Ironically, it could be said that the time of the year when the largest proportion of football fans are happy is when there is no football being played at all. While we all, of course, miss our weekly dose of the beautiful game during the summer months, it comes as great relief to know that during June and July at least, there is absolutely no chance of our teams contriving to ruin our weekend, again.
As such, emotional scars from the previous campaign heal, while positive sound bites from within our clubs drum up fresh optimism for the year ahead. Past sins are, for the most part, forgiven as hope and anticipation reach fever pitch in time for the opening day of the new season.
The above sentiments could certainly be said to be true of Milan fans, who watched their beloved Rossoneri lurch from one disaster to another during last term. A humiliating Champions League exit to Atletico Madrid, an eighth place Serie A finish and two coaching casualties were some of the lows that ensured that in the end, the summer could not come quickly enough at San Siro.
How time can be a great healer though. Yesterday afternoon, new Rossoneri Coach Pippo Inzaghi and his players were given a rousing reception by thousands of buoyant tifosi as they arrived at the club’s Casa Milan headquarters to mark the start of a new dawn. “People have forgotten who Milan is, what it represents and the fact this is the most successful club in the world,” the boss said at his first Press conference in charge. “I think the most important thing is to recreate the DNA of Milan.”
It was a rallying cry echoed by club joint-CEO Barbara Berlusconi. “The objective is to qualify for the Champions League,” the club President’s daughter declared. “Therefore, this is a positive moment and an emblematic one that should be remembered.”
Considering the Rossoneri finished last season a staggering 21 points off qualification to Europe’s premier club competition, these are big words. They appear bigger still when the club badly lack the sort of financial clout that will probably be needed to bridge the gap between themselves and last year’s top three of Juventus, Roma and Napoli. Alex, Jeremy Menez and Michael Agazzi have all arrived at San Siro for no cost this summer, while reports suggest that Adil Rami is having to fork out €500,000 of his own money to help the Rossoneri sign him from Valencia for €4.25m. These are hardly the dealings of a Champions League team in the making.
Over at Inter’s training camp in Pinzolo meanwhile, Nerazzurri boss Walter Mazzarri set his stall out for the new campaign. “My teams always have a soul and this year I want to see more,” he claimed having presided over a thoroughly mixed first season in charge. “If we do things better than others, if we push together for a result, we can do better than those who are considered technically better than us.”
Though Mazzarri stopped short of naming a specific aim for the season ahead, it is clear he too will be expected to deliver a big improvement on last term’s fifth place finish. An ability to convert some of the whopping 15 draws amassed during 2013-14 into wins would be a good start, but as with their San Siro rivals they have huge ground to make up.
Just how much President Erick Thohir is willing to invest in making the necessary additions remains to be seen, while Mazzarri must also go about the unenviable task of filling a Javier Zanetti-sized hole within the Nerazzurri dressing room. As the Coach alluded to, his team’s chances of success this year will probably be largely dependent on whether they can amount to something greater than the sum of their parts.
At a time of the footballing calendar when talking and image are everything, both Milan clubs are doing all they can to make the right noises in their efforts to win tifosi round in time for the start of the season. Once August 31 comes, however, the talking will stop and they will be expected to deliver. Should they fail, the positive media spin they attempt to generate - and any lofty targets they set - over preseason will be used as a stick with which to beat them.