Through

AFP

on 09/15/2021 at 07:59 a.m.

4 min read

Liverpool-AC Milan will forever remain the incredible final of the 2005 Champions League won by the stunning Reds (3-3, 3-2 t.a.b.) in Istanbul. But Wednesday (9:00 p.m. / 7:00 p.m. GMT), at the opening of Group B, it will be above all the clash between two legendary clubs who have reinvented themselves.

It had been seven years since the Milanese had left the European elite. A hell of a slump for the club with seven trophies in the competition, exceeded only by Real Madrid (13 wins).

The eight finals played between 1989 and 2007 are only distant memories, the last having also been disputed, and won (2-1), this time against Liverpool.

But this latest continental coup was followed by a gradual decline of the club, whose last scudetto dates back to 2011.

The club then loses most of its emblematic players (Gattuso, Nesta, Seedorf or Inzaghi), gets lost in hazardous recruitments, scrolls the coaches and plunges financially.

Silvio Berlusconi, owner since 1986, ended up selling a heavily indebted club in 2017 to a mysterious Chinese businessman, Li Yonghong, before it passed the following year into the hands of the American fund Elliott.

To rebalance the accounts, the club is focusing its recruitment on young people with high potential, supervised by a few experienced players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Simon Kjaer.

A winning bet, but also sportingly with the emergence of Theo Hernandez, Franck Kessié or Ismaël Bennacer, guided by an “Ibra”, totally fulfilled in his role of tutor at almost 40 years old.

Milan finished for the first time in the Top 4 since 2013 – 2nd behind Inter after having been winter champion – under the leadership of Paolo Maldini, sporting director since Leonardo left in June 2019, and of a coach with clear ideas, Stefano Pioli.

Facing them Wednesday night, the Milanese will find a Liverpool passed on the brink of the abyss in 2010, when a legal battle had pulled him from the clutches of American businessmen George Gillett and Tom Hicks, avoiding bankruptcy.

Its savior, Fenway Sports Group (FSG), had made a name for itself by putting the mythical Boston Red Sox back on the American baseball throne in 2004 – then 2007, 2013 and 2018 – a trophy that the city had been waiting for since 1918.

He imported on the banks of the Mersey the methods which had worked wonders in New England, while adapting to the economic basin much less prosperous – among the supporters as for the local partners – than that of Boston, or of the rivals Manchester and London.

Adept at what is called “Moneyball”, a statistical approach to the game and the transfer market to maximize the return on each recruit, FSG also first won the battle for numbers.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the club’s turnover had tripled in ten years to reach 589 M EUR in 2019 and the value of the club, bought back 300 M GBP (330 M EUR), is estimated at 2.9 billion GBP (EUR 3.5bn).

After a League Cup in 2012 and a 2nd place in the league in 2014, it is the arrival of Jürgen Klopp in October 2015 that will give the club all its dimension with a victory in the Champions League in 2019 and a title of champion, expected for 30 years, in 2020.

Liverpool, who have 10 points in 4 days, are in the top quartet of the Premier League. Milan have lined up three successes in three matches, including a great victory against Lazio (2-0) on Sunday.

With a particularly strong group, which also includes Atlético Madrid and FC Porto, the Italian club was not spared by the draw.

“The group is the most difficult of all, it is not a drama if they go out,” said ex-scorer Andriy Shevchenko in Gazzetta dello Sport. “But let’s put ourselves in the place of the adversaries: falling on Milan is not a gift” either.

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