The Rossoneri have had a tumultuous week dealing with the ramifications of a bruising defeat to their cousins Inter. The co-tenants of the Giuseppe Meazza met over a week ago in a one-sided affair which dampened the spirits of Il Diavolo’s faithful. Milan is still reeling from the crushing loss and the lack of fixtures last week due to the international break implied that every detail pertaining to the San Siro club has been afforded even more attention.
Unfortunately for Milan’s management and its coaching staff alike, most of the media focus and rumors circulating in Italy have been negative due to not only the disaster on the pitch but also as a result of some other incidents. The ridiculous time it took Milan to replace injured Captain Rino Gattuso has received more than its fair share of attention. Originally much of the blame was reserved to Dutchman Clarence Seedorf, yet the following days clarified the actual reason behind the debacle and it seems as though Coach Leonardo was uncertain of his choices. This magnified Leonardo’s game-time decisions and his unconvincing schemes not to mention his jittery overall performance. Earlier Leonardo was being hailed following victory over Siena, and now he is being vilified for convincingly losing to superior rivals Inter. The early games in the season cannot be used to judge the credentials of a Coach, yet some obvious points can be inferred. Milan’s squad is not well equipped to deal with the rigors of a long, demanding season involving European and domestic competitions. Even more troubling is the Rossoneri’s starting line-up which is short on both fresh legs and talent. In Football Italiano’s previous segment on Milan, the weaknesses on the flanks and the midfield’s aging along with the lack of an ideal partner for Brazilian Pato were all discussed. These shortcomings can be addressed as mentioned in previous analysis under this column.
In the coming weeks, Il Diavolo will have to put together a series of wins as well as solid displays in order to silence the critics and convince the Rossoneri fans that the club still has a say in important competitions. The supporters of Milan have grown accustomed to being in the thick of things towards the end of the season and, more significantly, competing for the all-important Champions League in the spring and summer months. This will become a distant memory if Il Diavolo’s roster is not reinforced with at least one quality full-back and an attacking midfielder or even a forward. Italy’s full-back Gianluca Zambrotta is rapidly approaching retirement with his demanding position not particularly helped by his physical decline. His competitors for starting in either full-back slot are the old Massimo Oddo and the now apparently defensively incompetent Czech left-back Marek Jankulovski. This weak area must be addressed during the next transfer window or else Milan will continue to leak goals unless the team’s formation is altered to accommodate the currently error-prone Georgian Kakha Kaladze.
Further forward, Milan has problems scoring regular goals. Aside from the prolific Brazilian Alexandre Pato and veteran Italian ‘fox in the box’ Filippo Inzaghi, the Rossoneri might be well short of natural goal scorers though Dutch forward Jaan Huntelaar could solve that issue. While Pippo is now best suited for cameo appearances which will probably be fruitful knowing the player’s knack for finding the back of the net, Huntelaar will have to shoulder the load of partnering Pato with striker Marco Borriello struggling to rattle the net. Even if Huntelaar begins to fire on all cylinders, it will not suffice to compete on all fronts. A glance at Juventus and Inter will reveal an abundance of talent upfront with the likes of Amauri, David Trezeguet, Alex Del Piero, Diego Milito, Samuel Eto’o and Mario Balotelli representing both clubs. Milan cannot just depend on Pato and Huntelaar in a grueling season while the wait continues for Brazilian star Ronaldinho to re-discover his old form. With every passing game, Ronaldinho’s inability to consistently replicate the time when he used to torment Barcelona’s opponents only means that he will probably never come close to that magnificent form. Thus, Milan must either purchase a scorer to compliment its core strikers or perhaps an attacking midfielder who can deliver more consistently than Ronaldinho. While the latter might be harder to achieve given the current market’s dynamics, a plethora of capable strikers were available for Milan to poach yet the club failed to deliver the likes of Luis Fabiano who continues to get on the scoreboard for Brazil.
In the meantime, Leonardo must focus on using the available talent to remain competitive and challenge direct opponents in Serie A while a much-anticipated matchup with Real Madrid is on the horizon. The Galacticos boast not only former Rossoneri idol Kaka but also the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso, and Karim Benzema. Il Diavolo will have many crucial games prior to the reopening of the market and it is quite possible they might be out of the running for domestic and European honors by then unless Leonardo adapts and adjusts his tactics to better fit the players at his disposal. A quality Coach is often measured not just by his ability to manage star players but also by his motivational skills and tactical knowledge which enables him to get the best out of the available talent.
When Chelsea Manager Carlo Ancelotti failed to have Milan competing in the Champions League last season, his days with il Diavolo became numbered. Ancelotti did survive that season but once he followed up the failure to qualify to Europe’s elite competition by not winning the UEFA Cup; he basically sealed his fate with the team. Hopefully Leonardo has taken notice. He has his work cut out for him having inherited a deficient squad. The onus is on him to defy the critics and get the best out of the present players.
Milan Club Focus 2009/10
Pre-season expectation – August 18, 2009
Leonardo breathes as Brazilians relieve pressure – August 25, 2009
Kaka returns to the San Siro – August 27, 2009
How to play 4-3-1-2, a lesson from their rivals – September 1, 2009
Reshuffle the current squad, regain the winning mentality – September 4, 2009
International week (Georgia-Italy, Italy-Bulgaria)
Leonardo’s time to react – September 7, 2009