The team sheets did not inspire confidence; all they did was remind the fans of how far the clubs had fallen. It was April 2015, it felt like the end of an era, no, the end of a world order. Then it happened. From the bleak grey swirling staircases of San Siro, a firework was thrown. Its deep boom in the aching belly of the cathedral was felt in the pit of everybody’s stomach. What happened next was one of the best pyrotechnic displays the Derby Della Madonnina has ever seen. It didn’t feel like a cry for help, it felt like the Derby was crying out ‘I’m not dead yet’. That was then, but there have been many stories since and yes, this year, there is another.
As a lover of the beautiful game, there are matches that you feel you ought to experience. Like a religious pilgrimage or rite of passage. Real Madrid v Barcelona, River Plate v Boca Juniors and Milan v Inter are right up there. Call it the friendly Derby if you will, there is no doubt that the game does not have the ferocity of its equivalent in Rome, but it still grips the city all the same. Few games will see two groups of fans bouncing and singing together as they often do in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. This however, does not mean it is tame, nor does the city not live and breathe it beforehand.
It is quite the opposite, speak to anyone in Milan in the month before this fixture and the feeling is clear, it matters. The interesting thing about Milano and why perhaps it is so amazingly forward thinking is because of the way people view things, always in context. It is almost a life skill. They do not talk of the Derby as they do in so many other cities, judging that because they are the team of the city (enter Roma) that they have a natural right to the ancient spoils. There is often little talk of entitlement or right. The Milanese judge themselves, often too harshly on the present. It is about development, where the teams are and, crucially where they are going.
Speak to any waiter, shopkeeper, taxi driver, lawyer or, okay I have to, fashion designer, in Milan this weekend and you will get the same story. There will be no stories of hatred, there will be little talk or the great Milan side or thee treble-winning Inter side (well, maybe a few but this would mostly be form foreigners.) What you will find instead is a city engrossed, no obsessed with where their team is now.
Progression is essential. Look at the city and it tells you its own story. It is a modern and beautiful backdrop drenched in history, but these buildings that could be in a museum are often drenched in modern logos, designer brands, shiny glass windows with new, opulent goods inside.
The Rossoneri in the city will be talking of the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the version of 4-4-2 that Stefano Pioli has created (okay we may get an Arrigo Sacchi mention here), they will talk of the revival of 2020, they will talk of the fact that they are underdogs for this one, they can upset Inter’s title chances. Even if they do get nostalgic, it will have a nostalgic twist. Will Maldini play? Not Paolo, Daniel.
The Nerazzurri fans will be nervous, it is true. They need to keep pace with Juventus. This is a story of a decade of stagnation. Why didn’t Massimo Moratti realise that the Treble side was the end of an era and not the beginning? That is all in the past now, Suning are in charge and have had the foresight to employ a Scudetto-winning team of Beppe Marotta and Antonio Conte. Inter want this Derby, they need this Derby, they can smell the Scudetto, but the Madonnina is in the way, they need to beat Zlatan.
This is the story of the 2020 Derby Della Madonnina. Every Derby is special, as this city lives in the moment, but never forgets its history. On Sunday, the routine will be the same, the aching belly of San Siro will be rocked by the bellowing noise of a firework, the night sky will be illuminated by an unexpected flare on the walkway. The Ultras will tell their own story from the Curva, often attaching history to relevance. This is the Derby Della Madonnina. This is Milano.