Club Focus – Milan – Going forward

How happy are Silvio Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani at this moment in time? The latter finally has the money he has craved for so long (reported to be £56m), whilst the former can now get to see Ronaldinho play every single week, something which he did not experience last season and an issue he has been moaning about all week. Individually, they have both got what they wanted, but at a potentially huge cost, with the loss of Kaká to Real Madrid.

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There is no underestimating what damage the sale of a player who was the symbol of the club will do in the long-term, both on and off the pitch. It is a strange move for a club who pride themselves on their reputation and standing in Europe. The Champions League is so important because it not only edges them closer to Madrid’s record of nine wins, but also adds to their international trophy haul and cements their position as the most decorated club in the world (they are currently level with Boca Juniors on 18 titles). Yet, by allowing their best player to leave, they have given a huge indication that they are a selling club, providing the price is right. There was no fight to keep the Brazilian, just a few token words from those at the top about how they would like to see him stay. Fans did not at any point feel that the club truly wanted him to remain, and that more than anything is what is so disappointing about the whole saga.

Make no mistake, the rest of Europe will have noted this. Chelsea in particular, the club believed to have made a £30m+ bid for Alexandre Pato, will be an interested onlooker. The image il Diavolo has created now is one of ‘if you bid enough, the player is yours’. Manchester United, and in particular Sir Alex Ferguson, fought tooth and nail to keep Cristiano Ronaldo out of Madrid’s clutches this time last year. He knew of the importance of keeping the Portuguese winger, not only for football reasons, but because of the impact it would have on the club’s reputation if they were to be seen giving in to Los Merengues. Milan must not become a feeder outfit to the rest of Europe’s biggest teams, and keeping Pato will be crucial in ensuring that does not become the case.

Whilst the Rossoneri’s reputation has been hit off the pitch, their chances of winning trophies on it have slipped somewhat. It is odd that both Berlusconi and Galliani want to see Milan play attractive football, and yet sell their best exponent of the art. Clearly, they are not that concerned that the quality of football next season will decline, probably because they have seemingly blind faith in Ronaldinho and new Coach Leonardo to come up with aesthetically pleasing victories.

Now that Kaká has gone, Ronnie is now undoubtedly the star of the attacking line-up, just how the Italian Prime Minister wanted it to be. He appears unperturbed at the overall poor form of the Brazilian throughout the whole of last season. He complained that Carlo Ancelotti did not give Ronaldinho enough starts, and that this had a knock-on effect on the player’s morale. However, there is a good reason that Carletto eventually refused to start the No 80 – he was not playing well enough to warrant a starting place, and could not adapt tactically to what he wanted.

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With Leonardo now in place, that is likely to change. This column mentioned last week that the two-time FIFA World Player of the Year is incapable of playing anywhere other than the left hand side, so it is no surprise to see many reports suggesting the new man in charge is looking to implement a 4-3-3 system, presumably to pander to the €25m acquisition. If he is to flourish at Milan, it is fairly obvious that the system has to change, because he has not grasped how to play centrally, so any set-up streamlined in this fashion will have to go (so we will wave goodbye to the Christmas tree and 4-3-1-2). This now presents a problem, in that Milan has not played with wingers for nearly 10 years, and only have one on the books in Ignazio Abate (who is co-owned with Torino). Indeed, you would be hard pressed to name the last winger to actually play for the club during the Ancelotti era. The last genuine wide man would be Serginho, but his status within the team never rose above squad player. He was a talented individual, but there was simply no room for him to start matches, unless there was an injury or two in the left-back area. Ibrahim Ba managed to float around the squad for six years, but appearances were so restricted under Carlo that he left in 2003. Ümit Davala, the energetic Turkish right-sided player, lost his place in the line-up as soon as Ancelotti was appointed, and subsequently left for Inter in 2002.

It is safe to say therefore, that the club does not have a tremendous recent history with wingers. Yet if Leonardo is to extract the best from Dinho, he needs to be utilised on the left, in which case a balance must be created and a right-sided attacker needs to be found. Unfortunately, there is a fear that the cheap option will be taken, and that Andriy Shevchenko or Pato will be wasted out on this flank, instead of investing some of the £70m gained in transfer fees back into building a top side. This is perhaps a result of there being so many other areas of the squad that need recruitment, and is an added problem with attempting to change a system to one where there is not sufficient playing staff to fill the positions that the new formation creates. It is not enough to place a striker here, or try and change somebody into a wide attacker. The problems of imbalance were all too apparent when Carletto attempted the 4-2-3-1, not just in defensive phases of play, but going forward with the ball too.

