Fiorentina’s players celebrate another goal in their 1-5 win over Pescara, it would not be enough
As the Fiorentina players finished off their stunning 5-1 win over Pescara which gave them the best possible opportunity to secure third place and the elusive final Champions League spot, word came through that Milan, in the 84th minute of their match against Siena, had scored to tie the game 1-1. Fiorentina were still in the final spot but there was a sense of resignation about the turn of events. Moments later and Milan scored the winner to secure a remarkable, almost unbelievable turnaround to secure the final cherished spot. For Fiorentina’s players there was an obvious disappointment but also a strange resignation. When word of how the first Milan goal was scored it was even more pronounced. The first vital goal had come from a foul on Mario Balotelli. A ball had been floated into the box from the left. It was a poor ball some ten metres too far in front of the Milan strikers and clearly going out for a goal kick. Balotelli was entering the box under some pressure from the Siena defender, the pressure was no more than you would see on virtually every other occasion with this type of cross, a little tussling as one man moved forward while the other tried to stay with him. Seeing he had absolutely no chance to get to the ball, Balotelli took a chance, falling rather theatrically to the floor. There was no way, NO WAY, that it was a penalty. He was nowhere near the ball, the contact was nothing more than two players tussling through close marking, it was just ridiculous. But it was given, Milan scored and they went on to win.
Mario Balotelli ‘won’ and converted the controversial penalty.
The reaction of Fiorentina’s players was therefore remarkable. The inevitability of the turn of events quickly turned the initial anger you would expect players to have and replaced it with resignation. I myself sat watching the match, enthralled by things as they unravelled. I had been sceptical of Milan’s run of results since they had slid down to about 14th position after about a third of the season. They had gone on a remarkable run up the table seemingly assisted by an equally remarkable run of penalties and red cards against opponents that had gifted them numerous points. As I watched the match a small part of me thought ‘see, you are being silly, Italian football is clean now’. And indeed it seemed so. I believed with 90 percent of my being that Milan would get some favour from the referee to give them a way back, but as the minutes ticked by I started to doubt myself. This doubt enlivened me, it made me believe in Italian football again, to feel that there was a way back to the top for it. Moments later however, that all changed. The penalty was called and I, like those Fiorentina players, felt a wave of inevitability and indeed great sadness pass over me. Why was I so stupid to believe that this would not happen. That the referee would not find some reason, any reason, to give Milan that window to get back. After all this is a club owned by arguably the most powerful man in Italy, a man who has been Prime Minister of the country multiple times, a billionaire who has recorded associations with the Italian underworld, who controls a large part of the television and media that feeds Italian football and a man who has demonstrated in the past that he is all to happy to bend the law when it suits his purpose. Why would he do anything different this time. This is the same man who at the tail end of last year, PERSONALLY visited his players at the training ground when the club were at their lowest point and promised that he would be returning to a more hands on role and that things would undoubtedly turn around with him at the helm again. All this only a weeks before announcing a similarly dramatic return to politics. This political chancer who has always linked the clubs success with his own and who never doubted that Milan would be in the Champions League next season. And who would be brave enough to prove him wrong, what referee or official would dare go against a man who is simply so powerful. Alas as Balotelli took his theatrical tumble to the ground it proved there were not many.
Mexes was the man who won it, this time with a deserved goal.
While Milan fans, as the fans of any club would, celebrate their team being in the Champions League next season, the rest of the leagues fans are left with a bitter taste in their mouth. A little bit of magic has been taken away from Serie A and it is clear that while many had hoped that the previous punishments of the guilty would serve to reinvigorate Italian football this is simply not the case. It seems that corruption in the Italian game, like in much of the country, is embedded far deeper than imagined.