KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY
** Silvio Berlusconi divides opinion, depending on your politics – if you are Italian – and on your view of what sort of characters should be controlling the levers of power in sport and whether it matters.
Indisputably Berlusconi’s money and determination rescued Milan from corruption-tainted near-bankruptcy in the mid-1980s and turned them into world, European and Italian champions (Thanks, in no small measure, to wise investments in a then little-known coach in Arrigo Sacchi and Dutch superstars Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Basten and Frank Rijkaard).
The popularity and profile Berlusconi gained – to put it simplistically – enabled him to expand his business empire, capitalize on the commercial and satellite TV revolution and bounce on into national politics. He even ‘kidnapped’ the ‘Forza Italia’ exhortation to label the political party which was his vehicle to three spells spells as Prime Minister.
The last spell ended in Berlusconi’s ignominious exit last year as the Eurozone crisis threatened Italy and a string of sex party scandals and Mediaset tax fraud trials undermined whatever fragments remained of his professional and personal credibility.
Milan, without Berlusconi’s protection, grew ever more vulnerable. Last season they lost the league title to Juventus, proved unable to replace the departing army of veterans and could not even persuade Zlatan Ibrahimovic to stay.
This season has seen their worst seasonal start of the Berlusconi era. That has come amid increasing speculation about the club’s ownership. Semi-abandoned chief executive Adriano Galliani was reportedly seeking new investors from the Gulf while the rest of Berlusconi’s family were apparently telling him to get out of football while he could.
The latest episode in the soap opera came on Friday when Berlusconi was condemned to jail for corporate tax fraud. The original sentence of four years was quickly amended to one year because of his age but no-one believes he will be peering out from behind bars.
Berlusconi’s reactions to the sentence varied over the next hours. Before the sentence he was talking about a return to politics; immediately after it, apart from contesting the court verdict, he was talking of forgetting politics and concentrating on his football club once more.
Then, all change again, and a comment that “I wanted to dedicate myself to a football club which needs attention, Milan. But now I cannot dedicate myself to the Rossoneri . . .”
In other words Berlusconi, now 76, still believes he has a grander role to play in the nation’s affairs and Galliani should step up the pursuit for new money.
At least Galliani had one slice of unequivocal good news at the weekend when Milan claimed their first win in four games by 1-0 over Genoa in Seria A.
Stephan El Shaarawy marked his 20th birthday with the second-half goal which ended a run of three successive defeats in all competitions and probably saved coach Massimiliano Allegri’s job.
Italy forward El Shaarawy, a Genoa youth product, did not celebrate out of respect for his former club. His sixth goal this season lifted him joint top scorer in Serie A with Lazio’s Miroslav Klose and Napoli’s Edinson Cavani.
The Milan soap opera slithers on. Whether this means clean hands is another matter.
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