Friday, May 13, 2011

The 3M's Are Different. Very Different.

So AC Milan finally landed the coveted Scudetto last week after a long hiatus spanning 7 years. The last time the Rossoneri managed to do so in 2004, United were languishing a season of misfortunes witnessing the arrival of Russian oil money at Chelsea and the Invincible Season of Arsenal. The fate of Real Madrid was no different to their compatriots in Manchester, as the army of Raul, Zidane, Ronaldo, Beckham, Figo and Roberto Carlos endured the pain of watching a 'Rafalutionized' Valencia not only snatch the title from them, but also leaving them far behind. The Madridistas barely finished a distant 4th. With their histories so deeply etched in glory and triumph, I couldn't help but think of the other two M's as United reach on the brink of a record-breaking 19th domestic title.

It's a compelling analysis, 'cause in spite of sharing glorified history, The 3M's are different. Very different.


I really like the Premio Italiano, not because of the beach-house activity (although that seriously qualifies him to be idolized globally) but for the remarkable work Senor Berlusconi has done as the proud owner of AC Milan.

When Senor Perez was busy spending the entire fiscal budget of Togo on building the Galacticos of Madrid, Senor B was developing the famous Scientific Academy in Milan: it's a logical and well-researched tangible form of the vague idea floated by Mel Gibson in the early 90s through Forever Young. Incidentally, the star club of Milan also serves to be, in true Monopoly tradition, the GET OUT OF JAIL FREE card for the star club in Madrid. Proof (s): Redondo, Emerson, Ronaldo, Becks (he wouldn't have moved to LA if Milan didn't have a pre-nuptial of taking the enormous burden of 28% of his wage bill) and almost Ruud (well, he's a greedy Dutchman who wanted a weekly salary unheard of - 40 grand.) It's just a coincidence that the average age of these players in football years was similar to what Tommy's age at 20 would be in dog years. (Tommy is an alias for Senorita B's poodle. To avoid risking legal action, it would be difficult to disclose the true identity).

When the Glazers were unnecessarily waiting for Fergie to waste three seasons on grooming Ronnie, Wazza, Fletch, Park, Vidic & co., Senor B dedicated his energies to humanitarian causes. Proof (s): Jaap Stam, Cafu, Favalli, Vogel, Amoroso. This is, in fact, a model that has recently been very successfully adopted by Tottenham. Their entire team is structured around discards or former reserves of other clubs, which begs the innocent question: why are they called Spurs; shouldn't it be Spares?

When Abramovich was employing the Rent Boys, our beloved Milan was preaching the virtues of loyalty. What can possibly be a more authentic and sacrilegious testament to the Holy School of fidelity than ensuring that every long-serving player in the team continues to play till he announces his retirement fearing natural death on the football pitch. Proof (s): Costacurta, Leonardo, Maldini, Sebastiano Rossi, Boban. Forthcoming Attractions: Pipo Inzaghi, Clarence Seedorf.

When the entire football universe is entangled in transfer wars, not having the first clue of who they would finally manage to lap up within the transfer window, AC Milan have clearly identified the players they want: Joe Cole, Michael Essien, Carlos Tevez, Dimi Bebratov, Stevie G and yes the sublime Lionel Messi shall all be joining AC Milan - in 2022. Of course, these will be free transfers. What an amazing experience it would be for a 35 year old Messi to see the 42 year old Stevie G getting treatment for his arthritis problem at the Scientific Academy just hours before the crucial European qualifier with Red Star Belgrade.

It is my sincere belief that the Farrelly Brothers got it all wrong: they should have dumped Mary and created a motion picture titled There's Something About Milan. I say this respectfully, because the only club dafter than AC is ironically, but not surprisingly the club that is to them what the noisy neighbors are to the Red Devils: the prized possession of Senor Moratti, the San Siro sharing, Inter Milan. Have you ever heard of two clubs, both European Champions at different times and title holders of Serie A countless times, having a global fan base going into millions for decades and yet sharing the same stadium? Well, welcome to Milan. It's different. Very different.

I have already illustrated my deep admiration for Senor B. You know what? It's nothing compared to how strongly I feel for the Morattis. Let's look at some of the business that the Morattis have done with Senor B's club. 

Can you recall an Argentinian called Andres Guglielminpeitro? I already figured out that you won't know. Let's try again. He was also known as Guly: for fans of Championship Manager 1999-2002, if you ever play the 5-3-2 Attacking formation, Guly is the first player you want. He's just wicked. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case in real life. He strutted his stuff at AC Milan for 3 seasons. Senor Moratti was blessed with some form of Divine Telepathy and resolved to snatch Guly from AC at all costs: AC Milan received cash plus Andrea Pirlo. To be honest, that's not too crazy. Just a season before this, Inter had acquired the services of Coco from AC: in a straight swap deal in which two-times Champions League winner, Clarence Seedorf left Inter. The Dutchman went on to make AC Milan the 3rd club with which he won the most coveted prize in professional football. In true Milan tradition of hospitality and not to be left behind AC, the great thinkers at Inter did not hesitate at all in favoring Madrid either. In fact, AC Milan imitated their neighbors in this respect. Way back in 1996, Inter signed the 30 year old Chilean striker, Ivan Zamorano from Real Madrid for 1 million plus err a 23 year old Roberto Carlos. Is this the end of generosity? Not quite. While, they were on a give-away spree, Inter also successfully managed to sign Fabian Carini (who's he, are you thinking that?) from Juventus. This time the free swap player was Fabio Cannavaro - leaving Inter at 26 years of age.

