Leaving Stadio San Siro a Necessary Move for AC Milan

Anthony LopopoloFeatured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2014

Anthony Lopopolo

There is no etiquette at San Siro. There are a few stewards walking and checking tickets before the game, but then they just take a seat and watch like the rest of us. There is tradition. Take the flares: smoke billows and spills on to the field.

The bigger the game, the foggier it gets. The smog is not always natural. They erupted on the south side, only to prompt the same thunderous response from the north. There’s fire in every corner. Flares bursting and glowing bloody red in the terraces, like some odd constellation.

When Inter and Milan play against each other, there is a match before and after the 90 minutes. The ultras of each side usually unfurl a display of art—this year they protested against rules limiting territorial discrimination—and they shout at each other, a tennis match for the ear, one end to the other. At the end, they all stream out and into a long, narrow street through the suburbs, the winners filling it with songs like air in a bagpipe.

It is a constant fight for territory, to impress the Virgin Mary who sits atop the cathedral in the square of Milan. Others, of legal age or not, smoke by the pack—yes, it’s allowed, or simply excused—sharing cigarettes, taking a drag before and after every close call.

San Siro is not just a stadium. It’s a vessel of the past, of what’s outlawed in the Premier League, of what’s left of the vestiges of the game that used to be. It’s the home of Inter and Milan, or maybe only thus for a few more years.

For the past six months, as reported by Football Italia, Barbara Berlusconi, the deputy chief executive of AC Milan, has worked on a proposal to build a new stadium on the site that will host the 2015 Expo in the north-west of the city. The club had already wrote a letter in November expressing interest for the first time to build an arena holding 60,000. They want everything: car parks, shopping centres, commercial revenue.

Arexpo, the group overseeing the development of the Expo, set March 13 as a deadline for any such plans. Only after the exhibition would they start to rebuild and reconstruct the site to add new infrastructure. The club would proceed with an auction, reports milannews.it, for the right to construct the stadium in time for the 2017-18 season.

Last year it was Inter that appeared to be the club to break away. They were looking for a 60,000-seat stadium of their own, Tuttosport (via the Daily Mail) reported, and they pegged land in the south-east for the plot. But that was back when Massimo Moratti was the boss.

Now he is merely an honorary president, and new Indonesian owner Erick Thohir wants to cap salaries at €2.5 million a year starting next season. They have a deficit for the current fiscal year of roughly €70 million, reports Tuttosport (h/t SempreInter). They also fired their technical director. Now is the time to make the plans for a new stadium. Thohir, who has watched matches from Indonesia, must first learn to manage the club.

The numbers are encouraging: Juventus have their own stadium, opened in 2011. A mall and restaurants surround the exterior—you can eat sushi, or if you don’t feel like Japanese, a Texas steakhouse right beside it could tempt you—and even though it only holds 41,000 fans, the club posted a profit as early as the first half of the 2012-13 season. Juventus jumped to €272.4 million from €195.4 million the previous season, according to Deloitte, in revenue last year. That’s the highest increase of any of the top 20 clubs on that list.

Anthony Lopopolo

Renovations to San Siro are coming. The toilets are essentially holes, and they smell. For the 2016 Champions League final, which the stadium will host, they must add more seats for VIPs, adequate accommodations for disabled people and larger areas for the media. There are classic transparent dividers that section off different parts of the stadium, and they’re impossible to negotiate, and they block the view in some corners.

It’s outdated. Piero Pirelli, who served as president of Milan, first opened San Siro in 1926. The Rossoneri played in it first, and Inter joined them as tenants in 1947. The city of Milan operates the stadium.

In a new arena, they could kick-start a new area. They could easily find a sponsor to secure naming rights for the stadium, like Allianz Arena in Munich. They have to go modern, even if that means leaving those foggy scenes behind.

Offices already moved out of the city, to the north-west, in Portello di Milano, away from the famous location of via Turati, where executives took back doors to avoid the media, where agents took interviews, where Kaka greeted fans, waving his shirt out the window.

Tradition is changing. Adriano Galliani, so long the vice-president of Milan, almost resigned, and Barbara Berlusconi has taken power away from him. They sacked a coach mid-season for the first time since 2001, only the third time since the famous team of the late 1980s.

As Paolo Maldini told Reuters (via CNN) in April:

If you go outside the San Siro, you can see people selling fake merchandising. It was like that when I started to play [in 1985] and it is still like that now. You can't allow this. Then you have old stadiums, very old stadiums. San Siro is a historic stadium. It's nice but doesn't offer comfort ... we have to improve it.