Philippe Mexes is known as much for his short temper than for any defensive prowess he may have. The hot tempered Frenchman was recently sent off for the 16th time in his career, meaning that he has amassed a whopping 47 games missed due to suspensions. This time the 32-year-old defender may have gone too far as rumors are swirling that the outburst against Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico may be his last act as a Rossoneri. If the rumors of his transfer or that he will be frozen out of Inzaghi’s squad are true, Mexes would not be the first player in Milan history to lose it on the pitch and be suddenly sacked. Fans of Milan need to look back only as far as the 2002-2003 season for one of the craziest bust-ups in Calcio history.
It was supposed to be a friendly. Milan and Juventus were set to square off in the second edition of the Trofeo Tim, a pre-season mini tournament hosted in Trieste between perennial Scudetto rivals AC Milan, Juventus and Internazionale. The fans in the Stadio Nereo Rocco were ready for the three squads to focus on fitness and for the coaches to do some tinkering to get a look at certain players. What they would actually witness is a battle between Dutch pit bull Edgar Davids and Romanian hardman Cosmin Contra.
The match was the last of the tournament, a win for Juventus and they would take the trophy home. The stakes were high and Edgar Davids was playing for his job. Rumor was, the Dutchman was in talks to join Francesco Totti and Fabio Capello at Roma. A good showing could expedite his move or show Juventus how much he meant to their set up. Whether this had a role in what was to come only Davids knows. Four minutes after referee Saccani blew the opening whistle he was sending both Davids and Contra for an early shower.
Trouble began when Milan’s future enforcer Gennaro Gattuso was brutally fouled by Davids with what was by all accounts a brutal, ruthless tackle. With Gattuso holding the ball, Davids flew at him like a missile. Unleashing a devastating two-footed tackle which almost broke the Calabrian midfielder in two. This was not going to fly with Contra, himself no stranger to a brash, reckless challenge. He immediately sought retribution, charging and kicking the Dutchman in the back and proceeding to walk away. Anyone who knows anything about Davids knows you don’t kick him when he’s down and get away with it. The Suriname-born midfielder is well known for flying off the handle and Davids got up and threw himself at Contra trying to strangle the Romanian, while the fans in Trieste whistled their collective disproval of the scene before them. It took many members of both teams to separate these two powerhouses. Saccani had no choice but to show both men a red card and send them packing. If only this was the end of the story.
However, as the two men entered the tunnel the fisticuffs continued. According to witnesses inside the tunnel it was Davids who waited around a corner to ambush an unsuspecting Contra. He unleashed a hailstorm of punches and kicks on the Romanian. Security guards tried to separate the two but to no avail, Davids was on a rampage. Ciro Ferrara and Lilian Thuram were alerted by the scuffle and got involved. Milan back-up keepers Christian Abbiati and Valerio Fiori came to the aid of Contra. According to witnesses Ferrara kicked at Contra causing Abbiati to growl, “Ciro, I never expected this from you!” Finally the two were pried apart and went their separate ways. In case it mattered, Milan went on to win the match thanks to an Andriy Shevchenko goal in the 17th minute most. Shevchenko’s goal handed the Tim Trophy to Internazionale.
It was not the first time Davids found himself at the center of controversy and certainly wouldn’t be the last. Under investigation just a few months earlier for using performance enhancing drugs, the Dutchman had been sent off nine times in his career in Italy racking up 69 yellow cards in the process. However, this time, Juventus director Luciano Moggi came to the rescue of his midfielder, he was quoted as saying Davids this time was ‘justified’ in his actions. The Lega Calcio didn’t see it that way and Davids was suspended for two matches, forcing him to miss the Super Cup match against Coppa Italia winners Parma in Tripoli, and his chances of leaving for Roma evaporated before his eyes.
Milan, on the other hand, did not excuse Contra for his actions, especially after the full-back was suspended for three matches drawing the ire of Adriano Galliani who, by this point, had become fed up with the Romanians antics. Contra was shown 16 yellow cards the previous season and was having difficulty adjusting his game to the Italian standard. After joining Milan from Deportivo Alaves in 2001, the highlight of his time with the Rossoneri up to that point was a wonder goal in the derby a year earlier under previous coach Fatih Terim, a goal that is counted as one of the best in the history of the Madonnina to this day. Contra continued to struggle to find a starting place in Carlo Ancelotti’s set up and now his actions cast Milan in a bad light, something the brass could not accept. Galliani worked his magic and sold the Romanian to Atletico Madrid for €8 million. Contra became just the latest player to join The Colchoneros from Milan after Federico Coloccini, Javi Moreno, Jose Mari and Demetrio Albertini traded one of the fashion capitals of the world for the bright lights of Madrid. The move would turn out to be devastating for Contra as his departure would free up some capital for Galliani to make a swoop for Alessandro Nesta. Nine months later Milan would lift the Champions League trophy after beating none other than Juventus at Old Trafford.
This was not the end of the Davids-Contra affair as years later, when Tottenham Hotspur were contemplating a move for Davids in 2005, Contra (then a member of Getafe, a side he would go on to manage) spoke out against the Dutchman to The News of the World branding him a “psychopath” and a “violent man”. Contra would go on to deny ever making the comments and threatened legal action against the newspaper. Despite his claims the damage had been done and the rivalry between the two men continued unresolved. Contra retired in 2011 earning 73 caps for Romania. He is currently a manager with Chinese side Guangzhou R&F where he replaced Sven-Göran Eriksson.
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