I have been waiting for this fixture for a really, really long time.
As an American, most of us aren’t born into footballing culture and lore. We watch, from great distances, and usually only connect with other like-minded individuals via message boards or blogs, such as this one. At some point in our lives, a spark triggers inside, hooking us for eternity, and oftentimes leaves us scrambling for more. While most of our friends and family are gearing up and preparing for the Super Bowl, we’re watching the North London derby or the Derby della Madonnina.
For many fans growing up in the US, there comes a boiling point where you must choose a side. Since our love is not based on geographical distance, our loyalty can be a bit more calculated. Or sometimes, it’s by complete accident.
My brothers and I grew up watching Milan. It was the first European football team we’ve ever seen play live, and at the time, they were on top of the world. It was like watching the Yankees if you were new to baseball in 1998. There was just something magical about it. I didn’t grow up in an area where soccer was prevalent. For me, when I (finally) found a fellow ‘soccer’ fan - it was instant kinship. Such was the case in college, when my roommate turned out to be a Tottenham Hotspur fan. We started watching each other’s matches and slowly began to support each other’s teams. My side of the room was red and black, his lillywhite and navy. Eventually, it just turned into a mishmash of colors, but we were in deep.
Ten years later, we’re still in touch, though probably not as often as we’d like. Since this fixture was announced, it’s almost as if I’ve been transported back to a time with a lot less responsibility, and a lot more football. We’re suddenly twenty years of age, sitting in dirty laundry fort walled within a dormitory, rooting for each other’s colors once again.
So when Massimiliano Mirabelli said he ‘felt bad’ for Arsenal because Milan would have to end their European adventure, I was beaming. Obviously, this is not the first time Milan has faced Arsenal in Europe. It was seven years ago that featured a wild offensive shootout for both teams, one that saw Milan go through 4-3 on aggregate, but later losing to Barcelona in the quarter finals.
2008 wasn’t as kind, with Arsenal taking the edge. We don’t talk about that.
You can’t help but notice the similarities between the two sides. Two former European juggernauts, both accustomed to yearly Champions League action, now find themselves fighting through the mud in the Europa League. Two falls from grace, thrashing their way through the darkness, desperately seeking a way back to the path. As fate would have it, these former pioneers will have to face off before being allowed to venture on.
And I would love nothing more in this life than for Milan to tear Arsenal apart.
See Mirabelli’s full comments below:
‘I’m sorry for Arsenal, who I’m sure would have liked to have continued in Europe,’ he said. ‘It would have been a nice final, but I’m happy. It’s best to face a big club like Arsenal now. We needed opponents like these.’