“This will be an interesting adventure for him. He has the time to do things properly, I trust Leonardo and am happy he is with us.” With these words, Moratti finished introducing Leonardo to the media as his team’s new coach. As he proudly presented his man, the whole football world sat shocked at the identity of Inter’s most recent employee. Little did anyone know at the time how that move would pan out; however, there was only one thing guaranteed: this season’s Serie A was just about to get very interesting. Taking a trip down memory lane, one couldn’t help but wonder how times change.
One fine day, in the summer of 1997, Galliani flew to Paris. He had a simple mission: to come back with Leonardo. Fabio Capello had already identified his man, the task was given, Galliani had to obey. Leonardo hadn’t joined Milan at the best of times, as the club failed to reach objectives season after season, and a Scudetto medal is the only silverware he could boast with Milan. Yet what was built was much more important, a foundation of a relationship that would grow for years to come. An inseparable bond between Berlusconi’s club and Leonardo was being created, or at least it seemed so at the time.
With Berlusconi, Leonardo’s relationship always seemed difficult, he even said so himself, “I can’t deny our relationship is difficult. We are different, maybe incompatible.” Narcissist was a word Leonardo used to describe Berlusconi, while I couldn’t think of a better word to describe Leonardo himself. “A narcissist doesn’t like anything that isn’t a reflection of himself”, declared Leonardo after leaving, but couldn’t the same be said about the Brazilian? Berlusconi revealed that Leonardo had been too “tough-headed”. For a President that had bossed the likes of Sacchi, Capello, and Ancelotti to name a few, Silvio Berlusconi was no rookie in his business; however, Leonardo was. From the outside it seemed as if Leonardo couldn’t accept criticism from the boss, yet if he hopes to continue in this business, he needs to change his ways. Comparing his treatment with how Zamparini treated Delio Rossi or even how Moratti treated Benitez, it is easy to say Leonardo hadn’t seen the worst treatment from Milan’s owner. This week Ronaldo claimed that Leonardo is “class at human relationships” and that he “knows how to deal with people”, but sadly he failed to build the most important relationship in his career thus far.
Yet how far apart Milan and Leonardo have come was a surprise. Milan is a club famous for its family traditions, so no matter what Leonardo was still “one of them”, and removing him from the payroll wouldn’t change the personal relationship between the club and the ex-employee. That seemed to be the case with Leonardo as well. “I can’t coach another team in Italy, it would be too soon, I couldn’t do that to Milan”. Of course we all know how that turned out. Contrary to popular belief, Leonardo indeed could bite. This same man who studied philosophy and hails Ghandi’s peaceful ways, proved that there is more to his personality than just being “class at human relationships”. Generally viewed as a “good guy” due to his class looks and easy going attitude, Leonardo definitely proved that he could ruffle a few feathers.
Following the “divorce”, opinions differed on whether Leonardo had been treated fairly or not. As a coach, some argued that he had shown enough in his first season to deserve the opportunity to continue his adventure, but mostly it was people’s emotions that preferred him. Leonardo seemed too nice of a person to be treated in that manner by Berlusconi, believed the majority. However, it didn’t take long for Leonardo to prove them all wrong. “I want to change skin, to see things as a non-Milanista”, revealed the man last September. Well, at least for once he stayed true to his word. Remember, this is the same man who said he couldn’t coach another team in Italy, only to jump at the chance to coach Milan’s fiercest rivals almost 7 months into unemployment. “I didn’t know what it meant to be a coach, it’s been an extraordinary experience but I don’t know if I will do it again in the future, definitely not for the next few years”. With these words Leonardo ended his stint on Milan’s bench, openly admitting that coaching wasn’t in his short-term plans. Only to join the Nerazzuri shortly after, forgetting all his past promises and declarations.
By joining Inter, Leonardo had signaled the end to a 13-year relationship with Milan. “I wasn’t looking for work, I was looking for a dream and this is the biggest challenge there is”, cried the man who received a more affectionate send off than Paolo Maldini himself. “I thank Milan for 13 years together and I will never forget them but now I start a new adventure. I am a free man”. Clearly Milan were tying down his freedom. After all, that is a club that offered him the chance to finish his career on a high by re-signing him in 2003, as well as giving him work by getting him on the payroll as a director and scout, among other things. As a thank you, Leonardo fought with Berlusconi, left the club, then insulted Berlusconi some more, got rid of his “rossonero skin” as he called it, and then answered Moratti’s call. Not bad for someone who didn’t want to be viewed as a “good guy”, in his own words not mine. Despite Galliani’s desperate attempts, “If he joins Inter one day, I will never forgive him!” quipped Galliani at the time where the rumors had reached the top, “Of course I am joking about not forgiving him. However, I would feel upset to see a former AC Milan player and coach like Leonardo working for our city rivals”. It didn’t matter to Leonardo anyway. “Galliani would respect my decision”, declared the Brazilian, forgetting that Galliani may be the single most important man in Leonardo’s career. He was the man responsible for kick-starting his coaching career, in Galliani’s words “In 2009 I spent three months convincing Leonardo he was able to be a coach and I was right. We hear from each other sometimes and I think his role is as a coach, I knew this before he did as he used to say he wanted to be a director”. The two hit off an amazing relationship that saw Galliani help Leonardo with post career depression. After all what Galliani did for Leonardo, and after Milan’s vice-president last minute attempts to stop the move, Leonardo didn’t bother and now speaks of Galliani as a rival. It would be naive to believe that Leonardo would put Galliani’s feelings before his, don’t forget Leonardo moved on easily from a 13-year relationship with Milan. Obviously it’s much easier to get over one person than to get over a whole entity. So much for being “class at human relationships”.
As if he couldn’t wait to make more enemies. Soon enough after joining Inter and committing the ultimate sin, Leonardo started creating the “anti-Milan”. Perhaps feeling lonely on the other side of Milano, Leonardo tried to convince old pals Maldini and Kaka to jump ship too! Of course it seemed unlikely that either of these two gentlemen would have the indecency to commit the same horror decision, but he tried anyway. Leonardo seemed insecure, desperate some might say for proving Berlusconi and Milan wrong. Perhaps that’s why he seemed like such a perfect match with Moratti, as both men had one target, and one target only: to get back at Milan. Leonardo for the obvious reasons, and Moratti for perhaps watching how once again an ex-Interista favorite of him was enjoying success with the cross-town rivals. Now with both clubs finding themselves in the middle of a tug-of-war for the Brazilian Ganso, Leonardo knows he has a high-profile role to play, and he is doing the best he could. Reportedly the Inter coach speaks on the phone daily with the young Brazilian starlet, such is his eagerness to get one over Milan. Lauded in the past for helping Milan sign world class Brazilians Kaka, Pato and Thiago Silva, Leonardo is now doing his deeds on the “blue” side of the city. For him, the Milan chapter is over, and he is doing the best he could to become “one of the rest” at Inter.
Till this day, Leonardo is still part of the “Hall of Fame” on Milan’s website. Still considered one of the club’s legends, he was recently invited to Berlusconi’s 25 year party. Needless to say he didn’t show up. The difference in class is obvious. Milan didn’t take the matters personal, yet Leonardo did. For Milan, Leonardo’s time with the Rossoneri will forever remain a beautiful part in the club’s rich history. However, for Leonardo, Milan was just another step in his career. The Brazilian was quick to cash in and forget the memories. Him and Inter seem to be a perfect match, indeed worthy of each other.
Note: all the photos credit to Cristina.