Football is full of odd intersections. At this one, two European giants met in the stifling mid-summer heat of Miami inside the expanse of an American football stadium. Odder still is the divergent paths the two clubs have taken to reinvigorate their squads in this offseason of generational transition for both Chelsea and AC Milan.
Chelsea, the reigning Champion’s League champions, are unrestrained spenders having spent upwards of €82 million in an active big-name buying campaign. They opened the transfer season by acquiring one of the biggest talents available, Eden Hazard from Lille for around €40 million. And just last week they also sealed a deal for the 20-year-old Brazilian playmaker Oscar from Internacional for an estimated €32 million.
Didier Drogba, Jose Boswinga and Salomon Kalou have departed. Frank Lampard, playing in the last year of his contract, is likely to leave Stamford Bridge soon as well. Going back to last summer, the club has been delicately managing the twilight of Chelsea’s old guard, the group of players who ushered in the most successful era in the club’s history, while injecting youth, speed and stylistic changes to its roster.
Milan too is pivoting in a new direction. Alessandro Nesta, Filippo Inzaghi, Gennaro Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf and Mark Van Bommel—a legendary class in the Rossoneri’s illustrious history—have all retired or left the club this summer.
But rather than being a buyer in the market, Milan are selling. Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, unquestionably Milan’s two best players, were shipped to Paris St. Germain for €65 million combined.
The notable Milan summer signing thus far, Riccardo Montolivo, came on a free transfer from Fiorentina.
Though the club has indicated they are still in the market for a striker, the search is cautious and pensive. It's a radical departure from the recent past when “win at all costs” was the standard operating procedure for the club president, and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. It could be the potential punitive effects of coming financial fair play regulations or a reflection of the chairman’s own humbling decline from the heights of power, but there’s been a decided shift at the San Siro towards prudence and fiscal responsibility.
A change in fortunes even present in the scenes outside Sun Life stadium, an ocean removed from the home grounds of the Saturday evenings’ World Football Challenge match. Chelsea blue was the predominant color. Checkered blue and white flags were the ubiquitous car adornment of choice.
Out of one of the dozens of tents in a plaza hosting pre-game festivities, a line snaked around itself as people bore the heat for a brief moment and picture with Chelsea’s FA Cup and Champions League trophies.
Contingents of loyal Chelsea fans who made the trip were joined by legions of new devotees fresh from purchasing the latest kit out of a temporarily transformed Miami Dolphins team store.
Over 57,000 ended up filling the seats and watching and waiting patiently, still in buoyant spirits, through a goalless and less than captivating first half. John Terry skied a shot over the cross bar within the first 10 minutes after Branislav Ivanovic had done well to head a Lampard free kick to his feet.
Urby Emanuelson similarly wasted the enterprising work of Kevin-Prince Boateng with a errant volley after Milan’s new No. 10 found him unmarked on the far post with an ideally weighted cross.
The second half sprang to life aided by a series of substitutions. After Chelsea’s modest signing, only €8 million from Werder Bremen, Marko Marin’s impact was immediate and positive on Chelsea’s left wing. Robert Di Matteo also moved Hazard into the middle of the pitch to great effect. Hazard was sharp all night but his second half runs caused serious concern for the Italian defense and had the crowd engaged again.
The European champions upped their intent to break the deadlock but lacked precision in the final account. Still, it was surprising that against the run of play in the 68th minute an innocuous midfield turnover quickly caught the Blues defense scrambling in retreat. Emanuelson and Stephan El Shaarawy going one-two, setting Peter Cech off balance enough that even after blocking El Shaarway’s initial shot he wasn’t in position to stop Emanuelson’s.
A late equalizer proved elusive even to Fernando Torres, who had come on to rapturous applause in the 59th minute for an ineffective Romelu Lukaku.
Milan were the 1-0 victors, and Chelsea is to resume preparations for a new season back in the Olympic city. Miami’s fans are content with a display of European club football that was more spectacle than substance.