It Was Only Five Years Ago…

Better days...

You know, that wasn’t the original title of this column…..

First it was, “Oh how the mighty have fallen…,”

AC Milan and Liverpool tangled in one of the best Champion’s League finals I can recall in recent memory, but they are also the answer to this question: What two perennial Champ’s League finalists are in the most disarray?

Back to the game…

It was one of the most dramatic soccer games I’ve ever witnessed. Will today’s Barcelona-Inter Milan semi’s match-up rival it?

The 2005 Champion’s League Final was, in short, one of those great games that even those who were not rooting for one of the sides recollect the environment where they watched it.

I remember watching the game in a rickety taco shack in the SoMa neighborhood of San Francisco. The crappy tables offset–oddly–by a gorgeous new HD television. I remember the incredulous final score (and victors) and emailing Shaun–a Liverpool fan–right afterward to ask him if his heart was still beating.

The final, a classic. AC Milan versus Liverpool in Istanbul, Turkey of all places.

The storyline? An improbable 3-2 penalties win after a 3-3 deadlock for perennial the bridesmaids from Liverpool. The Reds hadn’t won a major championship in nearly 20 years before that one.

Gerrard's goal should probably just be known in Champion's League lore as: "The Header"

However, as the storyline goes, it couldn’t have begun much worse for the team from Anfield. Just a minute in, Rafa and company found themselves on the wrong side of 1-0 on a goal by all-century Milan captain Paolo Maldini. The score then drooped to 2-0 for the English side and finally 3-0 before the break.

The trophy all but being etched permanently with victory for the Rossoneri.

But it was Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard in a game that at once created and stamped his legacy anew who notched a goal and a foul suffered to bring the team back and swap the scrawl on the trophy and history.

Take a moment to check out the clip below if you’re new to Champ’s League ball.

What’s immediately odd now about this all-time classic is the juxtaposition of the crumbling of Milan and Liverpool in 2010.

Six of one-half dozen the other who is in more dire straits and who is further from a return to glory.

Liverpool

After a second place finish last year in the Premiership, Liverpool are looking at a 2011 devoid of Champion’s League soccer.

The most fervent supporters will direct you to the ownership assumption by Americans Tom Hicks and George Gillette in 2007 as the catalyst for the club’s struggles. However the truth is it’s some amalgamation of the ownership’s financial management, the albatross of a new stadium with a completion that gets pushed out more than Brett Favre’s retirement, and a manager skilled at field tactics, but woefully anemic at player selection and building depth.

Just this past week, Hicks and Gillette looked to concede defeat on their investment and refinance $300M in debt for the club and sell a major stake in that club. The stadium, um, yeah….

Everything else that Rafa has tried has been...well...shabby.

On the pitch, the team has failed due to a reliance on two superstars who continually battle injuries (Gerrard and Torres) and season long search for a replacement for 2005 Champ’s League final equalizer scorer Xabi Alonso as the forecasted replacement, Alberto Aquilani, has played 27 seconds against teams not named Burnley.

Liverpool attempt to make the Europa Cup final in a decisive game against Atletico Madrid this Thursday.

‘Pools future? Highly dependent on replenishing both depth and adding superstars–hard to do without the Champ’s League monies to back bringing in talent. And there is also the matter of whether the manager who brought them the Final gold in 2005, Rafa Benitez, stays or gets rejuvenated at Juventus next campaign.

AC Milan

As sad as Liverpool’s situation is AC Milan for their part, might have to scale a bigger mountain back to the elite. Not only do they have similar financial struggles, but the eighteen they run out each game is simply decrepit.

Pato: Milan's one attacking asset....

Nearly the entire team is past their prime with the exception of two Brazilians: centerback Thiago Silva and forward (and one of TSG’s favorite players) Pato.

The mix of adding more veterans to this year’s team has failed with two counted on contributors (David Beckham, and Azzurri king Alexander Nesta) out for the year.

Can they get anything at all in return for their hotel laundry list of  elder statesmen–in no particular order: Pirlo, Zammbrotta, Gattuso, Seedorf, Jankulovski, Ronaldhino.

And a quick aside on Ronaldhino…what a fraud?! Exerts and focuses himself for a few short months in a me-myself-and-I effort to get a look for the World Cup. What….have….you….done…lately, Ronaldhino?

The results on the pitch this year have been just as fraudulent. Manchester United playfully dismissed the Rossoneri in the Champion’s League (7-2 in aggregate) and Milan has already mathematically scuttled it’s attempt at the Scudetto.

The shepherd of those results? Former Brazilian great Leonardo, who’s completely lost the players and is rumored to have attempted to walk out on the club a few weeks ago.

And finally we get to the finances. After selling Kaka for $59 to Real Madrid last summer, Milan has hardly made a dent in organizing the books coming out this past week and stating that 2010’s financial results will be harder than 2009.

Here’s the question. How is a club listed as one of the wealthiest in Europe, playing in the largest stadium in Italy, and owned by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in debt and facing losses in the tens of millions this year?!

Something is fishy.

About the only good thinkgabout the Milan’s predicament rounding out the ’09-’10 season is that the state of affiars should allow some playing time for returning centerback Oguchi Onyewu. Oh wait this is an American publication.

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18 responses to this post.

  1. Liverpool will be saved next season when they sign Clint Dempsey.

    Reply

    • Why would Dempsey want to board that sinking ship?

      Reply

      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/28 at 7:04 AM

        I heard rumours earlier in the season that Hodgson was being lined up to take over. Is this where the Dempsey rumours came from too, becasue I haven’t heard anything similar since?

        Reply

        • My dream scenario is that Liverpool’s European adventure sputters to an end on Thursday, Chelsea put another 7 past them at Anfield on the weekend and then they lose on the final day to a Hull City side with nothing to play for but pride.