I'm also deeply in love with the Milan fans - both clubs. Elsewhere, there are exceptions to a certain rule: let's say Paul Ince can play for Liverpool after being a Red Devil, but then there was a stint with Inter Milan (who else?) in between. Or someone inconsequential like Silvestre can move to Arsenal after 9 years at Old Trafford, so that Man United can avoid arranging a testimonial for him in his 10th year. But can you seriously imagine a 25 year old Henry wearing a red shirt displaying the logo of Sharp/Vodafone/AIG just a year after he did a domestic double with the Gunners? How about this? I buy Torres for 33 Million, he scores braces against Everton for 6 years in a row and then signs for them on a free transfer? Not possible? Think again, because Milan is different. Very different. What Torres cannot do, Christian Vieri can. The fans in Milan hate each other quite reminiscent of life in Liverpool and usually pelting the other team's players, breaking the windows of their houses, smashing their cars with baseball bats - these are socially acceptable, mild ways of expression in Milan; it is after all the fashion capital of Italy, hence the population is more evolved. It's actually the Romans, fans of Roma and Lazio that like to stab, particularly during derby games and European matches. The rest of Italy is quite civilized. Well, if constant death threats are a form of civility. However, the day a player of the opposing team, whose children you harassed just a few hours ago, signs for your club, the lovelies of Milan become the living testimony to the age-old adage: to err is human, to forgive is divine. Google the famous players of AC and Inter and you will find out that there are almost 100 footballers who have played for both teams. It's easy. You live in the same city. You play in the same stadium. Just a different shirt. Football transfers were never this easy. Only in Milan.

It's different in Milan. Very different. 


There's a strong possibility that Senor Berlusconi and Senor Moratti are long-lost brothers. There's a stronger possibility that they have another one in Madrid: the aforementioned Senor Perez.The swashbuckling Florentino has done virtually everything possible for his beloved Real Madrid bar one achievement: making them Champions. He brought the Galacticos era back to Madrid, not once but twice. During his first stint he signed Figo, Zidane, Ronaldo, Beckham and Michael Owen. This time, it's another stint and he made headlines by signing Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo, both for all-time World Record transfer fees within a few days of each other. The trivial issue would be that both times the Senor's stints have proven to be more of stunts. In his eager exuberance, he may have forgotten that his job is to win trophies, not create Kodak Moments for multi-millionaire footballers.

His previous era saw him let go of outstanding players such as Redondo (31), Seedorf (25), Anelka (20), Eto'o (19), Morientes (27), Makelele (30) and Michael Owen after one season aged 26. This time  Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael Van Der Vaart and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar had to be sacrificed - all at the zenith of their respective careers. The very season they were let go, both Robben and Sneijder made it to the Champions League Final with Bayern Munich and Inter respectively.

Like his brethren in Milan, Senor P also believes in charitable causes. Who else would sell the above-mentioned World Cup 2010 finalists for a collective total of GBP 50 Million? Kaka alone cost more than that amount. This too in an era when even the bench warmers at Man City cost 25 Million apiece. Buy 1 Sell 4 is the mantra that the Madrid Supremo believes in.

The phenomenon of sharing players in Madrid is also akin to Milan. When their El Classico rivals Barcelona snatched Luis Enrique from Real Madrid, Senor P swore revenge. He stole Barcelona's prized asset, Luis Figo. At various stages, The Original Ronaldo, Bernd Schuster, Javier Saviola, Robert Prosinecki, Gheorghe Hagi and Michael Laudrup - all fantastic players adorned the strips of both clubs. Perhaps the strangest incident happened to the legend who's considered to be the greatest ever Real Madrid player: Alfredo Di Stefano, on moving to Spain from Argentina didn't exactly know who had signed him. He signed papers with Barcelona but then started playing for Madrid. Surprised? Well, Madrid is different. Very different. After a feud between both the Spanish giants, the player was released of any contractual obligation by Barcelona and he went on to become synonymous with the glory of Santiago Bernabeau. Only in Madrid. 

The other piece of the jigsaw puzzle at Madrid is Senor Ramon Calderon. Senor P and Senor C take turns in presiding the historical club. While Ramon is more pragmatic and Madrid definitely win more  under his leadership, Senor C also has his share of eccentricities: he loves sacking successful managers. Vicente Del Bosque (the same bloke who just won the World Cup with Spain) and Fabio Cappello were both shown the door by Madrid immediately after they had secured the La Liga Championship for the club. Only in Madrid.

At the other end of the Madrid spectrum, we have Real's li'l cousins, Atletico Madrid. It's a rivalry that's as fierce as it can get. However, it didn't deter Atletico to gift Real with a player who's the Di Stefano of the current era for Real Madrid fans: Raul was trained for two years at the Atletico Madrid Youth Academy before moving to Real Madrid. Needless to add, he tormented his parent club for years to come.  

