Desailly plays devil's advocate
In the theatre of football that is Milan's San Siro, it was no arduous task identifying the villain of the piece on Tuesday night as Tottenham secured an unexpected 1-0 lead in the first leg of their Champions League second-round tie. Gennaro Gattuso, all bristling fury and inexplicable anger, filled the role to perfection as he unwisely picked a fight with Tottenham coach Joe Jordan.
The midfielder, who has often attracted controversy due to his short temper and confrontational style, gave weight to the Serie A club's alternative nickname of Il Diavolo ('The Devil') as, in his own words, he lost his head. Having grabbed and then pushed the former Milan player by the throat following one altercation during the game, and beaten the ground in anger after receiving a yellow card for a foul on Steven Pienaar, he went looking for Jordan after the final whistle and headbutted the 59-year-old Tottenham assistant coach.
It was a scene that shamed the seven-time winners of the European Cup, and after Milan succumbed to a 1-0 defeat at San Siro that leaves their participation in the Champions League under real threat, UEFA unsurprisingly opened disciplinary proceedings. Most commentators have subsequently come to bury Gattuso, and not defend him, and the incident has even been construed as evidence that he is no longer relevant as a player.
However, former Milan star Marcel Desailly, who won the trophy in 1994, believes that although Gattuso failed to fulfil his duties as a role model, particularly as he was Rossoneri captain for the night with Massimo Ambrosini injured, UEFA should not come down too hard on the midfielder.
"It is high level, pressure, tension, he has gone a bit far, but it is UEFA, and players should know that with UEFA you get a big sanction if the cameras see that you act in a bad way," Desailly told ESPNsoccernet. "We are role models and also have to show a good attitude. I cannot really comment: everyone has seen it, it is just not good.
"He likes his aggressive side and this time he has lost a bit of control as a captain. But let's be patient, I hope they will not give him too big a sanction. Nothing special."
When asked if Gattuso and Mathieu Flamini, who could have been sent off for a two-footed challenge on Vedran Corluka, had brought shame on a proud club, Desailly responded: "You remember that we are talking about a team that is top of the table. They were not expecting to see Tottenham at that level tactically, technically also, and probably they have lost a bit of control of their nerves and I hope it does not happen anymore. They will take this as an experience."
While Gattuso's behaviour unsurprisingly dominated the headlines, Flamini was arguably guilty of a greater offence having been fortunate to only be shown a yellow card for a reckless two-footed foul on Corluka that forced the Croatian defender off due to injury.
The former Arsenal midfielder did visit the Tottenham dressing room to apologise for his tackle though, and Desailly has given credit to Flamini for showing remorse for the dangerous challenge.
"When you look at the slow-motion it looks as though it is close to a red card, and on top of that the player got injured," Desailly said. "What can you say? The ref was there, he has not seen it; it is a shame.
"Very good [that he went to apologise]. It happens with the tension, with everything, it is in the game. You try to get the ball maybe in a way that is not good and what he has done [apologising] is very good. To be able to go and apologise means you have understood and maybe next time you will try and be careful.
"But what you have done to somebody, somebody can also do it to you and you lose your job. You remember that football is a job. Passion is there, but it is a job at the end of the day and if you get injured you lose your job."
Marcel on Milan madness
The two controversial incidents have somewhat clouded what was a tremendous result for Tottenham, and a desperately disappointing night for Milan, who have attracted praise for the way in which they have assumed control of Serie A this season under Massimiliano Allegri.
Desailly was expecting more from his former employers, but says it is refreshing to see Tottenham enjoy success in their maiden campaign in the competition. The result was certainly more impressive than their previous visit to San Siro, which saw them lose 4-3 to Inter in the group stage, despite a hat-trick from Gareth Bale.
"Very disappointed," Desailly said of his reaction to Milan's display. "I was expecting much more. Especially when you are top of the table in the Italian league. The three midfielders were not able to cope with the wide players - Lennon and Pienaar. It was very difficult to catch them. Gattuso and Flamini had to go into the corridors and it was very difficult for them. [Clarence] Seedorf was not at his level also.
"[Tottenham] were disillusioned against Inter Milan when from the beginning, Inter Milan took advantage of them, but this time you could see a huge concentration from Tottenham. I was very pleased because it is a new face and we hope they can keep their shape and discipline.
"No [Tottenham have not surprised anyone]. Europe is already aware about the capacity, the counter-attack capacity. [Michael] Dawson also was back in the defence and he has brought some stability to the team. No, Europe was not shocked, Europe knew about the quality and capacity of Tottenham. It is fresh to see Tottenham at this level of the competition, new. They have not played Champions League very much and doing that is great for football."
Marcel Desailly was speaking in Geneva for the launch of the Champions League Trophy Tour presented by Heineken. Visit the website for more details.