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Serie A review - week 9

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Juventus' players celebrate after winning the Italian Serie A football match between Juventus and Inter Milan at the Juventus Stadium in Turin on March 25, 2012
Juventus' players celebrate after winning the Italian Serie A football match between Juventus and Inter Milan at the Juventus Stadium in Turin on March 25, 2012

Rome wasn’t built in one day, and AC Milan’s transformation from the envy of European football to its current embarrassing state also didn’t take place overnight. The Rossoneri earned a rare victory on Saturday night over Genoa (1-0) courtesy of another goal from Stephan El Shaarawy, but they remain in the bottom half of the table with just three wins from their first nine league games.

Massimo Allegri has predictably come under fire and will likely lose his job in the not too distant future, and yet Milan’s results this season are just about commensurate with its talent level. The real culprit for this demise is none other than Silvio Berlusconi who has displayed a startling lack of ambition for some time now, and should seriously consider bringing an end to his reign in charge.  

Juventus may have been dealt the stiffest penalties as a result of the Calciopoli scandal, but Milan was clearly the most affected, and the summer of 2006 represents a before and after in terms of Berlusconi’s approach to running the club. The former prime minister seemingly lost interest in competing for big trophies, and has since allowed a procession of marquee players to leave the Rossoneri.

It began with Andriy Shevchenko’s departure to Chelsea, and Milan’s improbable run to the Champions League title the following season, despite finishing 36 points behind Inter in Serie A, merely papered over the cracks. Once the lords of Europe, the Rossoneri haven’t made it past the quarterfinals since 2007, and are in serious danger of being eliminated at the group stage this season.

On the domestic front, Milan has captured one league title in the past 8 years, which came as a result of Berlusconi feeling a tinge of guilt and finally springing into action late in the summer of 2010. The acquisition of Zlatan Ibrahimovic gave Milan at least one superstar to build around, that is until the Swede was unexpectedly shipped to Paris Saint-Germain this past July alongside Thiago Silva. 

It was the final straw for a fanbase that grew accustomed to so much more over the previous two decades, and the San Siro has resembled a ghost town so far this season. Berlusconi contemplated an old trick this summer to pacify supporters of bringing in a well past his prime star and pretending it is a big signing, but the fans were not fooled and the return of Kaka never gained much traction.

The Rossoneri are supposedly in the midst of a youth movement, but the starting lineup against Genoa featured just two players under the age of 25, including El Shaaraway who celebrated his 20th birthday this weekend and remains the only bright spot for the club. His striker partner on Saturday, Alexandre Pato, is still only 23, but his promise has long evaporated due to a succession of injuries.  

Certainly none of the top young players in the world have been linked with a move to Milan, and nobody will arrive in time to rescue the current campaign in which the Rossoneri have a better chance of being relegated than challenging for the title. With Berlusconi now further distracted by his conviction on tax fraud, the time is right to let someone else attempt to return the club to its past glory.

El Shaarawy dedicated his goal this weekend to the beleaguered club president, an indication he is still beloved by his players. And the Berlusconi era should be remembered fondly by the fans with the good times far outweighing the bad, but the longer he sticks around, behaving like an absentee father, his image in the footballing world may become every bit as tarnished as his image everywhere else.

It was another eventful weekend in Serie A with Roma suffering a momentum halting 3-2 home defeat  to Udinese after a first-half brace form Erik Lamela had given the Giallorossi a two-goal advantage. Napoli overcame the absence of Edinson Cavani due to injury, notching a hard-fought 1-0 win over Chievo, while Inter made it five consecutive victories with a 3-1 triumph away to Bologna.   

Some Other Thoughts:

*Plenty of refereeing controversy throughout Italy this weekend, and Juventus was, unsurprisingly, at the center of it all, as Arturo Vidal’s rebound winner in the second half against Catania came after Nicklas Bendtner had shot from an offsides position. The Elephants had already been denied a perfectly good goal with Gonzalo Bergessio’s tap in incorrectly ruled offside by referee Andrea Gervasoni. 

Catania supporters were further enraged when the home side went down to 10 men as a result of Giovanni Marchese’s second yellow card for a handling offense. The events marred another strong performance from Gigi Buffon who celebrated his 500th league match with a 3rd clean sheet this season.

*Lazio was also victimized by a terrible refereeing decision in a fiery 2-0 defeat away to Fiorentina on Sunday, as Stefano Mauri’s diving header was incorrectly ruled out for offside when the Biancocelesti trailed by only one goal early in the second half. Lazio finished the match with nine men, as both Cristian Ledesma and Hernanes were deservedly sent off for harsh tackles. Adem Ljajic and Luca Toni supplied the goals, as the Viola continued their surprising start to the campaign.

*Parma revealed earlier this week that Roberto Donadoni had signed a contract extension with the club, and the Gialloblu do appear to be in good hands with the former national team boss. Donadoni took over last January with Parma mired in 15th place and guided the club to a top-half-of-the table finish, and Parma is currently 7th after nine rounds this season, having notched consecutive victories. The latest positive result was a 3-1 win away to Torino on Sunday.