The behind-the-scenes story, as told by La Gazzetta dello Sport, goes like this: It was the summer of 2000 and Milan’s President Silvio Berlusconi went to the San Siro to watch one of his club’s summer scrimmages. He was running for Prime Minister and politics had necessarily superseded football and Milan in his personal pecking order.
He was not engaged in the day-to-day management of his beloved creature anymore, still he wanted to be close to the team. As his boys warmed up, Berlusconi threw an inquisitive look at the pitch and asked his entourage: “Who is that guy with number nine?”
His staff gulped, then one of them said: “He is a new one, Sir. We just bought him from Vicenza. He was the Serie B top-scorer last season.”
“…and that’s why he plays with number nine?” the almighty chairman sarcastically snapped back.
How dare they, Berlusconi must have thought. The number nine. The jersey that was worn by Marco Van Basten, Dejan Savicevic, and George Weah, to name a few. How could they entrust a quasi-unknown young man with such an honor and responsibility?
The young man in question was Gianni Comandini. He was 23 years old and, on top of having won the capocannoniere title in Serie B the previous season, he had also just won the U-21 European Championships with the Azzurrini. He was an up-and-coming striker and Milan had made a considerable investment to bring him to Milanello.
Fast forward to end of the season, and perhaps Berlusconi was right when he frowned at the sight of Comandini spearheading Milan’s attack. The man packed his bags to move to Atalanta after a somewhat lackluster, injury-plagued stint.
Still, Comandini’s transient time in red-and-black left a sweet taste in his supporters’ (as well as Berlusconi’s…) mouths for at least two reasons. On the one hand, because he made the club make a respectable plusvalenza as he was sold to the Bergamaschi for 10 billion Italian Liras more than what he was paid. On the other hand, because he scored an incredible brace – his only league goals that season – in one of the craziest editions of the Derby della Madonnina ever.
The Derby di Milano between Inter and Milan played on May 11, 2001, had a simply astounding outcome. On a Friday night when nothing extraordinary seemed bound to happen, considering the disappointing seasons that both clubs were going through, Milan won 6-0 as Comandini scored the first two goals for the Rossoneri. It is, to date, the largest win ever collected by Milan in a derby against their cross-city foes.
More than 20 years has passed since then, and such a scoreline still has no logical explanation. In the history of the Derby di Milano, there have been times when one of the two contenders clearly had an advantage and easily won the stracittadina. But that was not the case on that night. Both sides were in deep trouble and had already sacked one coach each.
Perhaps the Nerazzurri were just a bit more of a mess than the Rossoneri. Their original sin, that doomed their entire season, was to hastily get rid of coach Marcello Lippi after just one league game (!). President Massimo Moratti sacked the future World Champion after he came up with a sensational outburst following a 0-1 loss to Reggina in the Serie A curtain raiser.
“We just cannot play games like this. It is not fair to anybody, to those who pay us and to those who come see us. If I were the president, I would give the coach the ax. Then I would take all the players, hang them on the wall, and kick their asses!” the Tuscan gaffer said to the press. He was livid.
Moratti took the hint and showed Lippi the exit door, but things went downhill since then. His replacement in the dugout was Marco Tardelli, the man whom most calcio fans remember shouting like a madman after scoring Italy’s second goal in the 1982 World Cup Final. A legend on the pitch but, as it would turn out, not equally performing as a manager.
Despite the change at the helm, Inter didn’t manage to change their ways and collected a depressing string of poor performances. After losing 1-6 to Parma in a Coppa Italia bout in December, the Nerazzurri fans thought they had seen it all. But they were wrong.
Still, on the other side of the Navigli rivers, the Milan supporters didn’t have much to be happy about as the season unfolded. The Rossoneri never seemed to be real Scudetto contenders and struggled to even make it to the top four. When they crashed out of the Champions League second group stage despite being in an easy group on paper, the time was over for their manager Alberto Zaccheroni. To save the season, Cesare Maldini – Paolo’s father – and Mauro Tassotti were called at Milan’s deathbed to serve as a caretaker duo until the end of the campaign.
This is to say that, when the two Milanese sides prepared to lock horns in the return leg of the Derby della Madonnina, most pundits were expecting an even contest. The first derby, played in January, had been a fun and balanced affair and ended 2-2.
