sassuolo’s unexpected rise, appears far more likely.

But it will be hard for Milan to avoid looking longingly at Juve’s dugout and Massimiliano Allegri - the very man they fired a few seasons back. In case you missed it, he extended his contract to 2018 last week.

This might just be the last hurrah for Berlusconi. After failing to attract new investors in recent years, the cash appears to finally be coming. From China, of course.

Nobody will say for sure but it’s understood Evergrande Real Estate Group – who own Guangzhou Evergrande – have made a bid for a controlling stake in the club they believe is worth $1.09 billion.

It’s thought Berlusconi is conformable enough with the deal to sell, admitting his profound desire to keep the club in Italian hands is no longer possible in the modern football world.

What are the odds he stalls the deal just long enough to see out the final whistle in Rome? One last, last shot at glory.

Regardless of his penchant for the spotlight, this game speaks to a legacy beyond the former Italy Prime Minister. It won’t colour much of the past three years but it can set a tone for the future.

Besides, the air of invincibility that surrounds Juventus needs to come to an end. What they’ve done – and how they’ve rebuilt – is beyond remarkable. But others must rise to meet their standards.

Full marks to AS Roma and Napoli for trying, bravely, but just three titles between them in the past 30 years, perhaps, reveals their underlying mentality.

Besides, Juve didn’t spend crazy amounts to get back to the top.

They out-planned everyone else: buy great players at their most affordable (even Paulo Dybala at $49 million was a shrewd investment); sign young managers ready to peak, believe in the process and outcomes will follow.

It’s an honourable strategy but five Serie A titles (and last year’s Coppa Italia) is enough reward. It’s become a Caeser-like grip on success.

A cup title won’t solve everything at the San Siro but it might just poke some doubt into Juventus, while spreading hope and ambition elsewhere.

With fresh investment coming it might give Milan to impetus to truly become The Devils and the hunters once more.

Besides, no zebra can run forever.

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5 min read
Published 16 May 2016 at 11:56am
By Sebastian Hassett
Source: SBS