Reality bites everyone in Italy on and off the football field

Recession has affected clubs and followers alike, writes Ian Hawkey.

Tough economic times breed nostalgia, the longing for days when the pot of disposable income seemed deeper, when a week's work for the same week's wage somehow appeared shorter. Ordinary Italians, struggling to see light at the end of recession's tunnel, live these sensations daily.

They are also discovering that, even in their preferred form of escapism, football, nostalgia is hard-nosed. A compromised sort of nostalgia lately has been heard on the red and blue sides of Milan.

Both Inter and AC Milan have had cause to think deeply on the leading players who stood for the club's peak achievements of recent campaigns. Inter finally sold Wesley Sneijder, after a saga which had dragged on. Once the Dutchman had joined Galatasaray for around ?7.5 million (Dh36.7m), it became easier to appreciate Sneijder's positives, not the problem he had become, once Inter had reached a contractual impasse with a player to whom they had offered a longer deal, but on lower than his current, ?6m-per-season salary.

Sneijder was once a real ?6m man in fans' eyes: he helped deliver Inter's best season since the 1960s. Remove his goals and passes from the recollections of the Uefa Champions League, Serie A and Coppa Italia of 2010 and you take out much of the creative dynamism of that treble.

For all the arguments that Sneijder has not been badly missed in the five months since he last wore an Inter jersey, they are currently a side nine points off the lead of Serie A and four points shy of the last qualifying place for next year's Champions League. The Inter in which a fit Sneijder thrived was stronger.

That is not to deride the club's decision to stand firm on their commitment to financial adjustment. Moreover, the current Inter play in a different style to the quick-breaking Jose Mourinho-managed team who funnelled play through the Dutch No 10.

Similarly, the last AC Milan team to win the Champions League were distinct from the present version. They had a brilliant fulcrum for their plans in Kaka, the figurehead of Milan's 2007 European Cup winners.

Milan are expected to resume, before this transfer window ends, their on-off talks with Real Madrid about bringing the Brazilian back. Naturally, they have kept emphasising to Madrid that the Kaka of the past 18 months is not the zippy Kaka who used to energise Milan, adding that his value, his price, has therefore dropped. There is genuine nostalgia for Kaka at Milan, but it is a hard-nosed, count-every-penny nostalgia.

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