Milan is a city that is renowned for both its historic and modern culture. It is Italy’s second biggest city, and the capital of the Lombardy region, and is the fashion capital of the world with some of the most well-known outlets, with Versace, Armani and Dolce and Gabbana emanating from there. The city also boasts numerous museums and art galleries. And while art, culture, fashion and music unite the city, it is football that divides this historic beauty. Milan’s two biggest football sides – Internazionale Milano and AC Milan.
These rivals share a wealth of honours, both domestically and internationally. This includes 10 Champions Leagues/European Cups, 5 Super Cups, 36 Scudetti, 12 Coppa Italias, five Intercontinental Cups and two FIFA Club World Cups, as well as one of the grandest stadiums in the world – the San Siro. This rivalry goes back to the start of the 20th Century and still brings out the same passion and desire to win, regardless of how either team is performing.
AC Milan were formed in 1899 as Milan Football and Cricket Club by a group of Nottingham natives, Alfred Edwards, a revolutionary businessman, and Herbert Kilpin, a lace-maker. The club were fairly successful in its early years, winning league titles in 1901, 1906 and 1907, before a seismic shift at the club created the city’s other team.
In 1908, many members of the club disagreed over their policy of signing foreign talent and that led to a group of its players deciding to leave the club as a result. The group had a Swiss friend who was prohibited from representing the club. The more intellectual players at the club then met at a restaurant and laid out the framework for the formation of a club, ending their statement with why they would call the new club ‘Internazionale’ – simply citing that they were “brothers of the world”. It was there that a rivalry was born.
The Rossoneri of AC Milan went through a stale patch that lasted nearly 50 years while the Nerazzurri of Internazionale were scaling new heights and making themselves the pride, and sole representatives, of the city. After their league title win in 1907, AC Milan wouldn’t see domestic success again until 1951, while in that same era, Inter won four league titles and were seen as the royalty of the city and had the iconic Giuseppe Meazza, who also represented the other half, play and make a name for himself.
However, in the 1950s a revolution took place in Milan that would alter the history of both clubs over the next 20 years. Under new management and with some fine footballing talent, this new era would make Milan the football capital of the world and give the globe a reason to regard the two representatives of the capital of Lombardy as the game’s flag bearers.
Every top football club has a phase in its history that they recognise as its “golden generation”. For AC Milan and Inter Milan that was from the mid-fifties towards the late-sixties and that era had seen some glorious football. It all started with the arrival of Sweden’s Gunnar Nordahl at the start of 1949 in what would be an excellent deal for the red half of Milan.
Nordahl was the most efficient of goal scorers, and arguably, the best footballer in the world at his time. His record over that period was second to none as he would finish as the league’s highest goalscorer, five times in his eight year stay at AC Milan. He was joined at the club by his Swedish compatriots Gunnar Gren and Nils Liedholm and together, the trio would form the Gre-No-Li partnership that fired the club to four Scudetti between 1950 and 1960 and some continental success – going on to play in the European Cup final of 1958 where they lost out to Real Madrid.
For Inter Milan, their golden era came in the 1960s following the arrival of coach Helenio Herrera from Barcelona and his star midfield general, Luis Suárez. Herrera invented and popularised the catenaccio system which is still employed by top sides in world football today. It puts an emphasis on defensive contribution and the Nerazzurri had just the right men to do that. Giacinto Facchetti, who would later go on to captain the side, was a rock at the back and a force in attack, as well as Sandro Mazzola who was probably the world’s best playmaker at the time. They earned the club three scudetti in 1963, 1965 and 1966 as well as consecutive European and Intercontinental Cup titles in 1964 and 1965. This era was known as the “Grande Inter” era.
Inter have not been able to recapture the glory of that era, going on to win just two scudetti between 1970 and 2005 and three Coppa Italia in that period. Some of the stars that represented the club during that period were former Germany captain Lothar Matthäus, Brazilian forward Ronaldo, Franco’s brother Giuseppe Baresi and Argentine defender Javier Zanetti, who would go on to become the club’s most esteemed player.
AC Milan, on the other hand, were able to maintain their success to a degree. Despite being relegated in 1980 for their part in the Totonero match-fixing scandal, another golden generation of at the club, especially the Dutch trio of Frank Rijkaard, Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit who spurred the club on to multiple league titles and European Cups/UEFA Champions League honours between the end of the eighties and the middle of nineties.
They have also had their fair share of success in the Champions League after the turn of the millennium, with AC Milan winning the holy grail of European football in 2003 and 2007, as well as being runners-up in the drama in Istanbul in 2005. Inter sealed a historic treble in 2010 under José Mourinho when they beat German giants Bayern Munich in the final in Madrid. However, since the Rossoneri’s Serie A success in 2011, the city has been on a bit of a downward spiral, failing to challenge for the top spots in Italy.
The Derby della Madonnina is famous for being one of the most intense games in football. With banners and flags being waved all over the ground, this derby is one that is widely celebrated and creates a real spectacle, amongst the players, coaches and fans alike. In contrast to the environment in the sixties and seventies, when stabbings, muggings and flares were a common feature, this is rarely seen these days, thanks to the ultras from both clubs coming together back in 1983.
In a bid to curb the vicious scenes before, during and after the games, the ultras signed a non-aggression pact that aimed to steer clear of the horrendous violence that surrounded the fixtures. Since then, it is banners, flags and tifos that have been prevalent on match days rather than knives or guns. The pact has been followed fairly well since then, apart from one solitary incident in 2005 where AC Milan’s goalkeeper Dida was struck by a flare.
Now, twice a season (or sometimes more), the San Siro turns into a beautiful kaleidoscope of colours and that is a testament to the fans of both clubs who now see this as more of a “friendly rivalry”.
Both clubs are slowly moving away from their long-term presidents, Massimo Moratti of Inter and Silvio Berlusconi of AC Milan, looking to move towards Asian ownership in a bid to reignite their past glory. And while this aim is more of a success in the red half, the blue half looks like it’s catching up. However, regardless what is happening off the field, it has not detracted from the occasion when these two giants of Italian, and world football, meet. In those meetings, the history, pride, and tradition of these two clubs is on full display.
This rivalry is one of the most established in the sport, and one that also reflects what the city of Milan stands for. The game is the soul of the city, and this rivalry is what the glory of Milan deserves, and no owner, player, manager, success or failure can ever change that.