Gattuso's Jordan spat reminds Milan of a past they'd rather forget

One must wonder if Rino Gattuso is aware that AC Milan fans of a certain age hold Joe Jordan in high regard and with great affection, and therefore feel he should be shown respect and certainly not grabbed by the throat or head-butted under any circumstances.

The image of the pair coming together on the touchline offered the perfect link between the present side and a past all Rossoneri fans would rather see torn from the history books.

Back in the 1981/82 season, Jordan was running around upfront in a team that would end up relegated on the last day of the campaign in circumstances many with long memories still believe were rather fishy – with Milan winning at Cesena only for their direct rivals for the drop, Genoa, to score a late equaliser at Napoli.

Even making an immediate return to the top flight, thanks partly to Lo Squalo’s 10 Serie B goals, could not prevent a fallow period in the club’s history - until Silvio Berlusconi came along in 1986 to tear down the past and build a shiny new future.

Milan have come a long way since those dark days, currently sitting atop the Serie A table and looking likely to win the domestic title this season. But losing at home to the Premier League’s fourth side has suddenly left this feeling like that relegation season – pretty much pitiful.

Gattuso’s antics were a snapshot of exactly how Milan looked to approach a tie against a Tottenham side the Rossoneri backroom staff must surely have gauged were a compact team capable of breaking forward at pace.

Leaving aside the injuries to Andrea Pirlo and Massimo Ambrosini, coupled with the ineligibility of Mark Van Bommel and Antonio Cassano, the defeat lies squarely at the feet of Massimiliano Allegri.

A small-time coach who is at home in his own back yard, but once ushered out into the big, bad world of European competition comes across as the novice he is; as witnessed by the timorous approach in Madrid in the group stage – now we can see why the club employed him: to keep the home fires burning.

Milan have now lost their last two home games in Europe – against Ajax and now Spurs – and they have also fallen to defeat at the San Siro to the major domestic rivals; Juventus and AS Roma, which backs any argument that Allegri is too provincial for such a grand club.

The tone was set on Monday when Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as usual, talked the big talk and made is crystal clear he expected to be joined upfront by Robinho – a player who had failed to make an impression in England – which reading between the lines meant he expected to see Alessandro Pato sitting on the bench.

Allegri duly obliged and the team was immediately shorn of something Spurs had in abundance – pace going forward – with Clarence Seedorf supposedly offering support behind the front two. The guile of the aging Dutch master and Ibra’s supposed hunger to leave his mark in Europe were meant to produce the goals the side needed to take to London for the return.

Instead, the move exposed a threadbare midfield three where Thiago Silva - whose very presence in defence alongside Alessandro Nesta usually ensures instant security - was once again drafted in alongside Gattuso and Mathieu Flamini.

The more established midfield duo’s failings are there for all to see: both are unable to move the ball quickly and precisely, with the Frenchman only at home using both feet when it comes to making two-footed lunges.

Behind that, for all Mario Yepes’ sterling efforts to score at the other end - which incidentally says a lot about the ineptitude of the attack - the Colombian looked completely out of his depth in the back four, while the full-backs Ignazio Abate and in particular Luca Antonini sank without trace, leaving Nesta to go down with the sinking ship.

It was not as if Spurs as a team created that much more than Milan, but as individuals within a team unit they seemed to have that much more quality and verve, which is very worrying not only for Milan but Italian football in general when it comes to keeping up with the neighbours around the continent.

At this rate, Serie A could one day become Europe’s fifth or sixth league, having already fallen behind England, Spain and Germany - with France and, if Ajax’s performance at the San Siro is anything to go by, Holland on the up.

What hope then for the second leg? Well, not much if Allegri refuses to change his tactical approach.

For a start, Thiago Silva has to return to his rightful position at the back, as not only can he bring the ball out of defence, the Brazilian has also the pace to offer some insurance when Milan need to force the issue by sending the full-backs further forward.

He must also look to jettison the three-man midfield and drop Seedorf back where, at least in theory; he can keep play ticking over. Meanwhile, Ibrahimovic really needs to prove he is indeed a team player and not ignore Pato, whose very purpose is to score goals.

Milan need goals but more than that, just as with their owner, they need to ensure their image and that of Italy is not tarnished any further.