Milan’s resounding 3-0 victory over Inter on Saturday evening is a result that will do wonders for their Scudetto aspirations this season. It will not, however, have the greatest impact on the club’s ability to compete for trophies over a prolonged period of time. What will are the months between now and the summer, when those individuals whose contracts are due to expire this year learn their fate.
Clarence Seedorf is one such player. He put in a majestic performance on Saturday, reminding everybody that he still has the quality when it matters, and following on from a similarly superb performance against Tottenham in the Champions League. After the derby match, he commented to Sky Sport 24 regarding his future:
”I have demonstrated my attachment to Milan every day for the past nine years, but I will stay with the Rossoneri only if the club will demonstrate that it wants me.”
The decision they take with the 35-year-old Seedorf will be an important indicator as to both the approach of the Rossoneri hierarchy in building the squad, and their capacity to compete for the Scudetto next season and beyond. In the past, Vice-President Adriano Galliani and company have been guilty of sentimentality, holding on to ageing players for far too long, albeit ones who have given the club years of wonderful service.
As good as Seedorf has been in the past, this season there has been a clear decline in his displays, despite his efforts against Inter. Although he is usually an unfair scapegoat and target for abuse regardless of what he does, the vast majority of his outings for Milan this season have been well below par. His mistakes against Udinese in the 4-4 draw earlier in the season cost the team dearly and his influence on the team offensively has on some occasions been arguably less than Mathieu Flamini, a player with far less attacking talent.
But waning performances did not stop the club in 2007, when they gave a 33-year-old Dida a new three year deal worth €4m, apparently ignoring the mistakes he had been making for a good couple of years. Giuseppe Favalli, another player who made more errors as he aged, was another beneficiary of Milan’s generosity, albeit only to the tune of €1.2m per year.
Seedorf, like Dida during his last contract, is on €4m a season. The club are taking steps to reduce the wage bill, and as such the policy when renewing contracts of the older members is to cut the salary by 33% (at least). Gennaro Gattuso did just that when he signed his new deal, and Massimo Oddo took a 50% cut, so Seedorf’s wages are going to have to drop quite dramatically if he is to stay.
But even offering a reduced deal would be the wrong move for Milan, not only for his deteriorating performance, but to continue with the direction they have started of reducing the oft-mentioned average age. The midfield is particularly bad – of the 10 central midfielders in the squad, half of them are over 30, and the half that are not include the raw duo of Rodney Strasser and Alexander Merkel.
Massimo Ambrosini, Andrea Pirlo, Marek Jankulovski, Filippo Inzaghi and Alessandro Nesta are also out of contract in the summer. The latter is certain to get a new deal, providing he does not retire first, while Jankulovski is certain to leave. Inzaghi will probably be offered terms on a reduced salary, if only for his bad luck with injury this season. But, like Seedorf, Pirlo and Ambrosini’s futures are uncertain.
The Dutchman could well be the litmus test for the management. If they learn from their past mistakes, ignore the sentimental value of the player, take note of the evidence of this season and let him go, it shows that they are taking the rebuilding process seriously and sends a message to his two midfield colleagues. If they keep him, then the mini-rebirth of last summer would have been a false dawn.