Massimiliano Allegri just couldn’t help himself. “It would have amused me a lot on Saturday night if, after [Giorgio] Chiellini scored while shoving an opponent, the referee had disallowed the goal,” said the Milan manager after the defender’s header helped Juventus to a 3-1 win over Catania. “Fortunately he gave it, because otherwise we would have had to sit through another week-long Mass.”
Implicit in that statement was the suggestion that the world had already been subjected to one too many sermons in recent weeks on the subject of refereeing decisions going against the Old Lady. Juventus have been awarded just one penalty in Serie A this season, the fewest to any side in the division. The pattern was raised by their manager Antonio Conte after he saw two strong appeals turned down during his team’s 0-0 draw with Parma last week.
“The way the wind is blowing at the moment, even if one of our players gets killed they still won’t give the penalty,” Conte railed. Although he refused several invitations from journalists to characterize the treatment as a hangover from the Calciopoli scandal, many filled in the gaps for him anyway. The next day’s papers were thick with references to the “ghosts” of 2006. A week later, the story is still rumbling on after the president of the Italian Football Federation, Giancarlo Abete, criticised the manager’s comments.
Juventus’s own president, Andrea Agnelli, has since shot back at Abete, stating that the federation itself is being inconsistent by singling out Conte when they have no general policy of responding to such comments from managers. There has been no such comeback at Allegri, however, with the general manager Beppe Marotta noting pointedly that his club don’t pay attention to what goes on in other people’s houses.
To get involved in such petty bickering, of course, would be out of step with the mythical Stile Juventus (Juventus Style): the notion instilled by Edoardo Agnelli during his stint as president in the late 1920s and early 1930s that the club’s defining characteristics should be a ferocious will to win on the pitch and a quiet dignity off it.
Quite how Conte’s original penalty protests sit in that context is open to debate, but then the manager has always found it easier to adhere to the former part of that house style than the latter. Among the iconic images of his playing career is that of the midfielder being hauled into the dressing room by his Juventus team-mates, his mouth covered by their hands as he gloated to the TV cameras after his team overhauled Inter to claim the Scudetto on the final day of the 2001-02 season.
And if his counterpart Allegri is guilty of openly fanning the flames ahead of Saturday’s match, then Conte has made a few quiet digs of his own this season. His suggestion that Milan seem to “stroll” to so many victories was a backhanded compliment, praising their talent while questioning their workrate. Likewise his comparing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Gulliver from the novel Gulliver’s Travels implicitly cast the Swede’s Milan team-mates as six-inch high Lilliputians.
These more subtle jibes are fitting for a rivalry that is more nuanced than most. For decades these two have fought for recognition as the nation’s pre-eminent club; Juventus’s 27 Scudetti make them the more successful team domestically, but Milan leads the way for Italian sides in continental competition with seven European Cup triumphs. Yet they’ve frequently cooperated off the pitch; the clubs have regularly battled side-by-side on matters of league governance such as the division of TV rights money.
There is a mutual respect at board level, even a little warmth. Before matches against one another the home team typically treats the visitors to a lavish dinner, though even this gesture is fiercely scrutinised for hints of gamesmanship. “One one recent such occasion,” noted Corriere della Sera’s Roberto Perrone, “[the Milan vice-president] Galliani delivered a low blow to [the then Juventus director Antonio] Giraudo right there at the table, serving up an (exceptional) Amarone with a dish that deserved a Barolo.”
Juventus would take their revenge this past summer, pilfering a player from Milanello who the Rossoneri were happy to discard. Andrea Pirlo wasted no time disproving the notion that his talents had corked. In a Juventus side whose success has been founded on workrate and a team-first ethic, he and the goalkeeper Gigi Buffon have nevertheless been the two stand-out performers.
That said, Pirlo is far from the only player to have traded one of these two teams for the other. His team-mates Marco Borriello, Alessandro Matri and Marco Storari have all represented Milan at some stage in their career. Likewise Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Pippo Inzaghi, Gianluca Zambrotta, Antonio Nocerino and Alberto Aquliani have all had spells with Juventus.
So too has Christian Abbiati, whose season-long stay in Turin provides another insight into the relationship between the two clubs. Milan delivered the goalkeeper to Juventus on a free loan in August 2005 after Buffon was injured in a challenge with Kakà during a pre-season friendly.
Many of those players will not start on Saturday, but while the fixture at San Siro will clearly have some bearing on the title race it is also far too early in the season to presume it can be in any way definitive. Whatever the result there will be time yet for either side to recoup any lost ground, and for a few more entertaining sermons from either side of the fence, too.
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