Football Italiano’s new weekly feature – Club Focus – Milan – Testing times for the Milan press office

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It has been a hectic week for the San Siro press office, but the story dominating the headlines is the future of David Beckham. The, will-he-stay or will-he-go saga has been rumbling on for some time, but came to a head at the weekend in light of his loan spell coming to an end. Many of you are probably sick to death of the ’Golden Balls’ affair so this time around the account of his business will kept as brief as possible.

Beckham’s loan move from LA Galaxy was due to end on March 9, his final bow being last Sunday’s game against Atalanta. Since arriving in January, the England hopeful fell in love with the club and the city and openly reiterated his desire to remain in Italy. The Americans were not so keen and attached a huge transfer tag to save losing their biggest crowd pleaser and marketing icon, believed to be in the region of £10m-£12m, depending which report you read. Whatever the figure, Milan would not, or could not, meet the asking price. After weeks of intense negotiation, a deal was struck that will keep the midfielder in Milan until June 30, 2009 after which he will return to the US to represent the Galaxy until the end of the MLS season in November.

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What happens in November is still not confirmed. Beckham has a sell out clause in his Galaxy contract allowing him to move, but as his family are settled in Los Angeles, the likely outcome is a repeat procedure of this loan deal allowing him to return to Milan after the winter break. Becks wants to play for England in the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa and his best opportunity of meeting his goal is to play his football in Serie A. His determination to be a part of Fabio Capello’s England squad is underlined in his commitment to move to Italy and pay somewhere in the region of £2m from his own pocket to fund the deal. If Becks is injured, not chosen for selection by Capello, or suffering from Burnout come next summer, you feel Posh might have something to say about that.

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After securing the services of one star in the form of Beckham, Milan’s Vice President Adriano Galliani is adamant that the club’s Brazilian superstar, Kaka will not be leaving the San Siro in the summer despite expected interest from Manchester City and Spanish giants Real Madrid. The same cannot be declared for Coach Carlo Ancelotti, however. The Rossoneri Tactician has had interest from Chelsea and is under no illusion that if his side fails to clinch third spot he will be shown the door. Considering the wealth of talent at his disposal, even a third place finish may not appease the management – or indeed the demanding tifosi. Ancelotti has cited the lengthy injury list in defending his side’s recent slump, but considering they have been inconsistent all season his claims are likely to fall on deaf ears. Granted the loss of players with the quality of Gennaro Gattuso, Massimo Ambrosini, Kaka, Ronaldinho, Clarence Seedorf and Marco Borriello will have had an impact on team selection, the strength in depth of the Rossoneri squad in comparison to their Serie A opponents means they should be able to cope admirably.

Arguably the biggest loss of the season has been the injury to Alessandro Nesta. The injury-prone centre-half has suffered with injuries for the past two years and has been kept out all season so far. Consequently Milan has struggled in defence. Daniele Bonera, Kakha Kaladze and Giuseppe Favalli have all been pitched alongside Paolo Maldini, or each other, but no sooner do the central pairing build up an understanding and injury severs the partnership and interrupts consistency. At present Philippe Senderos has been handed the task to fill the void. For all the Swiss international’s height and power, he has not been able to command the Rossoneri penalty area against balls into the box, his positional sense drags Maldini out of position and he is prone to error. Alas, he is not the answer to Milan’s defensive weaknesses.

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With Nesta’s continued absence and Maldini due to retire at the end of the season it is no surprise to see il Diavolo in the market for at least one prize centre-half. They have long since been linked with a move for Liverpool’s unsettled defender Daniel Agger, but as the board have slashed their spending budget from 120m euros to just 85m euros, the £8m transfer fee may be too much of an asking price. Reports of a £35m (ESPN, The Mail on Sunday) double swoop for Manchester United pair Jonny Evans and Nemanja Vidic can be dismissed as mere speculation. Having been stripped of the Arsenal captaincy, William Gallas was also linked with a January move to the San Siro which may well materialise in the summer for a lower fee than the original £5m asking price. Fabio Cannavaro is another name in the hat, but don’t be surprised to see Juventus duo Giorgio Chiellini and Nicola Legrottaglie or indeed even Roma lynchpin Philippe Mexes also linked with them in the media over the summer. The prestigious name and sheer desperation of Milan football club will see them linked with half a dozen prized defenders from across the peninsula and Europe – expect their actual targets to be a lot cheaper thanks to the challenging budget cuts.

Despite managing to keep a clean sheet against Atalanta at the weekend, there was further evidence that Milan’s defensive unit is in dire need of a shake up. Without Gattuso there is no natural defensive midfielder with the robustness and energy of the midfield general. Andrea Pirlo does a job, but is more effective in the playmaker role higher up the pitch, which leaves the defence exposed. Likewise Mathieu Flamini, Massimo Ambrosini and Beckham are not natural ball winners and more effective in possession as opposed to gaining it. Had it not been for inspired saves from keeper Cristian Abbiati, the Rossoneri could well have conceded two or three goals in the first half.

Becks played in an uncharacteristic role just behind the front two, usually adopted by Kaka or Seedorf. La Gazzetta dello Sport rated him 7 out of 10 which was a fair marking (and a respectable achievement in Italy where no player ever receives a full 10 and an 8 or 9 are reserved for truly outstanding performances). The former England captain’s myriad range of passing opened up the Atalanta defence on a number of occasions, but it was the raking passes over the top from his own half, rather than in and around the box that proved most effective. Several pin-point passes found Alexandre Pato and Filippo Inzaghi with space to exploit only for both strikers to waste their chances. With minutes of the game remaining, Ancelotti let the San Siro faithful show their appreciation for the England man who came off to a rousing standing ovation.

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Until the second goal in the 70th minute the Rossoneri looked like a side lacking confidence and the players were clearly on edge. As well as their defensive frailties which leaves them susceptible to dropping points, Milan is also culpable of playing one pass too many and wanting to walk the ball into the net. Without doubt they have the quality in their side to play with such panache – as they duly demonstrated by slicing open Atalanta’s back line for Inzaghi to complete his hat-trick – but it took the second goal for them to play with that level of fluency and freedom, despite taking a seventh minute lead. When they turn on the style it truly is great to watch, but with such evident edginess, the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza faithful will be gnawing their fingers to the bone.

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This weekend Milan travel to Siena who will be buoyed after securing only their second away win of the season having beaten a Catania side with a strong home record. Marco Giampaolo’s side are hovering just seven points above the drop zone and could easily be dragged into the mire if they are not careful. They are a difficult side to overcome at the Stadio Artemio Franchi and have only been overturned on two occasions, not surprisingly against Inter, yet more surprisingly five weeks ago against struggling Lecce. Although the Tuscan side are fundamentally draw specialists at home, a point will not be good enough for Ancelotti who is looking over his shoulder at the Roman charge up the table. He will also be casting a nervy eye on each of Fiorentina and Genoa.

Although the Rossoneri Coach has no new injury worries, he will most likely deploy Beckham in the hole behind Pato and Inzaghi in the continued absence of Ronaldinho, Seedorf and Kaka. The latter is back in training but still feeling the effects of the foot injury he picked up at the beginning of February and is not ready for competitive action. Ambrosini, named on the bench last time out may be set for a recall to the starting eleven, although Ancelotti is likely to stick with the same line-up that, eventually, swept past Atalanta.

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