Is Serie A now a spent force in the Champions League?

Due to a prolonged bout of illness, I’ve spent the last few days huddled in a sweaty fetal ball watching the Godfather trilogy on an endless repeat (I say trilogy, though in truth I only watched the third one once, which is one more time than anyone is officially required to watch it.) This combination of repetitive immersion and humid cabin feverish isolation led me – on the occasions I ventured out into the world  – to believe I actually was, in some small capacity, Michael Corleone. Or at least someone very much like him, imbued with many of the same characteristics and responsibilities. This meant I would stride arrogantly down Clapham High Street to fetch some Lemsip, walking deliberately in time to the Nino Rota score I was humming in my head, fixing a variety of timid and non confrontational looking people with a sort of menacingly glazed dead pan stare, the type an early 70s Al Pacino perfected devastatingly, before he decided real acting was just shouting manically in every role. I mention this because I imagine Gennaro Gattuso to have undergone a similar delusional character merging at some point in his life, except in his case with Joe Pesci’s character from Goodfellas.

Gattuso’s ridiculously overblown reactions to a succession of mildly irritating things was straight out of the Pesci “angry short man” school of acting, or perhaps even a silent farce. It’s highlight was not the oft replayed controversial Joe Jordan head butt, or his rather frank and culturally aware statement that he considered this “speaking Scottish”, but his toddler in the playground pitch punching prat fit which displayed his frustrations far more succinctly – and comically – than his rather foolish pitch side scuffles. For it was plain to see what frustrations lay behind his behavior, and what reasons lay behind these frustrations. For all his lovely Just for Men black beardiness and gleamingly hairless torso, both he, and Milan, and by association the whole of Italian football, are a spent force at this level, and know it. Time waits for no man, no mater how angry he gets.
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Tottenham are a good side, but not the kind of side who should come to the San Siro and triumph so assuredly. Not in the world according to Blatter and Platini at any rate (though given FIFA’s principle of staging big events in run down, unsuitable places in need of stadium development, Sepp might possibly be persuaded to hold a World Cup in N17 eventually.)

The growing irrelevance of Italian football and the age of it’s practitioners always seems like too easy a cliché. Almost as if we know we should know better than to wheel out such antiquated tropes, no matter how true they still remain. It feels wrong to point it out, partly because it seems so obvious, partly because we do it every season and partly because the current European champions are an Italian team, achieving it as Treble winners no less. But then there are always exceptions to the rules, and many if not most believe that feat was very much a jewel in the crown of Jose Mourinho.

Manchester United soundly beat Milan 7-2 on aggregate at the same stage last season, though apologists could claim that that was Manchester United and a Milan team inferior to Mourinho’s Inter domestically. This season they’ve bought high profile players and are top of Seria A, no such excuses exist. However Robinho and Ibrahimovich are hardly the players to buy if you’re looking for verve and exuberance, or indeed big game performances. One’s a perennial flat track bully who considers himself an adequate replacement for the protagonist in Chuck Norris jokes. and the other is an unsettled troublesome brat who seems destined to follow the same path as Ronaldinho except without doing any of the good bits first. The suspicion is they’ve come for the money and glamour, but won’t really care. Certainly not in the way Gattuso cares, and probably not even in the same way Kaka cared. It’s surely only a matter of time before Pato – the one genuinely exciting young star they have – decides his talents are worth plying elsewhere, especially when – as expected – Spurs put this tie to bed and confirm that the 4th best team in England are easily superior to the best in Seria A.

In fact if Spurs hold out, they can probably lay claim to being the 6th best team in Europe (or thereabouts.) While there’s been a lot of talk of the Premier League’s hierarchical decline in the last few years, the annual European slog out is still very much between the English and the Spanish, and there are only really two teams in Spain. And one of the hasn’t got past this round for six years.