When the Champions League final for 2016 was confirmed to take place at the San Siro, fans of AC Milan and Inter Milan would have been dreaming of following their side on a road back to the top of Europe which ended on home territory.
After all, only Real Madrid have won more than AC Milan’s seven European Cups, while Inter Milan were crowned champions of Europe as recently as five years ago.
Instead the Milan final has seen European football give the city a rather cruel twist of fate. For while the cream of Europe will be in Milan next May, it won’t be featuring one of the local clubs.
In fact not even the Europa League finale in Basle will be welcoming the duo. For the first time in 60 years neither of AC Milan or Inter Milan will be playing European football.
The emergence of Juventus in the Champions League this season may have given indications that Italian football was heading back in the right direction, but nobody told AC or Inter who have been in a slow demise for half-a-decade now.
Inter Milan missed out on a Europa League by a point after finishing eighth, and even that comes after sixth placed Genoa rather farcically messed up their paperwork for a European place, thus handing a spot to rivals Sampdoria.
And it’s even worse for AC Milan, as the second most successful club in the history of Europe’s premier club competition is these days just about scraping into the top 10 of Italy.
So what’s gone wrong? For AC Milan, their tenth place finish in Serie A is their worst since 1997 and question marks remain over whether Filippo Inzaghi is competent enough to be given a second chance next season.
As a legendary striker for the club, Inzaghi is a popular figure at the Rossoneri but he has struggled in his first year as a manager.
In defence of Inzaghi he’s hardly playing with the best set of cards dealt to a Milan manager in recent times. Times when the club were a top destination for the world’s finest players are gone.
In fact, Milan are now taking cast-offs from Chelsea. Fernando Torres was off loaded to the San Siro in the first half of the season (before flopping and quickly departing) while another fringe player in Marco van Ginkel was called upon on loan.
Even former Blue Michael Essien is still on the books at Milan, despite his best Chelsea days being gone long ago.
It’s a far cry from the days when Milan contained a team of household names around the globe with the likes of Paolo Maldini, Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit forming part of a 1990 team which was the last to retain the European Cup.
Even as recent as 2013 the club were still qualifying for the Champions League, but perhaps the most alarming of thoughts for AC Milan is that their slide down the table has not come as much real surprise.
And it’s not looking much better at Inter. Five years ago Jose Mourinho was celebrating winning the club’s first ever treble as manager.
The team that defeated Bayern Munich 2-0 in the Champions League final contained Javier Zanetti, Esteban Cambiasso, Wesley Sneijder, Samuel Eto’o – a healthy blend of experience, long servants and top class talent which fired Inter to the pinnacle of Europe.
Mourinho glued it all together of course but following his swift departure to Real Madrid the team quickly fell apart.
Replacement Rafa Benitez didn’t last half-a-season and the European conquering side was quickly broken up. Like AC, the club under Roberto Mancini are now recruiting has-beens.
Xherdan Shaqiri is another player pinched off the bench from a European rival (and defeated 2010 finalists) Bayern Munich, while Gary Medel was signed from a relegated Cardiff team.
It appears the creation of Financial Fair Play struck both Milan clubs at the worst possible time, but the slow phase out of the rule does at least offer the sleeping giants a clearer road to the top of Europe again.
Right now though, Milan’s leading clubs are playing with average squads and until ambition increases in the transfer market, neither Mancini or Inzaghi will have much hope of helping Inter or AC reach the top of Italy again any time soon, let alone Europe.