Hope is to have the manpower
No city can match Milan for producing successful clubs in the European Champions League. FC Internazionale and AC Milan have totaled 15 finals appearances and 10 titles in the competition, which was called the Champions Cup from 1955-92.
Few of Europe’s capitals have presented multiple teams worthy of challenging for club soccer’s top continental prize. In fact, many of the major cities - Athens, Berlin, London, Paris, Rome - never have had a team win the Euro title.
Two London clubs - Arsenal and Chelsea - have reached the title game, but England’s only titlists have come from Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, and Nottingham. Two Madrid clubs have been finalists, Real winning nine times (one fewer than Milan), and Atletico finishing second.
Manchester City and Manchester United could be making a breakthrough this year, and we soon could have an idea if they will be able to begin challenging the standards of Inter and Milan.
The Manchester clubs have started strong in the Premier League. United’s 3-1 victory over Chelsea Sunday improved its record to 5-0-0 (21-4 goal differential). City squandered a two-goal lead to tie at Fulham, 2-2, and is in second place with a 4-0-1 record (17-5 goal differential).
The season is still young. But both Manchester clubs will have a chance to break away from the pack in the Premiership and Champions League if they keep momentum.
United visits Stoke City Saturday, then hosts Basel Tuesday. City hosts Everton Saturday, then travels to Bayern Munich Tuesday.
United has overwhelmed Arsenal and Chelsea, though the Blues had a chance to rally before Jose Torres missed an open goal in the late going Sunday.
But Champions League play is not going to be as easy as the Premiership. Both Manchester clubs tied, 1-1, last week: United in a visit to Benfica, City at home against Napoli.
United easily should be able to navigate through Group C, which also includes Otelul Galati of Romania. City, though, likely will not have an easy time in Group A, which also includes Villareal of Spain.
Inter has been guided to its Euro titles by the Moratti family, industrialists with ties to petroleum and Pirelli tires. Milan’s greatest achievements have been under Silvio Berlusconi, whose success in business and soccer provided a power base for his rise to Italy’s prime minister.
On a global level, the Milan clubs’ nine titles in the Intercontinental Cup and World Club Cup has only been matched by Grand Buenos Aires.
Money played a major role in the European success of both Milan clubs. But there was a small margin for error when contracting players, because of foreign player limits.
When Berlusconi was launching his Milan project in the late ’80s, Serie A teams were limited to two foreigners. By 1988, a third foreign player was allowed, and Berlusconi contracted Claudio Borghi (now coach of Chile’s national team). But coach Arrigo Sacchi convinced Berlusconi to replace Borghi with Frank Rijkaard, who joined Ruud Gullit and Marco Van Basten in giving Milan the edge it needed.
The Manchester clubs are operating under much different circumstances. United established itself in the ’90s as a club with the ability to develop domestic talent. Now, though, City is simply buying its way to the top and United is spending big to maintain its edge.
Full speed ahead Fulham is off to a slow start in league play and likely will be battling to finish in the middle of the standings. But Fulham’s recent roster reinforcements demonstrate the gap between the Premiership and MLS.
Bryan Ruiz was considered Costa Rica’s best transfer prospect in recent years. Ruiz, 25, went from LD Alajuelense to Belgium, then to The Netherlands before earning a 10.5 million pound move to Fulham.
Portuguese striker Orlando Sa has yet to play for Fulham, but was on the bench for the Manchester City game.
US teams had plenty of close-up looks at Ruiz before he went to Europe. Ruiz played for Alajuelense as it eliminated the Revolution in an epic series in the 2006 CONCACAF Champions Cup.
Sa, 22, was offered to the MLS on a free transfer from FC Porto, according to a source close to the negotiations. MLS teams might have been wary of Sa’s injury problems, but Fulham could afford to take a chance.
Look to future The Revolution’s 3-0 loss to Portland Friday had the team on the verge of being eliminated from playoff contention. The Revolution (5-12-12, 27 points) are 6 points from elimination with five matches left. And the Red Bulls can reduce that number to 3 with a victory over Real Salt Lake tomorrow.
Even if the Revolution remain in the playoff race, team administrators should be getting a head start on next season. The Revolution did not put together an effective combination until late in the season, but they have a base for the future.
Now, the Revolution will have to match other MLS teams with an aggressive pursuit of key players, providing the necessary funds to both scout and reward talent.
Only the Galaxy (16-3-10, 58 points) have clinched a playoff berth. Los Angeles already has matched its point total that led the league last year.
The Galaxy improved by signing three designated players - David Beckham, Landon Donovan, and Robbie Keane.
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.