José Mourinho does not believe the theory of 'AC Milan's European DNA' but other top coaches do. It is difficult, otherwise, to explain the first half of the Rossoneri campaign – struggling, to say the least, in Serie A but the only Italian team to reach the UEFA Champions League round of 16.
"I studied biochemistry, I know the RNA, the DNA and the whole nuclear chain," Mourinho once said when coaching Milan's city rivals FC Internazionale Milano back in 2009. "And I know that in the composition of the Milan DNA there is nothing named Champions League."
Milan have won just four of their first 16 games in Serie A this season. They are currently tenth with 19 points, 24 fewer than leaders Juventus and 16 behind SSC Napoli, neither of whom made it past the UEFA Champions League group stage. Massimiliano Allegri's side have conceded 25 goals in the league; only the four bottom teams have done worse.
Meanwhile, in the UEFA Champions League, Milan managed to qualify from a difficult Group H behind FC Barcelona, eliminating AFC Ajax and Celtic FC, who had both won their domestic titles last term. The Rossoneri lost once in the group, away against Barcelona, shipping just two goals in the other five matches.
They kept three clean sheets, as many as in 16 attempts in Serie A this season. "Historically we do better in international competitions," explained Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani. "It's our DNA."
The Rossoneri have won the competition seven times, five in the last 25 years, more than any other European club in that period. Still, the difference between their efforts in Serie A and the UEFA Champions League has probably never been clearer as in this campaign.
"I'm struck by the fact the only [Italian] survivors are those who have had the most problems this season," said former Italy coach Marcello Lippi in an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport. "But it's no accident. Everyone knows Milan's relationship with Europe. Perhaps it goes back to the international experience of the club, and I mean the whole club, not just the players. Basically, it can't just be a coincidence that Milan always go through, can it?"
It is an opinion shared by Paris Saint-Germain coach Laurent Blanc. "Milan have European DNA which always makes them a dangerous side to face even when they are going through difficult periods," he said. "History counts, their fans do as well, and they will prove that Milan are always Milan, so they are always difficult to beat in Europe."
To confirm the 'genetic' theory, Milan's youngsters also qualified for the knockout phase of the UEFA Youth League. "The first thing we are searching for in a young player is the right mentality, he must know exactly what it means to play for Milan, what the Milan style is," coach Filippo Inzaghi told UEFA.com in a recent interview. "My players have it. It's just fantastic to represent Milan and Italy in Europe and they know it."
Inzaghi won the UEFA Champions League twice with Milan, scoring 70 career goals in UEFA competitions. "Personally I have always had a privileged relationship with the Champions League," the 40-year-old said. "It's a unique competition for everything that surrounds it. From the eve of the game, the last training session before the match, visiting your opponent's pitch, the anthem ahead of kick-off, the air you breathe in this competition, all of it makes it really special."
The new crop of players seem to enjoy it as well. "We could have won many more games in Serie A with an approach similar to the one we had in the UEFA Champions League," admitted midfielder Andrea Poli. "We are not getting the results we want in our domestic league while we fully deserved to qualify in the Champions League despite being in a very difficult group. I don't know why, we are the same players in both competitions after all." If not DNA, what else?
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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