Earlier this summer, a group of AC Milan fans gathered for a vigil outside the club’s headquarters near via Turati in the center of Milan. They came with flowers and candles and recited prayers. At the end, they laid their beloved club to rest. The banner outside read, “AC Milan, December 16, 1899–July 22, 2012.” On it, a message that served as a final twist of the knife: “He lacked affection for his loved ones.” Milan received the “you’re dead to me” treatment from its fans the day it sold Thiago Silva and later Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Paris Saint-Germain. The previous season the club allowed Andrea Pirlo to join Juventus instead of renewing his deal. The thinking inside Milan was that Pirlo’s best days were behind him. The midfielder responded by leading Juve to an undefeated season, winning the Scudetto along the way. He then turned in a performance for Italy at Euro 2012 that cemented his position as one of the greatest midfielders of his generation.
Former France national team manager Raymond Domenech believes in things that you and I do not. Using astrology to help pick his team, for one. But here's one thing Domenech believes that seems to be right on: Karim Benzema, Hatem Ben Arfa, and Samir Nasri are not good enough for France. When Domenech was manager of the France national team, he resisted cries to include these young players, who were the core of France’s under-17 European Championship squad in 2004. And when the French players revolted and refused to practice at the last World Cup, it seemed a blessing in disguise that they were not there. Heading into Euro 2012, the feeling was that under new manager Laurent Blanc, Nasri, Ben Arfa, and Benzema were finally going to get a chance to strut their stuff. When the tournament ended for France with consecutive 2-0 defeats to Spain and Sweden, and a solitary goal between the trio of Benzema, Ben Arfa, and Nasri, the knives were out after yet another debacle, and it is now hard to escape the feeling that French football is in a state of terminal decline and the current crop of players won’t be the ones to stop it.
In terms of European football, think of domestic leagues as your demanding, all-consuming job and Champions League as your significant other. They're both important and your success in either goes a long way toward identifying your place in the world. But put too much emphasis on your job and one day you come home to a fridge with only half and half and cream cheese in it and a note on the door saying, "It was real."
Wednesday, several teams learned something about balance and it's a lesson they shouldn't soon forget.