Who Else But Zlatan?
Two clubs, one city, one stadium. Internazionale and AC Milan conjures images of fleet-footed technicians, red mist and blue flares, abandoned pitches, wonder strikes, fiery bust ups and footballing pedigree that few cities around the world can match up to. Oh, and probably the most iconic image in the sport.
Marco Materazzi and Rui Costa, photographed in 2005 by Stefan Rellandini
Last season, Inter stopped Juventus (then nine-time consecutive winners) from collecting an unprecedented tenth Serie A title, much to the dismay of Agnelli, Nedvěd et al. It was Inter’s first title in eleven years, and 19th in total. So what did Milan decide to do this week? Simple, pip Inter to win their first title in eleven years, and 19th in total. The title may have remained in Milan, but the city has quickly gone from Nerazzurri to I Rossoneri. And who else to lead the pack, than a certain 40-year-old, Taekwondo black belt, cigar smoking, champagne popping, overhead-kicking-from-the-halfway-line footballing genius. He’s so good, he’s even trademarked his own name.
Yes, Zlatan Ibrahimović — formerly of Inter, mind — contributed to a wonderful season under Stefano Pioli where AC went toe-to-toe with Inter, beating them to the Scudetto on the final day of the season: 86 points over Inter’s 84. It may not have been as close as the Premier League’s title fight between Liverpool and City, but boy was it a hell of a title chase. Before the climax, the city of Milan was entirely divided, with the spoils tipped to go either way. In fact, Inter were edging closer towards the 'favourites' title having beaten AC in the Coppa Italia semi-final (and Juve in the final, adding further insult to The Old Lady’s injuries) before an unfortunate error from stand-in goalkeeper Ionuț Radu cost them a crucial three points against underdogs Bologna. It was a turning point, with shades of Loris Karius in the Champions League final against Real Madrid, and one we hope doesn’t have similar effects on the talented young ‘keeper.
Milan beat Sassuolo 3-0 to win the Serie A after eleven years
But let’s not take anything away from Milan. A team, galvanised under Pioli, with veterans including Giroud, (a sidelined but equally important) Kjær and Ibra offering wisdom to new, bright, generational talents like Theo, Daniel Maldini, Saelemaekers and a central defender that needs to be on the plane to Qatar, Fikayo Tomori. Not forgetting the stand out performances from Donnarumma-successor Mike Maignan, a rejuvenated Franck Kessié, and Olivier Giroud making the no. 9 shirt his own. The finest of wines. It was a season to remember, even if Pioli’s winner’s medal got stolen during the subsequent pitch invasion.
Back to the Zlatan at hand. You couldn’t help but smile as Sweden men’s all-time top goalscorer swaggered onto the pitch, champagne popping, smoking a Davidoff Escurio Gran Toro cigar. What can we say, the man has good taste.