It began like so many other Saturdays at Cagliariâs practice facility, the manager Rolando Maran coming in from training to update reporters on the injuries and fitness concerns affecting his first-team squad. It took a turn towards atypical shortly afterwards, as players lined up in the street to kick over milk churns and spill their contents into the road.
This was not on the schedule. After speaking to the press, Maran was supposed to board the team bus with his players and head to the airport for a flight to Milan â where they would play the following evening.
Instead, Cagliari found themselves blocked in by a group of disgruntled dairy producers, who had come to ask them to join in a solidarity strike. It was the latest move in a weekend of protests on the island of Sardinia, where dairy producers have accused cheesemakers of using their collective purchasing power to keep the price of milk unsustainably low.
Cagliariâs CEO, Mario Passetti, led a delegation to speak with protesters. Plainly, the club could not comply with requests to boycott Sundayâs game. The gesture of emptying churns â something farmers have been doing in streets and town centres across Sardinia â was a mutually acceptable compromise.
It was a scene that Maran could probably have done without. Away games against Milan are a daunting prospect at the best of times, and especially at a moment when his team is being dragged towards a relegation dogfight. Cagliari had won only once since the start of November.
Yet the dairy producersâ cause is close to the hearts of many at a club whose island roots are a firm part of its identity. Before kick-off against Milan on Sunday, players wore T-shirts in support of the farmers. At full-time, midfielder NicolÃ² Barella reinforced the sentiment to reporters. âIâm a pure-bred Sardinian,â he said. âThis is a story that has touched us a lot and it was important to make a gesture of solidarity. We wanted to get a result for them, too, but the match went in a different direction.â
The full-time score was 3-0 to Milan, and it did not flatter the Rossoneri. Barella has been one of the revelations of this Serie A season, a 22-year-old force of nature whose ferocious tackling and line-breaking runs won him a place in the Italian national team, yet he too has faded in recent times and was overwhelmed here by opponents reinvigorated by a pair of January signings.
Krzysztof Piatek has hit the ground running for Milan, just as he did at Genoa after arriving from KS Cracovia last summer. This was the Polish strikerâs third start for his latest club and he marked it by scoring his fourth goal. You could call it the least important of Sundayâs game, the last in a three-goal triumph, yet Cagliari had been threatening to come back into the game, hitting the crossbar through JoÃ£o Pedro moments before.
Besides, it is not as though anyone could call him a flat-track bully. Piatekâs previous three goals for Milan had earned a 2-0 win over Napoli in the Coppa Italia and a league draw at Roma.
Even more eye-catching on this occasion, though, was Lucas PaquetÃ¡ in midfield. When the Brazilian completed his move from Flamengo at the start of last month, the assumption was that he might need time to acclimatise. So far, that has not been the case.
He scored Milanâs second goal here, arriving right on cue to meet Davide Calabriaâs cross, but that was nothing like the sum of his contribution. PaquetÃ¡ was a constant source of energy down the left, winning possession as consistently as any other player on the team but also distributing it with greater vision and finesse.
Even during Milanâs dismal end to 2018 â they went four games without a goal before finally scraping a 2-1 win against Spal â they showed signs of being a team in Gennaro Gattusoâs image, industrious and able to dominate opponents in a physical battle. What the team lacked was invention: Franck KessiÃ© still runs with his head down too much and Hakan Calhanoglu is unjustifiably selfish for a player who never scores.
It is too soon for sweeping conclusions, but never too soon, it seems, to start lumbering fresh talent with the memories of a brighter past. By full-time, images of Piatek leaping on PaquetÃ¡âs shoulders were being contrasted online with old ones of Andriy Shevchenko and KakÃ¡.
The moment captured on Sunday was actually one of mixed emotions. As he celebrated his first goal for the club, PaquetÃ¡ was raising an arm in memory of the 10 teenage footballers who died during a fire in a dormitory at Flamengoâs training centre last week. âFor me this is a very difficult moment,â said PaquetÃ¡. âItâs a dream to be playing for Milan and a dream to score but I lived for 10 years in that boarding house. It was my home.â
The happy memories he is making in a new home cannot erase the pain for the one left behind.Topics Serie A Sportblog Milan Cagliari European club football features Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via Email Share on LinkedIn Share on Pinterest Share on WhatsApp Share on Messenger Reuse this content