2008/09 – A third-place finish represented something of a failure for Milan when you consider that Serie A was supposedly the focus for the season. What will rankle is the way that second place was thrown away in the last few games of the season. The four point gap that separated the Rossoneri and Juventus was closed to the extent that the Bianconeri managed to snatch second spot based on the head-to-head record, when really Carlo Ancelotti and his players should have held on to the position with ease.
2009/10 – Coach Carlo Ancelotti shouldered most of the blame for the lack of success in 2008/09, and paid the price with his job. In comes Leonardo, a man with no coaching experience whatsoever, and who has only been allowed to take the job thanks to a farcical ruling that allows Coaches to hold a position without the necessary qualifications if they have appeared in at least one World Cup. The loss of Kaká to Real Madrid has weakened the squad severely, and as such diminishes expectations for the coming campaign. A top three finish, and thus consolidation of their Champions League place, will be the aim of the game.
Transfer Campaign– Unfortunately, much of the summer has been spent penny pinching – trying to get top quality players for the cheapest possible price. It has resulted in a slow and frustrating summer mercato for the club. A loss of around €66m the past financial year, coupled with an existing debt of close to €30m, makes it very difficult to criticise the club for their actions. The striker that has meant to have been arriving for the past two years has finally found his way to San Siro, in the form of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – but only after a series of dreadful pre-season performances, shortly succeeded by complaints from Leonardo that the squad was short on quality in a number of areas.
Gianmarco Zigoni – Treviso – £1m
Giacomo Beretta – AlbinoLeffe – co-ownership
Oguchi Onyewu – Standard Liège – free transfer
Ignazio Abate – Torino – £2.5m
Davide Di Gennaro – Reggina – end of co-ownership (blind auction)
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – Real Madrid – £13m
Yoann Gourcuff – Bordeaux – £13m
Pierre Aubameyang – Lille – season-long loan
Daniel Offredi – AlbinoLeffe – co-ownership
Marcus Diniz – Livorno – loan
Luca Antonelli – Parma – free transfer
Michal Miskiewicz – Chievo – loan
Emerson – Santos – free transfer
Felipe Mattioni – Grêmio – end of loan
David Beckham – LA Galaxy – end of loan
Philippe Senderos – Arsenal – end of loan
Andriy Shevchenko – Chelsea – end of loan
Kaká – Real Madrid – £62m
Paolo Maldini – end of career
First XI – Despite voicing an intention to change to a 4-3-3 system, Leonardo has predominantly stuck with the 4-3-1-2 that was so frequent under Carlo Ancelotti during pre-season. The return to playing two strikers (4-3-2-1 was more common in 2008/09) will benefit the side, but the midfield is a genuine concern. Andrea Pirlo is the only source of creativity, and all of that work occurs in deep positions. Gennaro Gattuso and Massimo Ambrosini are both defensive players – asking one to provide attacking impetus failed last season, and it is difficult to envisaging anything other than a repeat this season.
15 Zambrotta – 13 Nesta – 33 THIAGO SILVA – 18 Jankulovski
8 Gattuso – 21 Pirlo – 23 Ambrosini
7 Pato – 11 HUNTELAAR
The Coach – Rookie Brazilian Leonardo is the new man in charge of the team, somehow managing to obtain the position as Coach of the seven time European champions with no previous experience in coaching. Young at 39-years-old, he emits an air of cool, calm assurance when going about his work. He has spoken many times about his objective to change the way Milan play football. Constantly using Barcelona as a reference point in his interviews and press conferences, he talks of quicker movement of the ball when in possession. The slow build-up in attacking play will be replaced with quick passing exchanges, with full-backs pushed further up the pitch to give greater options.
Reliable Player – Gennaro Gattuso will be welcomed back with open arms after a knee injury kept him out of the majority of the 2008/09 campaign. Having received some nonsensical criticism for his performances at the Confederations Cup (those responsible ignoring the fact it they were his first 90 minutes since November), a full pre-season is just what was needed for Rino to regain fitness and form ahead of a new season. Easily Milan’s best player in the andata last year, at times he dragged the Rossoneri to victory, putting in several man of the match performances along the way.
Creative Player – In a team so devoid of creativity, Ronaldinho is the obvious choice. There is huge pressure on his shoulders to deliver after a poor debut season – the nine goals he scored in all competitions presented a misleading overview on his performances over the campaign. The often cited difficulties in functioning in the same team as Kaká have now vanished with the player’s transfer to Real Madrid, leaving the former Barça man as the centre of attention. As if to increase the expectation and pressure further, a whole host of teammates, as well as Silvio Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani, have expressed their belief that the Brazilian will step up and take on the creative mantle, leading the team to victory in the process.
Youth Prospect – Michelangelo Albertazzi, the best player for the Primavera outfit last season, could be the biggest beneficiary of Coach Leonardo’s desire to introduce some youth to the squad. The left-back position is proving problematic for the Brazilian, and with no player acquired as yet in the summer mercato to deal with this, the young full-back from Bologna has a great opportunity to step up and become the first alternative to Marek Jankulovski. Indeed, the Czech’s own shaky form could provide the 18-year-old with a few first-team starts come the end of the campaign.
Fixture list – The fixture that catches the eye is that of the Derby della Madonnina, the first of which takes place in Week 2. The Rossoneri also face a testing run of five games, thankfully separated by the Christmas break. Sampdoria and Palermo visit San Siro, before a trip to Fiorentina completes the andata. Upon resumption, Genoa (home) and Juventus (away) complete the quintet of tough games. As such, due to the way the season is organised in Serie A (and indeed in La Liga), Milan face the reverse of these fixtures in the last five games of the season – a testing run-in if they happen to be in the Scudetto hunt come April/May.
Home grown players – Of the 25-man first team squad available to Leonardo, 16 of them are Italian. This does not include Gianmarco Zigoni who, despite featuring heavily in pre-season, is likely to spend much of his time in the Primavera squad with the arrival of Huntelaar. It is also pleasing to see four of the 16 Italians in the squad have come from the Rossoneri’s own youth system – Ignazio Abate, Davide Di Gennaro (both have spent virtually their entire career to date on loan), Marco Borriello and Luca Antonini.
Predictions – It is difficult envisaging Milan winning lo Scudetto this year with the current squad. The starting XI may just be strong enough, but past this lays a mix of young players and perennial squad members who are not good enough for the starting line-up, but who can step in against some of the weaker sides. Squads such as these do not win championships. The Champions League will present an additional set of problems. Far from winning the competition, the main concern to Leonardo will be the strain the midweek games place on his squad. The Rossoneri struggled massively in league games last year that succeeded a UEFA Cup match in midweek, and although the Champions League holds its matches on the friendlier evenings of Tuesday and Wednesday, the ageing squad will still find it tough to cope with two matches in one week. Prediction – 3rd.