“It’s not beautiful, but they force you to play like that,” Massimo Ambrosini told UEFA.com while referring to AC Milan’s collective team spirit in the game against FC Barcelona. The Italian ‘fighters’ won the game 2-0 and are now in a good position to advance in Europe’s finest club tournament. AC Milan has proud traditions in the UEFA Champions League and the club has also been exponents for ‘artistic performances’. Though, yesterday’s performance was according to Ambrosini not “aesthetically beautiful” – an opinion shared by Giampaolo Pazzini, who stated that “we really saw the concept of ‘team’ in this game.” From a football standpoint, I totally agree with these statements and I enjoy watching FC Barcelona’s artistic ‘tiki taka style’ built on possession and creative offensive patterns. Though, I also recognize a team performance founded on competent tactical skills.
Watching the game yesterday, it was brought to mind by a football commentator that these teams also have an obligation to ‘entertain’ although he said that this may be a ‘romantic perception’ of the game. Processing that information, I have to say that football is entertainment but who is to set the agenda for what defines ‘football entertainment’? Overall, I am sure that FC Barcelona and its current team built around players like Messi, Xavi and Iniesta has established a lot of fans worldwide, who identify themselves with the club due to the team’s and thus the individual players’ ‘entertaining style of play’. Still, ‘the core football product’, which is to found on the pitch is also wrapped in peripheral products or experiences meant to entertain the masses, e.g. fans. That is reflected in the atmosphere in the stadium, via media’s portrayal of game and hence of specific factors surrounding the game (before, during, and after the game), or through the activities or special events in ‘fan communities’ consuming everything about the game. Yeah, football entertainment is a broad concept and a phenomenon, which takes place in a myriad of ways. And I think that entertainment can definitely be found in AC Milan’s performance if you are a ‘true football lover’ – just look at the uncertainty it provided to the expectations of the total outcome of the game.
What I do not like about the commentator’s statement was his neglections of the cynical facts facing the actors of yesterday’s show. From an economic perspective, I must express that football at this stage is a ‘Money Game’ and in that sense I am sure that Massimo Allegri (Milan’s coach) is happy about the result. It is a ‘romantic illusion’ to believe that he (or the overlying management and board of the club or AC Milan’s fans) would rather see the team play artistically and creatively to entertain the masses and hence lose to FC Barcelona due to tactical naivety. Too much is at stake! The teams, which do not advance in the UEFA Champions League, suffer defeats measured on significant brand exposure, brand capital, and revenues. Ask Chelsea how they feel after last year’s Champions League triumph? Chelsea’s Champions League title helped the club improve its financial result significantly and that is what Champions League success does*! Or what about Inter Milan’s performances, which led to the Champions League title in 2010? I certainly believe that these clubs were happy to look beyond the artistic entertaining elements of the game in return for their titles. The title will also be the focus of AC Milan and the dream for all the existing teams in the tournament. And in facing FC Barcelona in the second leg, there is still a lot of work to do for AC Milan before they are through to the quarterfinals.
*UEFA stated that Chelsea received €59.9m (£47.3m) in prize money due to last year’s success in the tournament. The club was the biggest earner in last season’s competition, see here for more information.