Club Focus – Milan – Will Juventus be Leonardo’s last game as coach?

Mauro Tassotti – linked with taking over the coaching job – has been praised by former Rossoneri Coach Carlo Ancelotti, once having singled him out as the right man to take charge. The now Chelsea Manager has extensive knowledge of the club having played for then coached the team, including winning two Champions League titles. With Leonardo’s fate unknown following the clash with Juventus this weekend, there are increased rumours linking Leonardo with a return home to be close to his family in Brazil or even taking over the national team once Carlos Dunga steps down after South Africa 2010. While Leonardo helped rejuvenate Ronaldinho’s career, continued to nurture Alexandre Pato and aided Thiago Silva’s improvement, Dunga only values Thiago, having overlooked Ronaldinho and Pato for the upcoming World Cup.

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The clash with the Bianconeri might see Leonardo on the bench for the last time despite a positive season overall regardless of some inconsistent stretches. Milan are short on quality alternatives to their starting squad and have a pressing need to bring in fresh faces to replace some of the veterans such as Giuseppe Favalli, Massimo Oddo and Marek Jankulovski. Even aging midfield duo Clarence Seedorf and Gennaro Gattuso appear to be inching closer to retirement with injuries, inconsistency and below par performances defining a chunk of their season. Considering the squad at his disposal, Leonardo has done a phenomenal job by guiding the Rossoneri to a third place finish considering Ancelotti – who just won the Premier League title with Chelsea in his first season removed from the Rossoneri job – pointed out that Milan are in a transitional period with legend Paolo Maldini retiring last summer after more than two decades of exemplary service while club icon Kaka’ was sold to Real Madrid to raise funds – which were not reinvested in players. The major signing of the season has been Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and as repeatedly mentioned he has failed to impress and might be close to moving away. With a number of Premiership sides, including Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, reportedly keen on making a bid to lure him to England.

Against the Old Lady, a perennial challenger for the Serie A title, the Rossoneri will have the opportunity to end the season on a high note by defeating the fallen giants who are having miserable season outlined by humiliating losses to Bayern Munich and Fulham in European competitions. While Milan were easily beaten by Inter twice in Serie A, the Rossoneri still managed to reach their main objective which is qualifying for the Champions League. Competing in the top European competition guarantees increased ticket sales, brings in additional revenue from TV rights and provides additional funds from money awarded based on results in the group stage and thereafter. The Champions League is the world’s premier club competition, meaning that the big name players in football often prefer moves to clubs involved in the elite European competition. Ancelotti was wise to acknowledge Milan were not going to spend on new players and his move to Stamford Bridge has been rewarded with the league title in England and an FA Cup final against Portsmouth, an opportunity to achieve a historic double. Ancelotti will be given the necessary funds to bring in reinforcements because Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich wants to win the Champions League and one player being singled out as a prime candidate is Brazilian Pato who impressed against Real Madrid in the group stage. Ancelotti admitted he would welcome the opportunity to work with the Brazilian again. Milan are denying they will sell the player and he himself indicated on multiple occasions he will be more than happy to remain at Milanello – yet a hefty offer might force the Rossoneri to sell him off.

As for Leonardo’s situation, there are reports within the club indicating the situation might be beyond repair since the Coach is at odds with President Silvio Berlusconi, who has publicly berated the Tactician constantly questioning some of his tactics and criticising the performances in certain games. Leonardo probably feels isolated with Vice-president Adriano Galliani softening his support for the Coach after initially claiming the Brazilian will remain next season. The tifosi will again play witness to another transitional campaign next year due to the mismanagement at Milan. Team directors have opted for band-aid solutions instead of renewing an aging team beset by veterans past their best and some players who are renowned for their injury problems such as Alessandro Nesta. Despite having an ideal campaign, Nesta has not been able to shake off his unfortunate tag of being injury prone.

While there are multiple distractions affecting the club, the tifosi will be looking to the visit of the Old Lady hoping for an entertaining performance from the home side coupled with a victory over an old foe struggling to catch a break following a dismal season. Anything less than a victory against the Bianconeri will be a disappointing end to the campaign and will pile further pressure on Leonardo who appears to be fed up of the media circus and the shots aimed at him by Berlusconi – who has used the press to relay his messages on a number of occasions.

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