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Bish's Briefs: Big-spending Madrid can heap misery on free-falling AC Milan

2009-10-20

Between them they’ve won 16 European Cups. They have two of world football’s most politically engaging and controversial Presidents in Florentino Perez and Silvio Berlusconi, and have won the Champions League more times than anyone else since its inception in 1992.

On Wednesday night, AC Milan travel to the Santiago Bernabeu to take on the only club to have won more European Cups than themselves - Real Madrid. It’s a showpiece occasion central to the creation of both Europe’s and the world’s elite club competition.

In the Champions League's inaugural season, the Rosseneri lost the final to Marseille (who have since been stripped of the title). Since 1992, Milan have contested a record six finals, whilst their hosts on Wednesday share their record of winning three.

However, as Madrid’s star has been illuminated by the bank borrowings of Perez, the once mighty Milan continue to struggle with a side of ageing stars and a President more concerned with his battle with the Italian courts.

Take a look at the Real Madrid line-up and you see players at the top of their game – Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso, Lassana Diarra, Iker Casillas and the man who left the San Siro in June for £56m, Kaka.

Compare that to a Milan side heavily concentrated with players past the peak of the powers, or those stepping out on the path to stardom – Alessanndro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso, Ronaldinho, Alexandre Pato and Andrea Pirlo – the man who re-invented the playmaker role and orchestrated the beat to which Milan used to reverberate to, but now, at 30, finds his possessional proficiency wasted without Kaka in-front of him.

Only Livorno, anchored to the bottom of Serie A, have scored fewer goals in Italy's top divison than Milan this season.

Milan have been in decline since their last league title in 2004, finishing second the following season, and slipping down a further place for the next three seasons, before hauling themselves back into the Champions League with a third place finish last season.

Their Champions League nightmare in 2005 and vengeance in 2007 covering the cracks of an ageing squad in desperate need of repair. A sticking plaster approach was used, with little investment in primed players, insufficient to keep Milan at the top of the European game.

It’s not just Milan in decline, but Italian football - once the powerhouse of the European game, at a time when Milan won back-to-back European Cups in 1989 & 1990 – the last side to do so. Between 1989 and 1996, Italian clubs won the competition on four occasions, since then only Milan (2003 and 2007) have prevailed as Spain and England have overtook them, funded by media millions.

Perfectly encapsulating this is the transfer of Kaka, the totem of the 2004-07 Milan, who became Perez’s 1st Galatico signing of his second Presidency, whilst Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, moved in the opposite direction. Milan are yet to score in over 300 minutes when he has been on the pitch for them this season.

The defensive slip by Thiago Motta that gifted Roma a 3rd minute opener at the San Siro on Sunday night was their season in a microcosm. A renaissance from Ronaldinho, who looks on the brink of an Indian summer to a career that has de-railed to almost comical proportions, got Leonardo’s men out of jail, as he did when he was introduced from the bench at Atalanta in their previous League outing.

The 2-1 win over Roma was their first win in five games and leaves them languishing in 8th place.

Madrid, top scorers in La Liga as well as top scorers in this season’s Champions League, with eight goals from their opening two fixtures, will not be fighting the fear that Milan used to take with them around Europe.

An almost unthinkable 1-0 defeat to FC Zurich at the San Siro on Matchday 2 and a 4-0 defeat to city rivals, and reigning Italian Champions, Inter, in August - their heaviest derby defeat since 1975 – have seen to that.

Can Madrid become the first side to move European Cup honours into double figures this season? It remains a tall order. As i was wgeb Perez was last in the President’s chair, when Madrid won just one Champions League, despite boasting a team containing Zinedine Zidane, Raul, Luis Figo and Ronaldo, the focus remains on bringing in big-name attacking players and neglecting the basis upon which nearly all successful sides are built upon – defence.

Their early La Liga form has shown that they can obliterate the League’s poorer sides, but their slip-up at Sevilla’s Sanchez Pizjuan when they fell to a 2-1 defeat before the recent international break showcased their shortcomings.

Madrid have fallen in the first knock-out round of the Champions League in the last five seasons, and although a summer spending spree, reaching nearly £200m, should improve their progression this season, a record 10th title, or even a thirrd successive final appearance for £80 million-man Ronaldo, may be too much.

How Milan would enjoy such lavish spending. At the peak of their playing and financial powers Carlo Ancelotti, Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Roberto Donadoni all found the scoresheet for Arrigo Sacchi’s side in a 5-0 European Cup Semi-Final 2nd leg win over Real Madrid in April 1989 – a result that to this day remains Madrid’s heaviest ever-defeat in their European history.

Such heady days seem as far away as they have ever been for Milan, as does the thought of them returning to the Bernabeu in May to contest this season’s Champions League final, in search of an eighth European Cup triumph.

- Andy Bishop

READ BISH'S BRIEFS EVERY WEDNESDAY EXCLUSIVELY AT FOOTBALL.CO.UK

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