Two players supposedly very close to hanging up their boots in the summer helped put Italy’s Old Lady in a retirement home last night. Alessandro Nesta, the 33-year-old with the bad back, and Ronaldinho, the two-time former World Player of the Year said to be now well past his best, were simply inspirational in Milan’s 3-0 win over Juventus that effectively ended the Bianconeri’s already slim chances of winning the Scudetto.
La Stampa quite rightly called it: ‘the show of the survivors’. Nesta played just 13 minutes last season, an all-time low even for a player who went into the current campaign having only played 44 games since the 2006 World Cup. Chronic back problems meant he spent much of the last four years in Miami, seeking specialist treatment, which, when found to have worked little, persuaded Milan to recommend Nesta have potentially career-ending surgery.
Reflecting on that dark period of his career, Nesta told La Gazzetta dello Sport in September: “It hurt a lot to be away from the pitch. The worst moment came when I suffered my last setback last winter. I thought everything was finally in place and instead came the relapse. Milan made me anxious with this story of an operation. It seemed like a risk that I didn’t need to run. Now I appreciate even the most boring things about football, like being in training camp. I want to start again well.”
And start well he did. Milan Vice-President Adriano Galliani doesn’t recall ever seeing Nesta play as well as he has so far this season. The Italian media are clamouring for him to come out of international retirement, something Nesta has absolutely no intention of doing. “That chapter’s closed. If it were only down to me then I would play for the Azzurri again, but I won’t take the place of someone who has earned it through qualification.” Perhaps Francesco Totti should listen to his former Lazio rival.
As for Ronaldinho, the 29-year-old Brazilian looks to have finally rediscovered the smile that was so often a harbinger of his best form at Barcelona. Ronie set up Nesta’s 29th minute opener and then scored twice to put the game beyond Juve, and put himself into contention for a return to Carlos Dunga’s Brazil side. It’s little wonder La Gazzetta dello Sport chose a shot of Ronaldinho with a beaming buck-toothed smile straddling Nesta’s ‘bad’ back as it’s lead picture in this morning’s paper.
Speaking after the game, he said: “I am happy. I always play and I feel good physically.” La Gazzetta dello Sport also added that, “while Juventus-Milan is not a global derby as defined on TV, it certainly is a game that many people watch. Probably even Dunga. And the door to the World Cup opens a little bit more.” Asked about his chances of going to the World Cup, Ronie replied: “Right now Milan are all that’s in my head. I want to make the Milan fans happy and win something with this team.”
Whether Milan win the Scudetto or not will depend a great deal on the outcome of the Derby della Madonnina later this month. The Rossoneri are eight points behind League leaders Inter with a game in hand, albeit one against Fiorentina. But the sensation is that no matter how good Milan are currently playing, their poor start to the season and Inter’s unrelenting consistency will ultimately tell in May.
Inter showed on Saturday by twice coming back from behind to beat Siena 4-3 in the 92nd minute just how determined they are not to relinquish their title. Jose Mourinho fully appreciated that the victory was nothing short of psychological gold dust, telling Sky Sport Italia: “We knew Milan and Juventus were incredibly happy at the 87th minute, fairly happy at the 88th and at the 93rd maybe some televisions were thrown out the window.”
It remains to be seen whether that, and Sunday’s defeat to Milan, their heaviest at home in Serie A in 13 years, results in Juventus showing Ciro Ferrara the door.
- A number of Italian clubs have expressed concern for their players at the African Cup of Nations in Angola, following the attack on a bus carrying the Togo national team through the enclave of Cabinda on Friday. Udinese have moved to secure the return of Kwadwo Asamoah, the 21-year-old Ghana international midfielder, who is due to play in Cabinda in Group B along with the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso.
- Just when it appeared Lazio had sorted out their issues, putting a three-game unbeaten run together, a bombshell arrives from Argentina. After calling out Mauro Zarate, Lazio manager Davide Ballardini faced the wrath of the player’s brother. “Ballardini should apologise, otherwise at the end of the season Lotito will have to choose between Mauro and the manager”former Ancona flop, Sergio Zarate raged. It didn’t take long for Ballardini to reply: “I am certainly not the one who should be apologising. I would do it all over again.” Luckily for Ballardini, Sergio Floccari, Zarate’s stand-in, appears to be the signing of the January transfer window so far, having scored three goals in his first two games for the club.
- Napoli are still unbeaten since Walter Mazzarri took charge on October 6. Sunday’s 1-0 victory over Mazzarri’s former side Sampdoria, sent Napoli third and with Andrea Dossena joining from Liverpool, the Partenopei have the strength in depth to make a push for Champions League qualification.