As such, specialist players must be acquired, at least two of them for injury cover. This could potentially be good news for the aforementioned Abate, a right-winger who Leo may well call back from his spell at Torino. In reality though, he probably is not going to be good enough to hold down a first-team spot. His performances have not set Serie A alight, and one league goal this season in 21 starts is a pathetic return for an attacker. However, he would be relatively cheap, with Galliani needing to buy the other half of his contract from Torino, which should cost no more than £5-6m. That still leaves a first-team wide player of high quality required, and these are few and far between.

If the hierarchy has any sense, it will target those teams who did not qualify for the Champions League, and whose players are vulnerable for a bid. Clubs like Villarreal have players who could potentially be there for the taking if the bid is good enough. Santi Cazorla, their young Spanish right-sided midfielder, is a player who fits the bill perfectly. He has an incentive of moving to a bigger club and gaining regular Champions League football ahead of the World Cup. He is not a regular for Spain, and a tempting move such as this may help him fulfil his international ambitions. The only concern is his nationality. Spanish players and Calcio do not make for a happy mix. The numbers of Spaniards who have been successful in Serie A in the past five years are few and far between. Milan had their fingers burnt with the woeful José Mari, a Spanish striker who they bought for €18m in 2000, and who scored only five league goals. This experience alone may be enough to discourage any attempted bid. In any case, Villarreal is not the only club in this situation, nor is Spain the only country with this sort of club. German clubs have long been losing their best players to bigger leagues – Diego to Juventus a prime example.


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In fact, the Rossoneri have apparently been scouring Germany for their next recruit. This summer, it seems that we will finally see a striker arrive, the one that Galliani has been telling everybody about for the past two years. A goalscorer has been sorely needed for a long time. Leonardo cannot be made to rely on a 35-year-old Filippo Inzaghi, as Ancelotti was this season. He spends far too much of the season injured, and is unable to play twice a week, leaving Marco Borriello as the only viable out-and-out striker. Edin Džeko, of Bundesliga champions Wolfsburg, is highly sought after having scored 26 goals in 32 league games this season. He is also the second highest scorer in the European zone of qualification for the World Cup with seven goals for Bosnia and Herzegovina. He is a genuine target in practically every sense – he would be willing to move to a bigger club, he is young at 23 years, and despite the adventurous fee Wolfsburg has placed on his head, he is likely to be a very good option for the likely price that Milan will have to pay. He is an example of the type of player that needs to be targeted in the summer transfer window – a young up-and-coming player who has every chance of reaching the top of the game, but who needs to move to a big European club to do so.

The same approach must be applied to the search for another centre-back. Having lost Paolo Maldini, and with fitness worries over Alessandro Nesta and Kakha Kaladze, leaving Daniele Bonera and Thiago Silva as the only other central defenders in the squad would be playing a dangerous game. More importantly, the defending throughout the 2008/09 season was dreadful at times. The solid back-line of old has slowly turned into a defence that any team in Serie A will fancy scoring against. It was not just tactical issues that contributed to problems with the defensive unit, but the simple fact that the individual defending from the players was not good enough. Losing Bonera for nearly half-a-season did not help, nor did losing Nesta for the entire campaign. Yet that highlights that the depth of the squad in this area is weak, and as such must be rectified. Those in charge of the spending appear to have realised this, with several comments acknowledging that they are on the hunt for a new defender.

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Bearing in mind that the striker and defender that seem certain to arrive are going to cost a lot of money if they are to be of the required quality, it would not be a surprise to find that, come August, they are the only players to have been signed (this also depends on whether enough common sense exists between Berlusconi, Galliani and Leonardo to understand that il Diavolo cannot play a 4-3-3 successfully without purchasing at least one right-winger). The Rossoneri owner will undoubtedly receive plenty of criticism for his lack of spending, and supposed unwillingness to pump money into the club. To be fair to the 72-year-old, his lack of spending is only through a desire to see the club run properly, rather than dwindling interest in the team’s fortunes. If anything, the criticism should really be directed towards how the money is being spend – as the tifosi let him know recently, he has bought too many players of poor quality in recent years.

Anyone wishing to attack Berlusconi for not spending enough should cast glances at the Premier League’s top clubs, who are in mountains of debt that is only manageable through the huge levels of TV money these clubs receive. Liverpool is reportedly in dire straits thanks to their foreign owners. We should be thankful that Milan has an Italian owner who, whilst he may not have a clue on how to implement a sensible mercato policy, does have plenty of business sense in keeping the club on an even financial keel. Milanisti may not feel particularly appreciative of that at the current moment in time, but when they see one of the top English teams go to the wall, unable to finance their huge debts, they will be able to break into a smile of satisfaction, safe in the knowledge that they have an owner who will ensure the same does not happen to their club.

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