Club Focus – Milan – Hanging on to the coattails

Milan escaped with three points after an entertaining battle in Sardinia which saw the rare occurrence of Leonardo deploying striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar from the start. The Dutchman repaid the Coach’s faith with a stunning goal to contribute to the precious victory. Leonardo’s charges remain three points behind leaders Inter, who easily won against Bologna. The race for the Serie A title is heating up and this week could be quite fundamental in deciding its destination with Inter facing an exhausting three-match trek in Europe, Serie A then Coppa Italia respectively. Inter will have to dispense of CSKA Moscow before facing Fiorentina twice in domestic competitions.

This could present Milan with the opportunity to pounce on Inter’s distracting schedule, but Roma are also lurking in anticipation. The three points retrieved against Cagliari proved again the Rossoneri struggle to breakdown determined sides relying on their physical presence and limiting the space given to creative duo Andrea Pirlo and Ronaldinho. Hassling Pirlo and Ronaldinho and rushing them to release the ball can often minimise the danger posed by Milan’s attacks. Both players require time on the ball in order to be decisive. Leonardo’s selections for the match came as no surprise considering his only unexpected inclusion was Huntelaar. Leonardo has been trusting the same set of players with Gennaro Gattuso’s ever marginalised role making one wonder if Marcello Lippi will include him in the Azzurri squad headed to South Africa 2010. Another issue of concern for Lippi will be the fact Leonardo is beginning to prefer Ignazio Abate and Luca Antonini to veteran full-back Gianluca Zambrotta. Gattuso and Zambrotta made second-half appearances in Cagliari and are looking increasingly past their best with younger and fresher legs preferred to them. In Gattuso’s case Clarence Seedorf was drafted in and while he might be old, the Dutchman does provide more creativity and better linkup with the attackers.

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It seems Leonardo’s status in Milanello remains ambiguous with Vice-President Adriano Galliani firmly stating the club would like to see the Brazilian in charge next season. Galliani did not seem confident and claimed he was unaware if Brazil approached Leonardo to replace Dunga following the World Cup. Leonardo has been one of the key figures of the season showing a great sense of belief and confidence in his team selections and tactics. The club’s deficiencies are not his fault but rather due to the inadequacies of the management which failed to sign the proper players in a move long overdue. The triumph in the Champions League in 2007 created a false sense of security and perhaps made some believe the club can go on a new winning cycle but this has been dispelled time and again.

It is hard to see Leonardo turning down the coaching job if his country came calling due to a number of reasons which transcend beyond patriotism towards his native land. Leonardo’s most visible moment with Brazil is the infamous elbow aimed at American Tab Ramos which effectively turned the Milan Coach into a bystander for the remainder of USA 1994. Leonardo has a point to prove to his compatriots and in the eyes of a Brazilian nothing comes close to winning the World Cup. He must be tempted to have a go at winning World Cup 2014 in his home country.

Moreover, Leonardo has not had a happy first season at Milanello with President Silvio Berlusconi criticising him on a few occasions and the Brazilian responding in a reserved yet stern manner. Leonardo declared he is willing to leave if Berlusconi deemed such a decision as the ideal one for the club. This shows he might want to stay but is not willing to sacrifice his set of beliefs and approach in order to secure his future in Milan. Earlier in the season the Press was harsh on Leonardo with some labeling him a failure and referring to him as another mistake by Adriano Galliani and the management. Leonardo’s relationship with certain players appeared to be frosty at one point this season, in particular with Gattuso who was at odds with the Coach for affording him little playing time.

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