          Meanwhile, Everton take care of business against Stoke and Portsmouth to slide into the final European place. Fulham win on Thursday to get into the Europa league final, which they go on to win, getting an invite to next year’s competition despite finishing 9th.

          No Liverpool in Europe next season while Donovan and Dempsey are both playing European football. All is right in the world.

          Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/28 at 9:41 AM

          The bisggest thing that annoys me is that Liverpool seem to get preferential treatment over Everton from Liverpool City Council when it comes to zoning laws and planning permission. I reckon if Everton had submitted the exact plans for the Stanley Park stadium, it would have been rejected. This is not factual or scientific, but just my gut feeling (which has been somewhat backed up by (biased) blue-Liverpudlians)…

          Reply

  2. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/28 at 5:40 AM

    Re. the second half come back, you forgot to mention Didi Hamann’s introduction which allowed Gerrard to play in his best position – central attacking midfield. It was a magnificent and historic comeback, but don’t forget Hamann’s contribution!

    I think the problem with Liverpool (and Everton) is that they have this romantic notion of being a peoples’ club belonging to the community. That’s was all well and good back in the day, but they have fallen behind others team’s financial clout, whether that be through massive globalisation efforts or billionaire takeovers. But the amazing thing is that their net spend is still relatively high considering their league “success”.

    I hate to mention Arsenal, but what they have done on and off the pitch with the financial constraints is amazing.

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/04/28 at 8:01 AM

      Arsenal is a good comparison. As an Everton fan, I would have to say that ‘Pool fancy they are a big club in the realm with Chelsea and Manchester United….
      ….and like you point out, they don’t have an Arsene Wenger to direct cheaper younger talent and win with turnover.

      Also, you had American business folk come in, who truly don’t understand the game. Whether they are doing a good or poor job is anyone’s call,, but they certainly don’t manage the club with a fanatical bent…

      If you really look at Liverpool this year, they–had to–concentrate on two talents that were risky and did have the coffers on the finance side or the nose on the talent selection side to provide the depth.

      Reply

      • Posted by sfshwebb on 2010/04/28 at 8:53 AM

        I think that most of Liverpool’s issues this year stem from that they have no central creativity. I actually like Lucus as a player but having two defensive midfielders stifles any creativity and if they don’t see eye to eye messes up the defense. Also Benitez uses zonal marking. It was proven his first year that it wasn’t working but being a stubborn ass he refuses to let it go. Over half the goals conceeded this year have come some form of set piece.

        Last year they clicked as a team even with injuries to both Torres and Gerrard. Alonso was a huge part of the engine that ran the team and the believed in each other and more importantly the manager. Rafa has to go. He’s done all right, won some trophies but has not taken liverpool to the top. If Gerrard and Torres go and i don’t blame them if they do, it will give them an opportunity to rebuild. They do have some promising youngsters in the academy.

        5 years ago they had a solid nucleus of players playing a team game. Now they don’t believe in rafa’s system and rest everything on two players shoulders. No one has any confidence as Benitez and squashed it out of them.

        Reply

      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/28 at 9:23 AM

        Liverpool are a big club, they have finished in the top 4 fairly consistently. The issue is that they still think that they’re as big as they used to be. They have a impressive history and tradition, but the reality is that if they’re not playing CL football, then said history and tradition isn’t going to attract the players to Liverpool. With City, Villa and Spurs now in the picture, unless Liverpool get their act together, they’ll end up being a ‘sleeping giant’.

        Matt, (not trying to wind you up) – before the formation of the EPL, Everton and Liverpool were the two main teams of the 1980s. One could say that Liverpool could end up like Everton?

        Reply

        • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/04/28 at 9:46 AM

          Not winding me up at all GeorgeCross.

          I root for Everton to balance out my fandom to the New York Yankees…I like the fact they are, in fact, The People’s Club and that they have to do with what they can and sell stars.

          I started actually taking a liking to Everton during Wayne Rooney’s upcoming…

          I don’t think that will happen to Liverpool though. I think they’ll be mired in some relative top eight football for a few years, but a stadium will come to that city and it will go to Liverpool.

          There bigger issue I think once the stadium is complete is fighting for new fans with Everton.

          London: 9M people
          Manchester: 2.6M (I think)
          Greater Meyerside: 1.3M

          The real issue, beyond monies, in missing Champ’s League football is the exposure, fans, and …MONEY it gets the club from fans in other places.

          That’s the danger. Not playing at that level will certainly hurt the club in player acquisition as well.

          These are different times–and you point out Arsenal–where many of the great soccer players in the best league (EPL) don’t come from England anymore.

          How will Liverpool be able to attract outside talent outside of Champ’s League….that’s their conundrum…

          …that is also why I think US Soccer players are on the up-and-up…it’s a double positive for a good player as if you’re a big club and you have the choice between Adebayor from Togo and the “new Adebayor” from the States and everything is even…you have to go with the guys from the States.

          Need to do a column on this…

          Reply

        • We should sign this “new Adebayor” up for the national team, fast!

          Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/28 at 10:05 AM

          Point taken – Everton will always be a selling club (see: Agard, Rodwell and Gosling)

          Saying that, Liverpool have a massive following all over the world. I agree, the new challenge will be getting a slice of the fan-base from emerging footballing markets. I hear Everton want to capitalise on Cahill and do their pre-season in Australia…

          Reply

  3. Posted by Tom M on 2010/04/28 at 1:15 PM

    Something popped into my head when Matthew was talking about his Everton affiliation. Maybe you could do a column asking people how they came to root for the teams they root for. I’m speaking to the people who root for a Euro team with no real geographical reasons. Why is it that most Americans favorite team is from England? Is it tv exposure? Americans abroad? Just an idea

    Reply

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