So what now? At the end of November, in this newspaper, I wrote that "Berlusconi seems undecided whether he hates losing more than he hates not being the centre of attention". Shortly afterwards, he announced he would stand again, notwithstanding his age, the PDL's low poll ratings (between 15 per cent and 17 per cent), and the chorus of opposition from Europe's newsrooms, markets and politicians. Again, it's a question of stamina. Of refusing to accept defeat.
This may be one fight too many, though. For while the determination and the brawler's instincts are still there, his ability to construct winning coalitions appears to have deserted him. The PDL's main ally of the past decade, the regionalist Northern League, is refusing to commit to an alliance if he is the prime ministerial candidate.
Meanwhile, his former allies in the centre have weighed in firmly behind Mario Monti, the technocrat turned politician. If things stay the same, Berlusconi has no hope of winning the general election on February 24-25. The best he can aim for is holding the balance of power in Italy's Senate (thanks to a bizarre electoral law, the Centre Left may win a majority in the lower house and not in the upper).
But even that looks unlikely now that Monti has entered the race and will attract at least some of those who otherwise would have held their noses and voted, again, for Berlusconi.
Given his capacity for changing his mind, I'll believe Berlusconi is definitely standing on January 13, when the names of the prime ministerial candidates have to be formally presented. In recent weeks, he seems to be convinced that he can surge back in the polls by appearing on television every day (often in soft interviews on his own channels), accusing his domestic rivals yet again of being communists in social-democratic clothing and dismissing international criticism as designed to serve German interests. It won't work.
The problem for Berlusconi is there is no wise old trainer in his corner to put an arm round his shoulder and tell him the game is up. While we cannot rule out he'll come to this conclusion himself, it seems more probable he will go down fighting. And that like most successful political careers, his, too, will end in failure.