Cesare Maldini surprised the audience with his choices as he decided to lineup the young Comandini next to Andriy Shevchenko upfront. There were more logical, possible solutions like Leonardo, Zvonimir Boban, and Oliver Bierhoff but perhaps Cesarone had a funny feeling about the former Vicenza sensation. Tardelli answered with a 3-5-2 setup where Christian Vieri and Alvaro Recoba were the two strikers.
Just two minutes into the game, the Nerazzurri had to become familiar with a pattern that would haunt them for the whole match. Brazilian winger Serginho, a mercurial raider that could be a literally unstoppable on the left channel when he was in one of his nights (and he happened to be in one of those…), dashed past his marker and crossed the ball into the middle of the box where Comandini, courtesy of the Inter defense’s abysmal positioning, could volley it past the keeper to open the scoring.
Sixteen minutes later, the pattern repeated itself. Serginho wreaked havoc on the left flank and, with no Inter defender in sight, crossed the ball almost from the end line. Comandini jumped at the near post, anticipating Matteo Ferrari, and clinically headed the ball past Sebastien Frey. In just 18 minutes, he had turned from a calciomercato bust into the man of the Derby. He, the man whom Berlusconi didn’t want to wear the number nine jersey.
On a side note, Comandini was only the second Milan player to have ever bagged a brace on his derby debut. The first was Paolo Rossi, and Olivier Giroud would follow along in 2021.
The second half of that Derby della Madonnina is difficult to recount. It was just not Inter’s night. That is the only way to explain how a seemingly harmless free kick taken by Federico Giunti could bounce into the Inter box and flip past the dumbfounded Frey, making it 3-0 for the Rossoneri. Most likely, Giunti just wanted to go for a cross.
Then Andriy Shevchenko remembered that he still had a capocannoniere title to run for and decided to emulate Comandini, adding a brace to his seasonal tally. His first goal of the night was a carbon copy of Milan’s second, with Serginho crossing the ball from the left and Sheva heading it home with no opposition. The second came from a suggestion from Khakaber Kaladze. Shevchenko anticipated Frey to slot home the Georgian defender’s sharp pass.
Between Sheva’s two goals, a dauntless Inter supporter sneaked past security and invaded the pitch. He reportedly asked Alessandro Costacurta to please tell his mates to stop scoring but like in the meeting between Pope Leo I and Attila The Hun, we will never know what the actual exchange between the two characters was.
If they did talk about stop scoring, surely Serginho didn’t hear that. After serving three assists, the Brazilian wanted to also write his name in the scoresheet. And so, when there were only nine minutes left, he capitalized on Inter’s umpteenth defensive horror show to fast break towards the Nerazzurri’s area and beat the poor Frey to the sixth time.
The disaster was complete. Inter president Massimo Moratti left the stadium before the end of the game. Referee Pierluigi Collina put an end to it without adding any stoppage time. Game. Set. Match.
Inter’s meager consolation prize was ending the season two points above the Rossoneri in the league table. However, both clubs missed a top four spot and were left out of Champions League football the following season.
As for Comandini, he retired at just 28 after an anonymous career plagued by recurring injuries to become…a surfer.
Now, you know that cliché about surfers waiting their whole life for that perfect wave, right? For Gianni Comandini, the perfect wave came early on in his football career, on a seemingly conventional Friday night. And he rode it terribly well.
May 11, 2001 – Serie A 2000-01 Round 30
INTER – MILAN 0-6
SCORERS: 2′ Comandini, 19′ Comandini, 53′ Giunti, 66′ Shevchenko, 77′ Shevchenko, 81′ Serginho
|INTER (3-5-2): Frey; Ferrari, Blanc, Simic; J. Zanetti, Farinos (34′ Cauet), Di Biagio (46′ Seedorf), Dalmat, Gresko; Vieri, Recoba (Ballotta, Macellari, Pacheco, Ferrante, Hakan Sukur) Coach: Tardelli|
|MILAN (4-4-2): Rossi; Helveg, Costacurta, Roque Junior, P. Maldini; Gattuso, Giunti (71′ Guglielminpietro), Kaladze Serginho; Comandini (57′ José Mari), Shevchenko (81′ Leonardo) (Abbiati, Sala, Pablo Garcia, Boban) Coach: C. Maldini / Tassotti|
REFEREE: Mr. Collina from Viareggio
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Simic (I), Helveg, Gattuso (M)