After a disappointing performance in the summer transfer market and a worrying succession of pre-season defeats, Goal.com’s Gil Gillespie believes Leonardo’s Milan side will go into the new season with pessimism to the fore…
If last season was difficult for Milan fans to swallow, the club’s dealings in this summer’s transfer market will have left them baying for blood. The Rossoneri have had a truly dismal 12 months in which their standing on the world football stage has been left severely battered.
True, they did finish in third place in Serie A in Carlo Ancelotti’s last ever campaign in charge, but they finished a full 10 points behind city rivals Inter and were really never even in the race. Now, with an inexperienced coach, a notoriously ageing team and without their best player, Milan must try to claw their way back to the pedestal they have spent the last two decades lounging on.
What, exactly, has been going on at Milan? With the new campaign fast approaching, the club that can rightly claim to have been the most successful in world football in the last 20 years have been doing their best to look like they are falling apart at the seams.
Kaka, the Brazilian superstar who was so carefully and expertly bought and nurtured by Milan, was called to a meeting with the clubs’ owner Silvio Berlusconi in June and persuaded, against his will, to sign for Real Madrid. Apparently, the billionaire Italian Prime Minister needed the money.
And while their rivals from all around Europe have added significantly to their squads this summer, the Rossoneri have barely dipped their toe in the water. Okay, central defenders Oguchi Onyewu and Thiago Silva could stiffen an increasingly wobbly defence and their search for a world class striker finally came to a moderately satisfactory conclusion when they signed Klaas-Jan Huntelaar for €15 million. But, for the most part, they have punched well below their weight.
At least their metronomic midfield maestro, Andrea Pirlo, didn’t become another casualty of the clubs’ crippling recessionary state.
After completing the deal to bring Klaas-Jan Huntelaar to the San Siro, Milan do have a number of options in attack. As well as the 26-year-old Dutchman, Leonardo will be able to turn to Marco Borriello and Alexandre Pato with the occasional supporting cameos from the ageing Filippo Inzaghi and the significantly more sprightly Davide Di Gennaro.
But the disappointing sale of Kaka means Ronaldinho now has to shoulder much of the creative burden.
“[The sale of Kaka] will give Ronaldinho space,” argued Berlusconi, looking on the bright side.
But surely even the clearly delusional club president realises that putting so much faith in a player who looks nearer to retirement than responsibility is one hell of a gamble.
The Rossoneri midfield will have a familiar look to it when they kick-off their Serie A campaign away to Siena. Pirlo will anchor a midfield featuring Massimo Ambrosini, Gennaro Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf. This thirtysomething quartet will get to put their feet up if Leonardo believes Ignazio Abate, Mathias Cardacio, Mathieu Flamini and Tabare Viudez are now ready for regular first team action.
The back four will, at least, contain one or two new faces. If Alessandro Nesta is injured and, lets face it, that is not the most unlikely thing in the world, then Oguchi Onyewu and Thiago Silva will probably play alongside each other in the centre with the disappearing Gianluca Zambrotta at right-back and the rarely better than average Marek Jankulovski on the left. The addition of 35-year-old Flavio Roma will provide the injured Abbiati with cover between the posts.
Suddenly, the prince must become the king. The departure of Kaka will inevitably thrust the 19-year-old Alexandre Pato into the limelight and he will do well not to be blinded by the glare. If his interplay with Ronaldinho and Huntelaar is going to blossom into something dangerous, he is going to have to lose some of the naivety that he has shown since his arrival in Serie A and become a more cynical and more clinical goalscorer.
One To Watch
When Klaas-Jan Huntelaar arrived at San Siro in August, there were whispers about him being the new Marco Van Basten. Huntelaar, like Milan’s most famous Dutch striker, is an out-and-out centre-forward who is big and strong and can score goals with either foot, his head and his trademark bicycle kick. It could be a marriage made in heaven.
There is no doubt that Milan’s new head coach is a highly intelligent and very likeable human being who doesn’t seem to have been damaged by sharing a BBC television sofa with Alan Hansen and Alan Shearer. He was also a fantastic player. But the diminutive Brazilian doesn’t even have the necessary coaching qualification and is only able to do the job because he is a World Cup winner. Is he a patsy appointment that will allow Adriano Galliani to take more control over team affairs? Or will he prove to be the ultimate diplomat, with Mauro Tassotti doing most of the work on the training ground at Milanello?
No-one outside of the club really expects Milan to hit the heights this season and some observers have even been tipping them to finish outside the top four in Serie A. Nevertheless, the Brigate Rossonere will be demanding that the team push Inter all the way.