In the context of the 2016-17 Serie A season, Saturday’s Derby de Madonnina had the look of two balding men fighting over a comb.
The unedifying scramble for the last Europa League place that AC Milan and Internazionale find themselves embroiled in would make even their own fans blush with embarrassment.
But there’s a much wider context on which the game should be viewed, one that is likely to set the tone for Italian football for some years to come.
The early kick-off hinted at it. Doubtless the fact that the Milan rivals sit a sorry sixth and seventh in the table respectively played some role in the decision to play this fixture at 11.30 am (Irish time).
The early Saturday morning televised game in Serie A is usually reserved for games lacking a certain relevance. Given recent seasons and their current status in Italian football, both clubs could hardly have argued against the timing.
But a lack of local relevance wasn’t really the point. Not on this occasion. For kick off was primetime on the other side of the world, in China
And after AC Milan’s protracted €740 million sale to Rossoneri Sport Luxembourg – formerly known as Sino-Europe Sports – finally got across the line on Thursday, both Milanese giants were now in the hands of Chinese owners.
Reportedly, the game was set to have a TV audience in China north of 300 million as a result. Saturday was the beginning of a brave new world for the Rossoneri – a world that their near neighbours had already entered a year ago.
Now both clubs have the promise of vast Chinese riches to back their dreams of returning not just to the top of the Italian game but the European one also. The two balding men can forego the comb overs.
If the rumours are true in terms of their owners’ willingness to back their investments, then both clubs can look forward to high quality Wayne Rooney class hair weaves instead.
Given the on-again, off-again nature of the Milan takeover, there may still be room for a little scepticism as to the ability of their new owners, led by Yonghong Li, to finance a revolution.
The summer window will tell us much. But there can be little doubt about the intent of Inter’s owners Suning Holdings Group, who since taking control of the club last summer have spent over €140 million on players.
Two of those signings, Roberto Gagliardini and Antonio Candreva, combined to put Inter ahead on 36 minutes, illustrating just how the cheque book can help right a club. Eight minutes later, their most prized asset Mauro Icardi tapped home Ivan Perisic’s delightful centre to put the home side two up at the break. It was the Argentine’s 21st league goal of the season.
Before the arrival of their Chinese white knight, Nerazzuri fans wondered how they could hang onto their talisman. Now they know that the owners have the financial clout to compete with any likely suitors – and have an exciting project that should hold the striker’s interest.
And there was symbolism in the Milan goals too. Alessio Romagnoli’s sharp finish from Suso’s cross on 83 minutes was a reminder of the young talent that has been nurtured in difficult times by the club.
And in Cristian Zapata’s last gasp leveller, in injury time of injury time, yet another demonstration of the belief and character that Vincenzo Montella has instilled in his young side since taking the reins last summer.
For the respective owners, the 2-2 draw, which left both clubs as they were – well off the pace set by champions Juventus, trailing distantly in their wake for a sixth season in a row – there should be the realisation of how much work there is to do. But there will be consolation in the fact that the fans back home will have been royally entertained.
The summer will tell us much, much more about their plans, their levels of intent. But for now, at least, the two balding giants of Milan are no longer in fear of further recession.
In fact, they can dream of restoration of their legendarily coiffured finery thanks to a very welcome Chinese remedy.