It's different in Madrid. Very different.


Surely, we've made mistakes. We bought Juan Sebastian Veron at the pinnacle of his career, which wasn't a mistake: not persisting with him was. We endured the Kleberson-Carroll-Djemba Djemba era, which was criminal. We raised divided opinion over the departures of Stam, Becks, Ruud and Tevez.

Remember when Alan Hansen said, "You'll never win anything with kids." As much as we mock him now, at the time, surely it must have been a logical conclusion from his side. Who in their right mind would sell Mark Hughes, Paul Ince and Anrdrei Kanchelskis at their peak and replace them with Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and David Beckham at a time when the general populace hardly even knew about their existence? Nobody would do that. Unless he's Fergie.

When he came to Old Trafford in November 1986, the club was teetering close to the relegation zone. Under his predecessor, Ron Atkinson, United had a very different culture with the lads often savoring frequent doses of alcoholic beverages and bouts of laddish frolic. As Bryan Robson recalled that upon hearing that Sir Alex had been appointed United manager, one of the key team members, Gordon Strachan gave a priceless reaction, "Oh no, not him." Gordon had previously been managed by Fergie at Aberdeen and knew firsthand what was in store for the lads. At the time, the United lads weren't similar to the Liverpool 'Spice Boys' of the 90's: their daily lives were closer to the screenplay of 'The Hangover.' Players would regularly turn up for training with alcohol on their breath and if not for Fergie's superb sniffing skills, most of them would've continued to go undetected for years to come. In fact, it took Sir Alex years, till the infamous episode of raiding Lee Sharpe's bachelor pad in the early 90's and kicking Giggsy out of his den to drag that culture out of the club. In addition to that, he started bringing focused professionals to the club who wanted to win medals more than anything else. 

Denis Irwin, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister and Peter Schmeichel all cost under GBP 1 Million and were all fiercely competitive footballers: all amazing bargains. Roy Keane at 23 years of age cost just over GBP 3 Million and the renowned last piece of the jigsaw puzzle was Eric Cantona costing GBP 1.2 Million from Leeds United, the last champions of the old English First Division. Cantona is the classic example of how United is different. Very different. Having had an erratic career in the French Ligue 1 and the France National Team, Eric's reputation preceded him so much that even Sheffield Wednesday refused to sign him. Once at United, he did a complete U-Turn. Self-motivated and influential to the core, Eric Cantona changed the way football was played in England. 

His impact even prompted Nike to famously launch that campaign which said: 

"'66 was a great year for English Football. Eric was born." 

It's the winning mentality and love for the club that Sir Alex has managed to instill in his teams for almost 25 years that have placed United at the zenith of European Football. 

Over the years, instead of doing a Rafa by collecting an assortment of players and then disposing them off at losses, Sir Alex has spent big only on long-term prospects. The big-name signings like Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov have all served the club well. Only Juan Sebastian Veron couldn't make the cut. 

Shining at Manchester United isn't dependent on your pedigree. The most important aspect is your passion and dedication towards adding silverware to that trophy cabinet. Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville are the most apt testaments to that.

Hopping over to the noisy neighbors in Wastelands; well truly that's what it's been: Wastelands. They can dump a long-serving player like Richard Dunne, mind you, Club Captain no less. A player who served the club even when they were relegated in 2001 and proved his loyalty through thick and thin. As soon as the club got the Abu Dhabi riches, Good Bye Richard!

Just yesterday, Scott The Red from Republik of Mancunia had an interesting anecdote to share: "I swear if Man City didn't actually exist, we'd just make them up for a laugh." True story.

When Thaksin took over the club and brought Sven to manage the team, they were on the right path. The squad was built around home-grown players, they were off to a blistering start in the league, did a derby double over United and finished 9th at season-end. Sven spent just over GBP 30 Million, signing 10 players which included Elano, Caicedo, Corluka, Geovanni, Bianchi,Bojinov, Benjani and Martin Petrov. I personally think I haven't seen any manager doing better business than that in recent years. End result: Sven was sacked!

Slimy Thaksin got into trouble in Thailand and Sheikh Mansour stepped up to get City out of trouble. Our old faithful, Sparky made the greatest blunder of his life by leaving Blackburn, a club he had rejuvenated to join the oil wealth at City. It's been a hilarious merry-go-round since then. It came to a point that City could actually field a starting line-up of 11 players with strikers only. Since then Sparky was unceremoniously dumped and replaced by Roberto Mancini and now an average Man City bench is worth at least a few hundred million quid. This includes sending Manu Adebayor and Santa Cruz out on loan, a combined worth of GBP 44 Million. 'Arry and his Spurs beat them to the CL Spot last year and finally this season they've managed to secure a 4th placed finish.

It bugs them when we say that City are a joke, but I'll give you evidence: Yaya Toure makes GBP 200,000 a week. Could there possibly be a more hilarious tale than that? 

Manchester is not a City. It's United.

It's Different in Manchester. Very Different.

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