Can the Battle for San Siro propel Inter or AC Milan to greater Serie A success?
The 2018/19 Serie A season's first Derby della Madonnina takes place tonight when Inter and AC again dispute the Giuseppe Meazza, the ground they share, otherwise known as San Siro. The derby remains among the biggest fixtures on the Italian calendar despite neither club winning a trophy since 2010/11 when the Milanese giants split the domestic double, AC winning the Scudetto, Inter the Coppa Italia.
Since then, both sides struggled in the league and endured unsettling periods off the pitch during which their long-term owners divested. Neither takeover ran smoothly. Both teams changed hands again. Such instability is far from the formula required to evict Juventus from their seven-year residence atop Italian football.
The Moratti family were associated with Inter since 1955 when Angelo became club president. He spent 13 years at the helm. Eventually, his son Massimo became President, serving two terms from 1995-2004, then 2006-13. He then sold the Nerazzurri to Erick Thohir. The Indonesian remains team president but quickly turned over 70% of the club to Suning Holdings Group, whose majority shareholder is Chinese billionaire Zhang Jindong. Suning declared its interest in obtaining Thohir's remaining shares. The media tycoon is yet to agree.
Milan were owned by former Italian Prime Minister and communications magnate, Silvio Berlusconi, for 31 years. In 2017, he sold the club to Chinese investor Li Yonghong but all was not as it seemed. Li financed his purchase through US Hedge Fund, Elliott Management, who took over the club a year later when he couldn't make payments. Many expected the investment group's ownership to be shortlived but they remain in charge although it is thought other parties have inquired about the club's availability.
Photo: Enrico Bonifazi
It's clear that to return to Italian football's pinnacle, both clubs require investment. At the moment, neither's on firm footing. Remaining ownership issues impede long-term planning. Their Turin rivals are miles ahead in that department and gaining ground, their football and business projects all thriving.
Inter are in a better position than their co-tenants after returning to the Champions League for the first time since 2011/12. Luciano Spalletti's squad finished fourth last season, benefitting from UEFA's rule change mandating four automatic group stage berths for Serie A, the Premier League, La Liga and Bundesliga. A year earlier and they'd have been in the Europa League.
Gennaro Gattuso's Rossoneri are missing in the Champions League since 2013/14. Despite a net spend just over €233 million in the past two campaigns, they don't look like returning anytime soon. Over the last five seasons, they've failed to make the top six. Milan remain on the outside this term, albeit with a game in hand on the competition. While Gattuso's competitive drive has kept them from defeat in all but one league match, too many draws hold them back.
Both sides field strong XIs but lack depth. Inter's key man is Mauro Icardi. The Argentine scored at least 20 goals in three of the last four seasons and boasts a solid start to this campaign with three leagues goals and another two in the Champions League. Other stars include Slovakian centre-back, Milan Skriniar and Croatian winger Ivan Perisic. One or two more top players might close the gap with the Old Lady.
Milan's key men are Gonzalo Higuain and Suso. The Argentine striker posted four goals and an assist leading up to the international break. The Spanish winger added two and six. Like Inter, too many players exist only to make up the numbers. Gattuso fills them with fight but they are leagues from a title run. The Champions League is probably beyond them, too.
It's early in the campaign, but Juventus' perfect start leaves them eight points clear of Inter and a dozen beyond Milan. Despite the Scudetto being out or reach, neither club's season should be written off. There's a massive gap to be closed with work to be done on and off the pitch. Stability will breed success. Both clubs must find it quickly. That journey can start with a win on Sunday. The winner can ride their confidence through to the holidays but the loser must put it behind them. Serie A is a better place with both Milan clubs in the title picture.