Club Focus – Milan – There is always next season

What a huge difference a week can make as the Rossoneri have swiftly altered their objective from competing for the Serie A title to maintaining a grip on third place. Milan are conveniently placed to claim a Champions League spot but last weekend’s experience has taught the players anything can happen. Losing to Palermo can change the dynamics with three clashes remaining after this weekend, with the main concern for Milan being there are no easy games as the season comes to a close with the trip to Sicily followed by hosting Fiorentina, playing away to Genoa then facing Juventus at San Siro.

The schedule has not been kind to Milan but the players cannot relax at this stage of the season because this can come back and haunt the Rossoneri if they fail to start winning again. While Ronaldinho is still showing flashes of brilliance and remains on top of the assist charts, he is going through a dry spell when it comes to scoring, forcing some voices within the Milan camp to urge him to shoot more. Ronaldinho’s shortage of goals has coincided with the Rossoneri struggles costing them the opportunity to take a stab at the Serie A title. Coach Leonardo has the monumental task of trying to lift the squad’s spirit with the lack of motivation infesting the ranks. Milan remain in the midst of a bruising slump which was highlighted by the humiliating 4-0 defeat at Old Trafford which ended the club’s European hopes and scaled down the objectives set by the Rossoneri who subsequently lost star duo Alexandre Pato and Alessandro Nesta to injury.

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The latest to voice their concern over the playing squad is former Milan skipper Paolo Maldini who insisted the club must invest in the market in order to secure quality players who are capable of propelling the Rossoneri to compete even when there are significant injuries. Prior to Maldini, his former teammate and fellow club legend Franco Baresi and one of their Coaches Arrigo Sacchi were blunt in their assessment of the situation at Milanello – with Baresi indicating the Rossoneri have overachieved while Sacchi insisted Leonardo has done fairly well considering the players at his disposal.

One player continuously linked with leaving Milan is Klaas-Jan Huntelaar who has failed to shine in his first season justifying Leonardo’s decision to bench the Dutchman and use him as a late substitute. To be fair to Huntelaar he has not been given considerable playing time to showcase his skills, however his previous stop in Madrid was not impressive either. Huntelaar scored eight goals for Real Madrid in 20 La Liga appearances while he has managed 7 goals in 21 Serie A matches highlighting the player’s struggles at the big stage after his successful spell in the relatively easier Dutch league. Without downplaying the quality of Holland’s opponents and while acknowledging his 15 goals in 30 international caps is impressive, the statistics become less important when recognising he has scored 10 of those in friendly matches. Huntelaar might not be cut out for the big stage and his shortcomings have been highlighted during his two most recent spells at the Santiago Bernabéu and San Siro. The last few days have seen a flurry of reports claiming Milan want to offload the striker despite Vice-President Adriano Galliani’s persistent declarations about the player remaining with the club.

Huntelaar has been linked with Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur with the story involving the Red Devils offering an interesting twist. It has been claimed Milan would swap Huntelaar for Dimitar Berbatov as the Bulgarian international has struggled in recent games and has not earned the trust of Coach Sir Alex Ferguson, who rarely starts the striker when facing some of the elite teams in the Premiership and Europe. The question becomes whether it would make sense for the Rossoneri to trade one struggling striker for another and if such a move would not defeat the purpose of properly rebuilding the squad. Then again the club’s management has become renowned for taking the odd decision for the sake of covering its previous mistakes while keeping the spending at a minimum. The tifosi cannot tolerate another off-season capped by a mediocre campaign in the transfer market, with Maldini adding his voice to the growing list of supporters urging the club to spend in order to return to the glory days.

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