Politician offers AC Milan tactical advice
20 February ~ Supporters of Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi have a chirpy song for rallies, with a chorus that chimes "Meno male che Silvio c'è" (Thank God Silvio Exists). AC Milan may even be whistling it on the way to Wednesday's Champions League match at San Siro against Barcelona after the club owner revealed how to stop Lionel Messi. The answer, it turns out, is to get a marker to keep tabs on him. And, if that doesn't work, use two men.
"A special tactic is needed against Barcelona," Berlusconi told one of his Mediaset TV channels. "Messi should be stopped by man-marking, which can be done by one person or sometimes two." Genius.
Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri, who is used to his boss badmouthing his tactics, has not promised to put Berlusconi's wise words into action, however, because he said he does not see Barcelona as a one-man show. That may not matter too much to the three-time Italian prime minister, as his comments probably had as much to do with hogging the limelight days before an election to decide whether he gets a fourth crack at government, as they did with football.
Milan endured a tough start to the season after selling Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to Paris Saint-Germain in the summer. They gradually improved and have been revitalised by the arrival of Mario Balotelli (a move linked to the election; Berlusconi's main political rival, centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani, mocked it by saying he was in talks to sign Messi for the local team of his home town, Bettola). The Italy forward has scored four goals in three games since moving from Manchester City and, even though he is cup-tied in Europe, his arrival has lifted spirits.
Mathieu Flamini, one of the players Berlusconi said should mark Messi, fellow midfielder Antonio Nocerino and forward Robinho are unfit for the game. But Stephan El Shaarawy, a 20-year-old Italy striker with Egyptian roots, who is Milan's top scorer with 15 Serie A goals this season, should be able to play after a knee knock. "We are facing the best team in the world but I do not accept the way everyone has been making us out to be the sacrificial lambs over the last two weeks," Allegri said at the pre-match press conference. "Unless the rules change, we'll start the match on level terms." Paul Virgo