Club Focus – Milan – A proper send-off for Leonardo

Milan dismantled fallen giants Juventus in a clinical performance orchestrated by Brazilian star Ronaldinho, who scored two well executed finishes and gave Selecao Coach Carlos Dunga a grim reminder of what he will be missing in South Africa 2010 after choosing to exclude the former Barcelona playmaker. This has been Ronaldinho’s best season since 2006 when he helped Barcelona win the Champions League and provided the Catalan supporters with a series of captivating performances at the Camp Nou. The former World Cup winner was like an artist painting a masterpiece except he was using his feet to carve his latest work of art and a ball as his main tool. Ronaldinho exploited Juve’s defensive frailties and stung twice with lethal prowess to pile further misery upon the struggling Bianconeri while the fans at the San Siro were cheering on their hero. He delivered one of the most emotionally charged matches of the season as the tifosi properly bid farewell to Leonardo after over a decade of loyal service for the club.

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Leonardo was a decent player and is a former World Cup winner yet his greatest achievement in the world of football or at least where Milan are involved is his role as an agent and scout for the Rossoneri helping bringing in some of Brazil’s brightest talent such as former San Siro idol Kaka and current emerging star Alexandre Pato. The Brazilian Coach helped reinvigorate Ronaldinho’s stalling career this season and the two shared a long and touching embrace when the playmaker was subbed to earn a standing ovation in what could be his last match for the club. With Leonardo’s departure, a glorious chapter in the club’s history will be closed forever since Milan have won the Champions League in 2003 and 2007 while finishing runners-up in 2005 in Istanbul. Leonardo played alongside some of the game’s greatest legends such as Paolo Maldini and will be remembered fondly for the bond he built with the club as evidenced in his emotional reaction to every goal scored by squad this campaign.

His departure begins a period of uncertainty with the future of Brazilian duo Alexandre Pato and Ronaldinho still up in the air as Chelsea and Manchester City amongst other clubs have shown interest in signing both stars. Former Rossoneri Coach Carlo Ancelotti is now in charge at Chelsea and has hinted he would jump at the opportunity to work with Pato again. Ironically Ancelotti left Milan during the summer and has succeeded in winning a historic double in his first season in London after holding-off Manchester United for the Premier League title and overcoming Portsmouth to win the FA Cup. This is further proof the problems in Milanello had nothing to do with the coaching staff but rather dearth of resources due to the limited budget imposed by president Silvio Berlusconi. It would be wrong to dismiss the glory days under Berlusconi’s stewardship as highlighted by vice-president Adriano Galliani who blasted the tifosi for turning against the president by reminding them of the numerous trophies won under his reign particularly the famous 4-0 obliteration of Barcelona in the 1994 Champions League final which until now ranks as one of if not the most memorable match in the competition’s modern days. While Berlusconi deserves ample credit for opening his cheque book and freely spending to gather some of the world’s top talent at the club, he – along with Galliani – have forgotten football is the game of today and tomorrow and not yesterday. The tifosi are appreciative of the many glorious moments in the last two decades but they need to be reminded of the successes as well by winning again. Football is a beautiful yet demanding sport which is all about the next match’s score and not what was achieved in the previous round. How often was Leonardo expected to be close to the sack yet he rebounded time and time again with some precious victories and was able to push Milan to third place despite the lack of depth and the aging squad at his disposal.

The club’s management must shoulder the blame for pushing. Leonardo out and making him work under some non-ideal circumstances considering Berlusconi’s persistent rants against the club’s performances and tactics along with certain match selections in the media Leonardo was classy enough to avoid direct retaliation for quite a long time only to finally succumb to the relentless media pressure in recent weeks and release statements making it clear he was disappointed with the president’s public remarks and hinting gradually but surely at his departure at the end of the season. Milan’s supporters will unfortunately have to endure another transitional season under a new Tactician and with perhaps a number of new faces brought in to offset the retirements of some players such as Giuseppe Favalli and the departure of others. If the Rossoneri do let go of Pato and Ronaldinho then they will be sending the wrong signal to the tifosi and their rivals by insinuating they have no ambition other than to remain on the sidelines while other teams challenge for honours.

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