Milan ended the weekend on a low after suffering an undeserved 2-1 defeat courtesy of a late goal by Sampdoria striker Giampaolo Pazzini, effectively ending the challenge for the Scudetto. The Rossoneri put in a solid showing despite the sending off of defender Daniele Bonera with the players upping their performance to compensate for his absence. The deficiencies in the squad were too big for Leonardo and his troops to overcome, particularly with the lack of adequate alternatives for Alessandro Nesta. Club legend Paolo Maldini hung up his boots at the end of last season yet the management did not bring in adequate alternatives despite the signing of Brazilian Thiago Silva.
The signing of Thiago Silva proved to be solid yet the question remains – why were additional reinforcements not brought in to cover for Nesta, who played 13 minutes last season? Vice-President Adriano Galliani gambled on having a healthy Nesta. Leonardo has been forced to use Giuseppe Favalli and most recently Bonera in the centre, whose sending off forced the Brazilian Coach to delve deeper into his thin squad for a replacement. Massimo Oddo was chosen to complement Thiago Silva and the former Azzurri right-back did fairly well but the tifosi will be hoping this does not mean he will be employed in this position next season because fresh faces ought to be signed. The lack of options extends all throughout the pitch for the Rossoneri with an ageing midfield and limited alternatives up-front. This has been touched upon by former players and Coaches such as Arrigo Sacchi. The latest to voice their support of Leonardo is former Milan player Paolo Di Canio. The well-traveled striker praised Leonardo for exceeding expectations and bringing the best out of Ronaldinho and Marco Borriello while encouraging players such as Ignazio Abate and Luca Antonini.
The Coach’s future has become a well-documented topic amongst the fans and Italian Press with the Rossoneri staunch in their confirmation of Leonardo as their tactician for next season, only to change their tone recently with Galliani admitting he might leave for Brazil to be closer to his family. Last week Galliani insisted Leonardo will be going nowhere despite sections of the tifosi and critics not favouring his extended stay. Sampdoria might be seven points behind but Milan have to travel to Sicily to play Palermo, who are fighting for a Champions League place so losing third place is not out of question. Leonardo admitted the players tried their best in Genoa yet he appeared a man resigned to the club’s fate with the Scudetto a distant possibility.
President Silvio Berlusconi might have bet on the gamble of hiring Leonardo to pay off not just in achieving results but to have the boss serve as a scapegoat in case the Rossoneri struggle. Berlusconi probably felt a winner by diverting attention from his limited spending and the mediocre transfer market conducted by the management. Had Milan won a trophy then Berlusconi and Galliani would be considered master planners while failure to achieve notable success would be covered by Leonardo’s presence. The season has seen Milan overachieve given Juventus were expected to challenge with their significant spending and Palermo considered worthy adversaries because of their quality players. At the season’s start the management would have been satisfied with a fourth place finish considering the squad’s age and lack of depth. Both features were gravely exposed by city rivals Inter who shredded the Rossoneri into pieces in two league meetings. Ronaldinho’s return to form along with solid performances by Nesta, Alexandre Pato and Thiago Silva saved Milan from further embarrassment with major summer signing Klaas-Jan Huntelaar proving to be a costly blunder.
The shrewd Berlusconi did not open his cheque book in January despite the obvious weaknesses with the lack of activity in the market aiding in the mauling administered by Manchester United. The Rossoneri were left to lick their wounds while their owner chose to blame tactics and the misuse of players as the main reason behind the humiliation at Old Trafford in a veiled yet obvious attack on Leonardo. The Brazilian must lift his charges in order to secure the third spot and leave on a high note, if indeed that is what he chooses to do. Time will tell if Leonardo can do so with Palermo and struggling Juventus all hoping to capitalise on Milan’s chaotic situation.