That was all true, but none of it seemed especially relevant, or to contain even the slightest real significance, because inside San Siro it was extremely difficult to think at all. The stadium, the one both clubs are so desperate to leave behind, was so noisy, so animated, so vivid and so vibrant that it bordered on a form of sensory overload.
The game itself was no less compelling. It might have been a little jagged, kind of rough around the edges in comparison to what went before, but that did not seem to matter in comparison to the bustling passion of Nicolò Barella, the daring play of Federico Dimarco, the faintly desperate determination of Sandro Tonali to rescue something — anything — from Milan’s harrowing start in the first leg of the tie.
If it was not, then, quite the apex of soccer as a sport, but it lacked absolutely nothing as a spectacle, right from the moment the Champions League anthem began and the Curva, in an instant, was turned into a sneering devil’s face. That is not something that should be taken lightly and presented with a pat of the head and a condescending smile as an unwanted consolation prize.
There is something stirring about soccer played to a pitch of perfection, when a team transforms itself into something approaching art. That is why those who can affect that transformation are so revered, and so richly rewarded. But it does not need to reach those heights to be absorbing, engaging, thrilling. All it has to be is a contest, an occasion, an event.
That, after all, has a far broader, far more visceral appeal. Some games exist to be watched, to be admired, to be appreciated. Others are there to be heard, to be sensed, to be felt. The slender technical deficiencies — of both teams — will not be remembered. In the white heat, they may not even have been noticed. The noise, though, washing down from the Curva Sud even as the thing Milan had dreaded most of all slowly came into being, will echo for some time.