Silvio Berlusconi has always had a unique way of expressing himself. Whether it be describing political opponents as “malodorous and badly dressed”, or inviting foreign businesses to invest in Italy on the grounds that “we have beautiful secretaries... superb girls”, he is certainly adept at making himself heard - even if those of us listening do not always know whether to laugh or to cry.
You could see a similar conflict playing out on the faces of Milan’s players in a video that emerged this week. Recorded at a lunch for club sponsors a few months back, it shows Berlusconi chiding his squad for their disappointing recent results.
“We cannot keep putting on such poor shows,” he rails, gesturing towards a group of marketing men off screen. “These sponsors are the ones who allow us to live, because they give us money. They just said to me at the table that if you play like this they won’t give us any more. And then I’ll have to ask you for it instead.
“Or, better yet, I won’t give you any money in the first place, and then you will need to file a lawsuit against me. Do you know how long a civil case takes in Italy? Eight years.”
Did Berlusconi reprise that line when he dropped in on his players for a Coppa Italia final pep talk at the Milanello training ground this Thursday? Milan’s entire season will be defined by Saturday’s clash with Juventus. After finishing seventh in Serie A, this game represents not only an opportunity for silverware but also one last chance to qualify for European competition next year.
For the owner, it is even more than that. Berlusconi is said to have reminded Milan’s players that a victory over Juventus would represent the 29th piece of silverware that the club has won in his three decades at the helm. If they could follow it up with a triumph in the pre-season Supercoppa as well, that would give him a delightful one trophy per year average.
The present crop of Milan players, however, are simply not accustomed to success. Among the 26 members of their first-team squad, only 13 have ever won a major competition. Fewer than half of those are expected to make it into Cristian Brocchi’s starting XI this weekend.
It is just one of many reasons to believe the Rossoneri will struggle. They played well in their last meeting with Juventus, back in early April, taking the lead early and putting more shots on target than their opponents despite eventually succumbing to a 2-1 defeat. But that was under Sinisa Mihajlovic. Since the Serbian was sacked, results have taken a turn for the worse.
In six games under Brocchi, Milan have won twice, drawn twice and lost twice. But even those bald numbers flatter them. They took just two points from a three-game stretch against sides destined for relegation - Carpi, Verona and Frosinone. Milan were ragged and easily swept aside by third-placed Roma at San Siro on Serie A’s final weekend.
So do they have any hope at all this weekend? If Berlusconi’s form is a guide then they just might. He has stopped by the training ground on seven prior occasions this season, and Milan have never lost (four wins and three draws) the match immediately afterwards.
It is also true that Juventus will not be at full strength. Leonardo Bonucci is suspended in defence and Sami Khedira absent through injury from a midfield that was already missing Claudio Marchisio. Perhaps even more significantly, Juventus intend to start Neto ahead of Gigi Buffon in goal - as they have done in previous cup fixtures this season.
As such, the champions might be more vulnerable at back than usual. And, for all their failings under Brocchi, Milan have found the net at least once in five of his six matches in charge. If you were looking for a value bet in the goalscorers’ market, then Carlos Bacca, who has struck in each of his last three matches - and averaged one every two games over the season - could be a sound choice.
In the end, though, I do expect Juventus’s quality to prevail. They are markedly the better team and, even factoring in their significant injury problems, I would still expect a likely midfield trio of Paul Pogba, Hernanes and Kwadwo Asamoah to dominate Milan’s Andrea Poli, Riccardo Montolivo and Juraj Kucka. Up front, Paulo Dybala scores as frequently as Bacca and contributes a whole lot more besides.
Juventus are chasing another little piece of history of their own - seeking to become the first Italian team ever to win a domestic league and cup double in consecutive seasons. Unlike Berlusconi, they do their best talking on the pitch.
Carlos Bacca to score (any time) - 4.60
Juventus to win and both teams to score - 4.90
Over 2.5 goals - 2.50