|Manchester United prove that England are rulers of Europe
||[Mar. 12th, 2009|10:54 am]
At the end of a night of raw emotions in English football's theatre of dreams, the whole of Italian football rather than just Inter Milan, was left to ponder some harsh truths.
For sure, Jose Mourinho's Internazionale offered far sterner resistance at Old Trafford compared to the tame performance they had given a fortnight earlier at the San Siro. Yet when push came to shove, one undeniable fact must haunt Italian football. No longer are the best players interested in joining their clubs.
It was even in comparatively recent times, that the best beat a path across Europe to Italy. Diego Maradona went to Napoli and made them Italian Champions: that elegant, artistic Dutch trio of Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco Van Basten made AC Milan one of the great powers in the European game.
And today? Roma labour on with the ageing, home grown Totti as their talismanic figure while another ageing wonder Walter Samuel tries his best to deny the advancing years at Inter. Juventus, with Alessandro Del Piero continuing to battle on, went out this week to Chelsea; Inter to Manchester and Roma to Arsenal, the latter on penalties.
The obvious trend here was epitomised by Inter's strikers Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Dejan Stankovic. When the few chances presented themselves, neither had the real touch of class, the poise and the swagger to put them away. There was no consummate control from either in the way the great Van Basten could kill a ball and kill off opponents all in the same act.
And why should we be surprised? Why would either Ibrahimovic or Stankovic keep Europe's finest defenders awake at night? Neither has the deadly finishing touch of consistent, reliable strikers nor do they possess the deadly dash of a Ronaldo or the Duracell bunny type energy of a Rooney.
For too long, they have stayed at the top in Italy, their reputations fuelled by Inter's dominance in recent years of the Italian League. But that doesn't necessarily equate to European or world class.
Wednesday night at Old Trafford underlined the point. Inter have been winning domestic trophies with inferior players, able to do so because standards as a whole across Italy have declined. By contrast, across England they have risen precisely because so many outstanding players of world renown have made their footballing home in the country.
The likes of Ronaldo, Torres and Drogba, executioners in chief for United, Liverpool and Chelsea respectively in Europe this week, have lifted those around them. Their presence has galvanised others and, in turn, attracted more top class overseas players.
It would be trite to say that Italy doesn't attract decent foreign players. Some are technically very able but Wednesday night re-iterated the point. When it comes to judging by the very highest standards, Ronaldo, Torres and Drogba easily qualify. Ibrahimovic and Stankovic would barely pass the test. They may be honest, committed, whole hearted performers but the cruel fact is, they're not good enough against the best.
Mourinho, nobody's fool, may well have inadvertently alluded to this factor when he pondered recently his future. The Portugese is not a man to settle for work among the inferior, the second best. But right now, that appears to be his domain, his working environment and you just wonder how much longer that state of affairs will continue to exist.
A restless soul at the best of times, the lessons of this defeat for his team will be as clear as daylight to Mourinho. The Italian clubs are struggling because they don't have good enough players. It might be stretching the imagination to believe that Mourinho, a fiercely competitive soul, will always go on enjoying operating in such a land.