The curse of San Siro continues for Milan's two legendary clubs with eight games played at the Giuseppe Meazza and neither side has managed to win a game. It's Milan's worst start in over 80 years and among the myriad of footballing reasons for the slow start, some have pointed to the installation of the semi-synthetic plastic pitch in the iconic stadium.
In every bar and café around Italy's fashion capital men are shaking their heads in bewilderment and gesticulating wildly, and tossing the Gazzetta onto the table in frustration. While Milan finished runners up last year to Juventus (and for a disputed Muntari goal, could well have won the title) and winners the year before, the most likely reason for Milan's failure to gain wins at home is the fact that they lost the spine of their team in the off season.
Many of their most experienced and best players either retired or were sold with a conscious decision to exercise fiscal prudence and not replace them with big name imports from other leagues. Looking to nurture home grown talent such as Mattia de Sciglio, who came through the ranks of the youth system and El Shaarawy, brought in from Genoa last season and rising to the challenge this year, the fact that their cross-town rivals have endured an equally torrid early season, despite having spent big in the Summer, has many pointing to the new playing surface.
Manager enjoys the full backing of the clubs owner
Ever since a third tier was added to the San Siro in preparation for the Italia '90 World Cup the left hand part of the pitch has been deprived of sunlight which makes it difficult for new grass to bed in. The surface, which cut up easily was complained about both by Arsene Wenger after Arsenal lost 4-0 to Milan and by Pep Guardiola after Milan held the Catalans to a 0-0 draw in last year's Champions League. Some also blamed the surface for the club's unusually high injury rate which despite having the world renowned Milan Lab is among the worst in Serie A.
Stefan El Shaarawy is young but shows he can play at the highest level
In an attempt to solve the pitch problem once and for all and also to save costs (the pitch was having to be re-laid six times a season at a cost of a €1,200,000 per year, decision was made to get in specialist company Desso Sport Systems who had already installed hybrid pitches at Anfield, the Emirates Stadium, Villa Park and Wembley, the World Cup final 2010 in South Africa was played on one of their pitches. The hybrid 'GrassMaster'
The hybrid system consists of a 100% natural grass pitch into which artificial fibres are injected 20 cm deep, every 2 cm across the pitch. This results in approximately 20 million artificial fibres, reinforcing the natural grass pitch. The natural grass roots grow around the artificial fibres, which the manufacturers claim anchors the field and provides a playing surface.
Mattia de Sciglio is a home-grown talent with great potential
Every time Milan played in Europe it became the refrain of lazy pundits everywhere to bemoan the average age of the AC Milan player. What Allegri is doing now represents a seismic shift form a Milan of imported superstars to a sustainable Milan of young exciting home-spun talent and that is something both fans and critics of the club have been waiting to see for a very long time. Of course the illustrious name of the club begs a winning way while in transition, and the Curva Sud will always demand their club be challenging for honours whether domestic or European, but this type of transition does not come without some teething problems.
Indeed against Udinese, despite the result a measurable improvement could be seen across a swath of individual performances, it seems only a matter of time before it clicks together. With Robinho and Pato set to return to first team action, they could well prove to be the right foil to their less experienced teammates. Just as the pitch needed an injection of artificial fibres to bed down, perhaps all Allegri's Milan is an injection of experience to anchor it in place. The other big spending European super clubs may be making hay now but with spiralling wage bills set to clash with FIFA's fair play regulations they are only kicking the can down the road. If FIFA were to come down heavily on the profligate spenders would the commitment of their new buyers wane?
By Hugo Mc Cafferty