Club Focus – Milan – Ancelotti takes media heat off players

If Milan Coach Carlo Ancelotti has a plan to keep himself in the headlines in order to protect his players, it’s working. At a critical stage in the season, none of the Rossoneri players have been splashed across media headlines and can thus concentrate on their football – which is how Ancelotti would want it.

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The future of the longest serving Tactician on the peninsula has once again been the focus of attention in the press, although this week the noises coming from San Siro suggest Ancelotti may stay for at least another year and see out the remainder of his contract which expires in 2010. For his part, the Diavolo Coach seems intent to keep everybody guessing and spin out the speculation to keep the focus on him rather than his players. In one breath the wily 50-year-old says: “Of course, I will not coach Milan forever…anything is possible,” before then declaring: “If things were not to work between me and Milan as they have done in the past years, I think it would be fair for the two parties to embrace, say goodbye and remember with affection these past eight years, but I don’t think that time has come because the harmony between us is complete.”

Reports linking Ancelotti with Real Madrid and Chelsea have been dismissed by Milan’s hierarchy and the Tactician is already planning his summer spending. As speculated by Football Italiano in last week’s Milan club focus, the Rossoneri Coach confirmed on the club website: “With two well-chosen buys we’ll be competitive again, a central defender and a striker because that department should be reinforced.” Is this signal of intent a sign he will be staying in Milan? The cost of replacing the Coach will be outside Adriano Galliani’s budget plans and after eight years together one might expect the relationship between the two men is strong enough to do what is best for the club. From a financial point of view, that would mean Ancelotti honouring his contract and staying at the San Siro.

A commanding centre-half to replace Paolo Maldini when he retires at the end of the year was always on the cards and with Alessandro Nesta’s constant struggle with a problematic back injury, Milan’s other colossal defender could be forced into retirement earlier than expected. Kakha Kaladze is unavailable until mid-August at the earliest and it is unlikely Philippe Senderos will stay on once his loan spell from Arsenal expires in the summer. With Daniele Bonera, and Thiago Silva the only other centre-backs worthy of note, this leaves il Diavolo with few suitable options in the heart of defence and filling the void must surely be the main focus for them this summer.

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Amidst other transfer rumours, La Gazzetta dello Sport report a shortlist of five names has been drawn up which includes Arsenal’s impressive full-back Gael Clichy, Sao Paulo’s Joao Miranda, Palermo’s versatile Simon Kjaer and Porto’s Bruno Alves. However, the most likely option will be Liverpool’s unsettled centre-back, Daniel Agger. The Dane is rumoured to be unhappy on Merseyside after a series of injuries cost him his place in the starting line-up and the impressive form of Martin Skrtel has subsequently kept him out the starting eleven. The Anfield outfit are set to offer the 24-year-old a new contract this week, but if rejected Milan will be given the green light to swoop. With only one year left on his current contract, Liverpool will be keen to cash in somewhere in the region of £5m.

Securing the services of the ideal forward to partner Alexandre Pato may prove much more difficult. Samuel Eto’o, Amauri and Emmanuel Adebayor have all been linked with a move to the San Siro, but the asking price for each may well put Milan off. However, the coffers will be boosted with the sale of French starlet Yoann Gourcuff who is reported to be worth around £25m following a successful spell with French side Bordeaux. Having become the focal point of the French national team and hailed as the new Zinedine Zidane, he has attracted attention from Real Madrid and Bayern Munich who will be prepared to pay more than the £12m Bordeaux would have to find to keep him in France.

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A substantial fee for Gourcuff would be more than welcome, yet this may well be topped with the sale of an even bigger asset – Ronaldinho. Football Italiano hinted last week that the Brazilian may be tempted away from the San Siro if he is not guaranteed a place in starting line-up. Sky News reported this week that the Milan playmaker put top clubs on red alert by announcing his plans to talk to his employers about his future in the summer. If Ancelotti does stay on as Coach, the answer to Ronaldinho’s questions may be that he is likely to get more playing time elsewhere, which would render Manchester City favourites to land him, although Chelsea may want a say in the matter. If Ronaldinho does ship after only one year into his contract, the fee Milan can demand can be assured to be relatively sizeable and may just be the injection of funds to enable them to land a big money signing of their own.

During a weekend of International football, the Milan contingent had a relatively quiet affair. Gianluca Zambrotta was a doubt before Italy’s game with Montenegro, but was eventually named in Marcello Lippi’s starting eleven and helped Italy to keep a clean sheet. Andrea Pirlo was the only other representative for the Azzurri and was on the score sheet when he emphatically despatched a penalty kick straight down the middle after 11 minutes. Kaka is still hampered by the foot injury he sustained against Reggina and was not risked in Brazil’s World Cup qualifier against Ecuador. Ronaldinho was the only Milan representative in the 1-1 draw and was replaced by goal-scorer Julio Baptista with 20 minutes to play. Alexandre Pato was named as an unused substitute.

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David Beckham surpassed Sir Bobby Moore’s record when he came on as a second-half substitute to become the most capped outfield player to represent England. He now needs another 16 appearances to equal Peter Shilton’s all-time record of 125. In replacing Aaron Lennon on the right flank, the quality of his passing was evident in contrast to Tottenham’s diminutive winger. Having extended his loan move with Milan in order to represent his country, Golden Balls was only on the pitch 14 minutes when he swung over a beautifully flighted cross for Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney to head home unchallenged. It was the type of accuracy Becks is famed for and the perfect way to show Italian master Tactician Fabio Capello he can still do a job for his country.

The return to Serie A action at the weekend sees Milan taking a trip to lowly Chievo. Ceo have been flirting with relegation all season, but a run of four games without defeat – three of them wins – has seen them open up a six point gap from the drop zone. It is a game the Rossoneri would be expected to win and with Genoa breathing down their necks in the fight for third place, Ancelotti will not allow for complacency.

The Milan Tactician will remain with the 4-3-1-2 formation, with Clarence Seedorf filling in the hole behind Pato and Filippo Inzaghi. Kaka may get a run out in the second-half in place of the Dutchman, but if he is still feeling ill-effects from his troublesome foot injury, it may be wiser to rest him. Ronaldinho will be itching to get a run out and may be asked to fill in the space temporarily vacated by his injured compatriot. It is not a position he has been asked to take up before, but the immensely gifted Brazilian has the skill, guile and vision to excel in the role.

Chievo Coach Domenico Di Carlo will settle for a point against il Diavolo and will expect his players to close them down to prevent them playing straight through them. Expect Chievo to ask questions – expect an interesting game to see whether Milan will find the answers.

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