One of Chelsea Boy's best childhood friends has moved over to Rome for a year with his partner, and last night was their first ever trip to the Olimpico. As introductory experiences go, I think it must have been a corker. The match was exciting, open, skilful, gripping from first to last and blessed by a few moments of real goalscoring magic. From the Distinti Nord where they were sat, the atmosphere was apparently really impressive, helped certainly by the unusally large number of Milanisti who were present (Rome-based migrants? or - surely not - Beckham enthusiasts? more him later). From within the Sud I have to say that, as all season, the atmosphere was not as great as it could be. We started really well but fell prey once more to tension. The game showed us that we've not wholly shaken off the malaise of the first 3 months or the anxieties it has produced. Once we play Samp on Wednesday (making up for the match suspended last November during unsuccessful testing to establish the viability of the Olimpico as a new Ark) we have made up our game in hand, and have to face ugly facts about still being below Lazio, Genoa, Napoli as well as the usual suspects Juve, Inter, Fiorentina and of course Milan.
Roma-Milan is a special game in a number of ways, not least the many links between the clubs. Carlo Ancelotti, former Roma hero, makes no bones about his desire to manage the giallorossi before he retires - indeed, he summons press conferences to that effect once every 3 or 4 days, a habit curiously irritating to the incumbent manager who has repeatedly complained about it. Spalletti & Ancelotti are also linked by their rather farcical meeting in Paris last summer, where each unbeknown to the other had been summoned to meet with the sinister henchmen of one R. Abramovich in a luxurious hotel, with view to a future position trying to make CB happy at Stamford Bridge. By mischance the two candidates met in a lobby - one of them apparently (and how we must regret the needless discretion which has kept silent the name of the individual in question) seeking refuge in the hotel toilets until his rival had passed, only to be foiled when his fellow Italian spotted him fleeing through the doorway. Meanwhile as the press has repeated as nauseam over the last few days, many of the players have close personal friendships (Pirlo & De Rossi, various of the many Brazilians, Totti & Gattuso - a friendship cemented via Vodafone). It's a big game wherever the two teams stand in the table, and with our desperate need for points and Milan's faltering scudetto challenge this edition was as important as ever.
That said all the pre-match furore was focused on one Beckham, D., and his likely effect (if any). Contradictory stories and opinions abounded in a breathless and profoundly unilluminating style. He was definitely going to be on the bench. He was going to play an hour. He wasn't even going to be on the team-sheet. Ancelotti thought he was great. Ancelotti thought he was hopelessly unfit. He was going to sign a permanent deal. He was going to never play a full game. He had been bought only for merchandising reasons. He was going to definitively demonstrate the inability of English players to perform in Serie A. etc etc. Nobody expected him to start, however. So of course that was what happened. And, wonder of wonders, the most famous man on the planet, idol to a thousand hairdressers, filler of 98.3% of all column inches in the last fortnight, turned out to play... well, ok actually. Made a few good passes, put in some nice crosses, worked for his team-mates, didn't try anything silly, didn't produce anything spectactular. He bustled over optimistically when a free kick was awarded, only to be summarily given the big Nish by first Ronaldinho and then Pirlo. He played almost the whole game, and gave a brief, pleasant, banal interview to a visibly overexcited journo with comedically over-accented English afterwards thanking his team-mates. End of story (oh, if only...) There was a predictable level and style of abuse - one chap bellowing in my ear invited him, in my grandfather's phrase, to combine sex with travel, in the company of all his fellow Englishmen. Aspersions were cast on Victoria's profession and his sexual proclivities. But I daresay he's pretty used to it all, and besides won't have understood a word of it.
So, the game.
Notice how Spalletti offers Carlo his spot on the home bench after an excessively hearty embrace between the two. Notice also the sheer genius of Pato, who at only 19 is already a truly alarming prospect, albeit one named for possibly the least imposing of all animals in a sporting context, the duck. Meanwhile, Milan's defence is not only geriatric but highly beatable (Antonio Gurrado describes Milan as being like a glamour model, overly abundant up front and terribly exposed at the rear) and though Vucinic obviously did well I can't help but feel that Totti would have sealed us the win. We got through their defence time and again only to screw up the finishing, or (worse, and Arsenal-like) somehow fail to have a proper shot on goal at all. My choleric friend Massimo, he of the phenomenal fluency in obscenity and insult, was on fine form. Porco dio, come famo a sbagliare così, la difesa del Milan c'ha tre cento novant'anni, c'è pure la befana in campo.
I was exhausted at the end, emotionally drained, hoarse of throat, slightly bruised from being sent properly flying at 2-2. De Rossi was once again truly extraordinary: the man is a colossus, bossing the midfield like few other players I have had the privilege to watch (and against the calibre of the Rossoneri's midfield, too). Vucinic was great, Baptista worked hard and won the ball, Cassetti started well but was all over the place for their second. Cicinho when he came on looked away with the fairies (Massimo: ma 'sto nano Brasiliano di merda, pensa di essere ancora in Brasile, cazzo gioca ancora cor infradito) and is rumoured to be off at the end of the season. But overall a draw was a fair result, and though frustrating the match was actually fantastic. (not that you'd know it from the abominable coverage on the Guardian which I have just read, making myself predictably cross).
The Milan game was only the end of a rather long day's football for me & CB, which started with an early morning depature on an away trip to Colonna Galleria in the Castelli Romani, with the Ultràs Lodigiani... but that's another story for another day. Back to work for now. God it feels good to have the football back again. Next year the winter break will be shorter, and a good thing too I say.