Milan’s first home win of the season was expected to silence the critics and tone down the rhetoric. It appears it will be quite hard to achieve some sort of stability both on and off the pitch this season with three main issues creating havoc for the Rossoneri.
To start with, following rumours that Arab investors were interested in purchasing a majority stake, it is now believed that Albanian magnate Rezart Taci has expressed his interest in taking over if President Silvio Berlusconi opts to sell. The Albanian businessman made public his intentions when he acknowledged Berlusconi is not leaning towards putting il Diavolo for sale. The off-field reports are unlikely to undermine Coach Leonardo’s status with the team or to influence his decisions on the pitch. The players on the other hand might be affected by a takeover since Andrea Pirlo had recently declared he does not anticipate the Rossoneri falling in non-Italian hands.
Secondly, rumours surrounding Brazilian misfit Ronaldinho have reached unprecedented levels with a report in Spanish daily Sport claiming the former Barcelona star will be retiring! The pressure has been mounting on the playmaker to perform and his status has become a major distraction within the Milan camp. Some players have gone out of their way to defend the Brazilian while the Coach and management have also made intermittent declarations about him. He was ruled out of the Bologna clash due to fever according to the club’s official statement. As mentioned in previous editions of this segment, the inclusion of the underperforming Ronaldinho as a starter has become a sizzling discussion point for media and fans alike. Since getting benched, Milan’s performances have improved and more notably the Rossoneri have beaten Marseille and Bologna in a span of few days. The Brazilian must not be blamed for everything, even though his performances have been mediocre at best and he does not merit a starring role at this stage.
The last contentious point remains Leonardo’s credibility as a trainer and his standing with the players. The Brazilian has faced intense pressure following a dismal pre-season and things became more complicated following the trouncing inflicted by Inter a few weeks ago. In all fairness Leonardo has begun to display willingness to bench underperforming players. He has finally dropped Ronaldinho and has made changes all over the pitch, particularly in the full-back position. The Coach had already tried Gianluca Zambrotta and Marek Jankulovski before inserting Massimo Oddo into the starting lineup and moving Zambrotta to left-back instead of the Czech player. Against Bologna, he gambled on starting winger Ignazio Abate at right-back while handing veteran Giuseppe Favalli the left-back spot. This reveals that Leonardo does indeed acknowledge the well-documented weaknesses in Milan’s flanks and confirms the club’s dire need for quality full-backs. Recent reports have once again linked Schalke’s Brazilian Marcio Rafinha with il Diavolo in what would be a welcome relief for the tifosi since Rafinha operates efficiently as a right-back.
So Leonardo has so far taken some brave steps, however, his selection of alternatives is beginning to stir debate. Moving Abate to right-back and utilising Favalli did not backfire against Bologna. The team was able to keep a clean sheet but Bologna is not exactly the team expected to strike fear into the opposition defence. Favalli is already 37-years-old and is not the option the club fans were hoping for. The tifosi will be wishing that Rafinha will be their Christmas present once the transfer window opens in January. The promising 24-year-old can offer more than players in the twilight of their career.
Milan overcame Bologna but only after a grueling encounter which reaffirmed the team is lacking in multiple areas. Besides the full-back positions, the ideal striking partner for Alexandre Pato has yet to be found. Filippo Inzaghi is an undisputed goal poacher, yet at 36 it is irrational to have him play more than once per week. Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is still settling down and Marco Borriello is out injured while Pato has yet to get a game off meaning fatigue might soon become a factor. One bright spot in Milan’s season has been the consistency of goalkeeper Marco Storari, whose save towards the end secured maximum points. Leonardo must also be thanking lady luck for having Clarence Seedorf whose displays this week have been inspiring. With Ronaldinho in limbo, it looks more likely that Seedorf will have to perform at his best for the team to win.
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
Livorno springs opportunity to end crisis – September 11, 2009
Serie A slides down priority list – September 15, 2009
Leonardo lurches into decision-making territory – September 18, 2009