May 19, 1994
By Ian Thomsen
ATHENS— To read the mind of Bernard Tapie this morning: What the …?
Everything known by the Marseille owner to be true one year ago has now thoroughly and finally been abolished, for AC Milan on Wednesday night beat FC Barcelona, 4-0, in the European Champions’ Cup final at the Olympic Stadium.
In this same final one year ago, Marseille was upsetting this very same Milan, 1-0, which Tapie took to mean that he had outsmarted his European rival, the Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi. One year later and Tapie is thoroughly discredited, accused of, punished for and debt- ridden by a match-fixing scandal in France. As for Berlusconi, he is only the prime minister of Italy. But everyone knows that.
As prime minister, he must remain officially distant from the team, but that shouldn’t prevent him from accepting the credit that he wasted his millions trying to buy last year. What was the greatest team ever assembled last year (a loser) was converted into a cautious and defensive side this year (a winner).
Perhaps it won so magnificently not in spite of, but because, more of its greatest names had been shorn for this game – the defenders Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurto by yellow cards, Stefano Eranio by injury. Milan happily pushed forward rather than risk staying in its own end, where those losses might be magnified and exploited. So it became the attacking team it rarely was this season, the attacking team it was supposed to have been a year ago.
The attacking team on this night was supposed to be Barcelona.
In little time the most dynamic player was shown to be Dejan Savicevic, thoroughly obscured by more charismatic names on Milan last season. His pirouettes and fly-bys frightened Barcelona immediately, and the Spaniards never knew what to do with him until they started hacking him down early in the second half, but by then it was 3-0 and Barcelona’s manager, Johan Cruyff, was still shaking his head at this sight from the 47th minute – of Savicevic chesting the defender Jose Guardiola off of a soft, high ball, then pivoting to lob it in from just outside the left corner of the box. It dropped below the cross bar and above the mispositioned and lunging goaltender Andoni Zubizarreta like a coin into a piggy bank.
That game was just reward for everyone who never had their chance last year. After Barcelona had regained some of its balance in the first 10 minutes, the game took on the pace of wonderful basketball (i.e., not the kind played in Europe).
Savicevic has a wonderful sense of justice. In the 20th minute, Savicevic was sent forward by Zvonimir Boban: He spun around Miguel Angel Nadal and was suddenly into the box with Zubizarreta diving at his feet. Just before impact Savicevic was sliding to get what appeared to be a hopeless, desperate shot.
But he got it off, all right, and it wasn’t a shot. It was a smart bomb that curled directly to none other than the striker Daniele Massaro, Milan’s leading scorer this year and its most useless player exactly one year ago, when he failed to seize victory for Milan while Marco van Basten hobbled with his perennially bad ankle and Jean-Pierre Papin bit his fist waiting to get in.
Anyway, Massaro put that one into the open goal just as he would in the final minute of the half. Savicevic danced through Barcelona down the left side until there was no more field to conquer. So he made a U-turn in the box and crossed to Massaro, who was as ruthless with his second goal as his teammate was beautiful.
After the third goal the English referee, Don Philip, was handing out yellow cards as if they were flyers on a streetcorner. The Barcelona defender Alberto Ferrer earned one for taking down Savicevic, who quickly earned his revenge by making Ferrer feel like the door of a telephone booth. As the resulting shot – a sure goal – bounced off the right post, Savicevic was just releasing his curly hair from his hands when he noticed Marcel Desailly riding in from the left side, alone, with the sloppy clearance. Tapie will recall Desailly as a key player for Marseille last year, sold to Milan this season in an attempt to recover financially from the French scandal.
All night Desailly had watched Savicevic’s back, reading everything, and preaching that nothing shall pass. He was as strong as the other was nimble, and his point-blank goal in the 58th minute seemed to rustle the goalkeeper’s hair as it whizzed past his left shoulder.
In the final minutes, Papin appeared on the sideline in street clothes: A luxurious member of last year’s Dream Team, he could not even earn a place on the bench this year, and next season he will play in Germany. But he was celebrating, as were Baresi and the others; Milan’s coach, Fabio Capello, raised his arms, for with his first Champions’ Cup (Milan’s fifth overall) he had escaped the shadow of Arrigo Sacchi’s champagne football of 1989 and 1990; and the people were chanting: Berlusconi, Berlusconi, which made you think, it really is amazing, how much can change in one short year.
Source: The New York Times