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As part of our week long build up to arguably this seasons’ title decider, Qasa Alom looks at why Inter manager Leonardo’s past ties to Milan make this more than just a derby

“He’s not that kind of player…”

It is a phrase synonymous with brutish defenders such as Ryan Shawcross after his reckless challenge broke Aaron Ramsey’s leg – even though he did something quite similar to the delicate tibia and fibula of Francis Jeffers two years prior. Or something David Moyes said to defend Kevin Nolan’s actions after the Newcastle captain used Victor Anichebe’s leg as a trampoline. It’s now become such a valid pretext that even the likes of Theo Walcott are piping up with it to excuse themselves from dodgy penalty box dives. In the case of a certain 25 year old Sao Paolo player though, he really wasn’t that sort of player.

Flash forward to the present day and the Rossoneri were dealt their own proverbial blow to the face as former player, technical director and manager Leonardo, the man famed for bringing Ricky Kaká, Alexandre Pato and Thiago Silva to the San Siro, switched the Curva Sud for the Curva Nord and even has the gall to gatecrash Milan’s 18th Scudetto winning party plans at the Duomo. No he really isn’t that sort of player is he.

So why has this move caused so much tension and controversy?

Unlike many ferocious worldwide rivalries, where such actions could never be even comprehended, dealings between these cousins is somewhat liberal with two of Milan’s most senior players Clarence Seedorf and Andrea Pirlo both directly swapping the Serpent for the Devil in the not-so-distant summer of 2002.

Secondly, despite spending a total of twelve seasons at Milanello, four as a player, seven as part of the backroom staff and then eventually one terminal-year as manager, few would have ever argued that Leo bleeds red and black. As a player, he was by and large unassuming, which must be stressed despite the fact that he was indeed a key member of the Scudetto winning side of ’99, who contributed twelve goals in the league to end up as the teams’ second top scorer. His name though, cannot be synonymous with that title in the same way that George Weah was in 1995 or Shevchenko in 2004. That honour must go to the Croatian master Zvonimir Boban.

Finally, it’s not so uncommon in the weird and wonderful world of Calcio to see such a managerial merry go-round take place, as Leonardo is the fifth man in history to have taken charge of both Milanese clubs. Surely Giovanni Trapattoni, a man who straddled Italy’s big three for over 35 years has shown that it is possible to do make such moves in a dignified manner.

So what is it?  Why has the man with those innocent fawn-like eyes, Prince Charming’s jaw line and disarming smile created such a furore about managing two clubs from the same city, when even a season prior to that he was merely thought of as a journeyman player with a fantastic eye for talent?

“I would never coach another team; I could never do that to Milan.” Leonardo, May 2010.

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that he convinced the world he really –here we go again- was not that sort of man.

Reluctantly cajoled into a position of power by the men upstairs, Leonardo stressed from the outset of his coaching days that his time at Milan would finish when his reign as manager came to an end. Few would have imagined it to end in such a bitter fashion though.

Dealing with Silvio Berlusconi as diplomatically as possible, whilst trying to convince the Senatori to learn a new style of play and get the best out of Ronaldinho is no easy task, and it soon began to show.

Yet little by little, he began to garner the fans to his side due to a swashbuckling and exhilarating style that even managed to make the side dare to believe they could pull off the impossible. Then expectations finally began to align with reality and Milan were horribly exposed as nothing more than a flash in the pan. Fingers began to point, tongues began to waggle and eventually the writing was on the wall as Leonardo and ‘Narcissus’ could no longer see eye to eye.

After the fallout Leonardo, the man who speaks five languages, kept his dignity intact by communicating clearly on a number of occasions that this was it for him as a manager. Many Milanisti tut-tutted and shook their heads ruefully because they would no longer be able to count on his boardroom talents - he would probably (they thought) turn his hand to a career in media and that would be the end of it; good luck to him. The romance was over.

Now though Leonardo’s return to Inter after weeks of flirting and the subsequent rise in the Nerazurri form to become Milan’s major title threat has resulted in all three parties jibing at each other in the media like ex-lovers who air their laundry in public. Thus, this is not about football anymore; this has become a telenovela love drama, a personal battle of pride and glory poised to reach a climax on Saturday night and perhaps even show what kind of player Leonardo really was.

Qasa Alom

Broadcast Journalist. Writer for Serieaweekly, subtitled online or anyone else daft enough to want me. These are my thoughts (even the clever ones)

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