KANSAS CITY – For once the shadow looming large over this Milan derby is not the statue of the Madonnina standing atop the Duomo of Santa Maria Nascente; rather it's the estranged figure of Carlitos Tvez. As pre-match entertainment, the intrigue surrounding the Manchester City strikers prospective transfer to either Milan or Inter proved utterly compelling. On Thursday, it felt like a derby had already been played. Adriano Galliani flew to London for talks with City regarding Tvez. Everything rested, however, on Alexandre Pato accepting a move to Paris Saint-Germain. Reports in France claimed an agreement had been reached on a fee of 28m plus 7m in bonus payments. I am optimistic by nature, Leonardo said, even if I dont believe that well close a deal by the weekend. Still, that seemed to give Galliani the green light to sign Tvez. Inter President Massimo Moratti appeared certain that he would be joining Milan and sounded as though he had conceded defeat. Thats football, he said. Yet, like a political thriller, there was still a twist in the plot to come.
At 4:10 p.m. London-time, Galliani stepped outside the room that had been booked for the day by Tvezs agent, Kia Joorabchian, at the Landmark Hotel in Marylebone. He had to take a phone call. Half an hour later, a statement was issued on Milans website. It was from Pato. Milan is my home, he wrote. I didnt want to interrupt my career in Rossonero after having won my first two trophies with this shirt. I want to contribute to the writing of Milans history and the future success of this club. Berlusconi, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport , had put a stop to proceedings, not, as the gossip columns claim, on behalf of his daughter Barbara, who just happens to be Patos girlfriend, but because he wasnt completely convinced by the Tvez transfer. For now, the deal was off and Galliani returned empty-handed. Players have the right to choose and I always respect their decisions, he insisted. I remember getting a no from Gianluca Vialli and then Marco van Basten arrived. Or when Serginho said no to Fiorentina and Zvonimir Boban rejected a move to Marseille. Both then stayed and did very well. If Pato declared his love for Milan, its good that he stays. As the sun set on Thursday evening, La Repubblica wittily claimed that this particular derby had ended 0-0 with Milan scoring a winning goal only to see it dramatically disallowed in the dying minutes. Reflecting on the events of the last few days, deciding what to make of it is difficult because ultimately, beyond claiming the bragging rights and showing up their rival, the addition of Tvez to either Milan or Inter didnt make a whole lot of sense. With 50 goals in 24 games across all competitions, Milan have the best attack in Italy. At this stage of the season, its the third best in Berlusconis 26 years at the club behind the `92-93 team with van Basten, Rijkaard and Gullit, and the `05-06 team with Kak, Andriy Shevchenko and Pippo Inzaghi. True, not all the goals are coming from strikers. Pato has found the net only once in Serie A this season. Robinho is wasteful but gets the best out of top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Inzaghi is in the twilight of his career.
To many, Milans requirements lie elsewhere. Against Atalanta on Sunday, Allegri was forced into fielding a makeshift midfield. With Rino Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf and Massimo Ambrosini all unavailable ( not to mention all over the age of 33), there was no like-for-like alternative on the bench. Wouldnt it be more prudent to reinforce that position before buying another striker? Perhaps the club is prepared to wait until the summer to snap up Riccardo Montolivo for free once his contract expires at Fiorentina? But what about the need to improve at left back since Taye Taiwo has proven to be such a flop? Is there a case to be made for signing Tvez? Well, while he does indeed fit the profile of an Allegri player with his spirit of sacrifice, stamina for the pressing game, and his goal-scoring prowess, theres a serious risk that, by letting a player of Patos caliber leave at 22 when he has yet to realize his full potential (partly because of 11 muscle injuries in the last two years), Milan might come to regret it in the way that Inter did selling a world class young talent like Mario Balotelli to City in 2010. Then theres the fact that Tvez is cup-tied for the Champions League. Pato is not. Milan would be shooting themselves in the foot. As for Inter, what doubts they once might have had about the teams misfiring strike-force have been eased after Diego Milito and Giampaolo Pazzini both ended long scoring droughts and rediscovered their sense for goal in December. Diego Forln is, to use a clich, like a brand new signing after recovering from what he calls the worst injury of his career a muscle tear suffered on October 11. He will try again to fill the considerable void left in the teams attack following Samuel Etoos sale to Anzhi Makhachkala last summer.
On balance, Tvez would have been superfluous, a luxury that Milan and Inter could ill-afford in an age of austerity, when UEFA is demanding that clubs make efforts to live within their means and fall into line with their plans for financial fair-play. Milans interest in Tvez was real. He, by all accounts, was interested in joining Milan, too. Inters motives, however, have come under scrutiny, even if Moratti claimed last week that they werent joking and had the space to act, perhaps looking at Tvez as an extraordinary investment necessary to secure Champions League qualification; the irony of course being that if Inter keep spending such amounts and continue to make losses, receiving a license from UEFA to play in the competition might become a problem in the near future. Indulging their penchant for dietrologia (explained here ), some journalists within the Italian media have suggested that Inter had another agenda and only entered the race to sign Tvez because they wanted take advantage of Milans interest, provking them into over-reaching themselves by driving up the price in an auction before walking away, leaving their rival to pick up the bill with the added bonus that they might have sold Pato to do it. That seems far-fetched, especially in light of Morattis comments on Friday, which hinted that talks for Tvez might well resume after the derby. If he were to join Inter, theres skepticism as to what difference he could make in the second half of the season. Opta stats remind us that Tvez failed to score in 11 of his first 12 league games for City. Considering he hasnt played since September 21, the chances of him making an immediate impact is doubtful, even if he has been keeping in shape, as it will surely take time for him to adjust, settle and to get into match rhythm. Come the end of the transfer window, if Tvez is still a City player, the prospect of Milan rekindling their interest shouldnt be ruled out. The clubs sudden volte-face from almost certainly selling Pato to keeping him called to mind their treatment of Kak in January 2009. Back then his passage to City looked like a done deal, but Kak didnt want to leave. Like Pato, he declared his love for Milan. Kak appeared at a balcony window holding aloft a club shirt to indicate to the fans below that he was staying. Five months later, he was sold to Real Madrid. Will history repeat itself? That remains to be seen. But the derby for Tvez might not be over yet, and it looks set to last longer than 90 minutes.