|Balotelli - Lifelong AC Milan fan|
On 31st January 2013 Mario Balotelli completed his €20m move to his childhood club Milan. Adriano Galliani, Milan Vice-President, said "Balotelli in Rossoneri is a dream that has been realised. It is a transfer that everyone wanted: club, president and fans." The hype surrounding the deal caused such a scuffle at the Ristarante Giannino police were called to regain control of the situation. Milan’s Ultras were delighted, especially after Club President Silvio Berlusconi had called Mario a “bad apple” days earlier. Whether the transfer was as a result of Pato’s move back to Brazil and Robinho’s further failure to fully establish himself or whether it was as rumored, an attempt to gain votes it didn’t matter, Balo was home!
For the British press the dream was over, the man who caused so much controversy yet so much entertainment was no longer as accessible. Stories of him going to John Lewis for an ironing board but returning with a vespa and a trampoline or him popping into a sixth form college, causing a ruckus all because he needed the loo would be a thing of the past. For those who jumped on the Balotelli bandwagon it now becomes a test of their commitment to him (my Milan shirt is in the post!!). This though, is what Mario needs; while it will hurt him to be parted from his father that is Roberto Mancini, this is where he can prove himself as the world superstar he can be. So Balo needs Milan, Milan want Balo but do Milan need him?
|Super Mario gave British press a field day!|
Those who read this following football from afar can be excused for believing Milan are still the powerhouse they used to be. Decades upon decades of success highlight the club as one of the world’s greatest but in recent years this has began to fall apart. Departures include Pirlo, Dida, Ibrahimovic, Silva, Maldini, Nesta, Gattuso to name but a few. True legends such as Maldini failed to be replaced significantly, or when talents such as Thiago Silva broke through they were unable to hold onto them. Il Diavolo faced in the summer somewhat of a financial crisis as Berlusconi admitted he may have to sell the club, stars were allowed to leave as attendances and season tickets plummeted. There is though, a ray of hope: 3 players, the oldest of whom is only 22. M’Baye Niang (18), Stephen El Shaarawy (20) and Mario Balotelli (22)... Could these men be Milan’s saviours?
Rossoneri have had a host of attacking talents throughout their history, recently Shevchenko, Inzaghi and Kaka were their creative and goalscoring threesome but in the 1950s they had a Swedish trio known as Gre-No-Li. Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm were gold medalists from the 1948 London Olympics and within two seasons all three of them had joined Milan. In the 1949/50 season Milan scored an incredible 118 goals in 38 games with Gunnar Nordahl scoring 35 and this was followed by the Scudetto the next year. Each player had varied success at the Giuseppe Meazza but all made a lasting impact.
|Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl & Nils Liedholm (Gre-No-Li)|
Gunnar Gren’s time for the Rossoneri was the shortest, he scored 38 goals in 133 league appearances, good considering he was not considering the main poacher. Il Professore (“The Professor”) spent a brief time as manager in 1952 before departing in 1953 and retiring in 1957. Liedholm was the playmaker of the trio, he went on to play until an unheard of 38 for the era making over 350 appearances scoring 81 times. Liedholm won 4 Scudettos and captained Milan as they lost in the 1958 European Cup final to Real Madrid, one of the greatest sides of all time. It is said that Liedholm was such a good passer it took him 2 years to misplace one, when this happened it led the San Siro to give him a 5 minute ovation! Nils then went on to manage The Red Blacks 3 times, winning their first star (after 10 Scudetti).
Nordahl though was the main man, the one Super Mario will be hoping to emulate. Gunnar Nordahl scored a sensational 210 goals in 257 games and has only recently been knocked into third in Serie As all time goal scorers list behind Silvio Piola and Francesco Totti (both of whom who have played over 500 times however). Nordahl is Milan’s all time leading scorer, holds the league record for most season top-scorers with 5 capocannonieri and has the best Serie A strike rate ever with 0.77 goals/match (225 in 291 total). Nordahl won 2 Serie As, 4 Italian Cups and 2 Coppa Latina retiring with a career total of 422 goals in 504 games.
So how can Balotelli, Niang and El Shaarawy compete? Well in truth it’ll be difficult, Milan’s financial situation still is in dire straights, they are still rebuilding but if these 3 can form a trio even half as good as Gre-No-Li for Rossoneri then things will begin to turn around. On 3rd February Mario made his debut for Il Diavolo, Pazzini’s pulled out of the game during the pre-match warm up with a muscle injury meaning the trio would get their first chance to play together. Stadio Guiseppe Meazza was rocking at the prospect of it and from the very first minute they clicked with a combination of pace, power, flair and passion.
|Niang, Balotelli and El Shaarawy - Il Trio Delle Creste|
(The Trio of Peaks)!
Within 30 seconds Balotelli had a chance, shooting inches wide but they didn't have to wait long until he scored, 24mins in El Shaarawy crossed from the left and Mario swept home. He went on to score a penalty in added time to complete an impressive showing. The connection has since grown further and Niang has also chipped in creating for Mario who now has 7 goals in 6 games. Last night (21/3/13) Mario linked up with his Italian teammates against Brazil and scored another cracker, he now has 6 in 18 for the Azzurri, its refreshing to see how much he cares about Italy and if this translates to the love for his boyhood club Milan then we will see big things happening. As players like De Sciglio also begin to break into the first team maybe the trio is just the start, who knows yet? One thing is for certain though, don’t count out the Rossoneri... Gre-No-LI? Well there’s new kids on the block now: Il Trio Delle Creste!
Gareth TFHB (Follow me on twitter @GJ_Thomas)