AC Milan – A legend in decline

By Steve Mitchell

David Beckham AC Milan

AC Milan, a club renowned for its pride and professionalism, is an iconic symbol of Italian football is in crisis.

In the space of a month it has lost its main talisman, its coach and its superstar player. With less than three weeks to go until the start of the new campaign, The Sport Review examines what has happened to this wonderful old club and how has it been allowed to disintegrate into a shadow of its former self.

As Paolo Maldini took the acclaim from the tifosi after his final appearance at the San Siro, it seemed the end of an era for the Rossoneri. As the summer break started, coach Carlo Ancellotti confirmed football’s worst kept secret that he was moving to England to take up the reigns at Chelsea.

There then followed more heartbreak for Milan fans as their star man Kaka let his head rule his heart and defected to La Liga to join the Florentino Perez revolution. A shattering blow as earlier in the year Milan had fought off the advances of Manchester City and kept hold of its shining light amid rabid media speculation.

Milan President Silvio Berlusconi was awarded hero status by the tifosi as it seemed Kaka was going to finish his career with il Diavoli. With the addition of David Beckham to its ranks, Milan finished the season on a high securing direct qualification into the Champions League for the following season.

As the summer break commenced, Milan’s directors opted to give one of world footballs most prestigious jobs to a rookie coach. Leonardo had been working at the club as a technical director since 2007, a successful playing career, including four years at the San Siro with Milan from 1997-2001 had brought him the games biggest prizes.

A scudetto with the Rossoneri in 1999 and the most prized possession of all, a World Cup winner’s medal in 1994. Sceptics remain unconvinced however, that this wonderfully gifted player can make the step up to management especially at a club as big as Milan. A glance at the current playing staff at Leonardo’s disposal reads like a cast list from Dad’s Army.

Goalkeeper Zeljko Kalac 36, defenders Marek Jankulovski 32, Giuseppe Favalli 37,Alessandro Nesta 33 and Gianluca Zambrotta 32.

In midfield we have Massimo Ambrosini 32, Gennaro Gattuso 31 and Andrea Pirlo 30. In attack Pippo Inzaghi 35. In addition to this, Ronaldinho has yet to rediscover both form and fitness and striker Marco Boriello is only just returning to the squad after a debilitating injury kept him out of two thirds of the last campaign.

So are there any positives? Firstly, there is the addition in defence of the Brazilian Thiago Silva, who arrived in January of this year but is only now eligible to play because of overseas restrictions on players from non EU countries. His fellow countryman Alexandre Pato is now a regular in the side and much will rest on his shoulders at the start of the new season.

The youngster has electrifying pace that can give defenders all sorts of problems and if he can link up well with Ronaldinho then goals will come. As for the great man himself, he has spent most of pre season telling anyone who is prepared to listen that he feels fitter than ever, having shed the excess pounds that he had gained warming the bench for Barcelona towards the end of his time there.

His quality is never in doubt, unfortunately, his temperament is. Milan fans will pray that his fellow Brazilian Leonardo can get the best out of him this coming campaign. At the time of writing, Milan have been heavily linked with Sevilla striker Luis Fabiano, one of Europe’s hottest properties, his goals over the past two seasons in Spain have been a major factor in propelling Sevilla into the Champions League.

He is devastating with the ball at his feet and his aerial ability makes him the perfect centre forward. Currently, the combination of Sevilla’s asking price and the player’s wage demands have proved a stumbling block for the Rossoneri, the tifosi will hope an agreement can be reached.

Silvio Berlusconi has also been very vocal in his assessment of the current playing staff. Recognising that the majority of his players are reaching the twilight of their careers, he has intimated to his new coach that he should look to strengthen the squad with players under the age of 23.

A sensible thing to say you might think, but many supporters will be thinking why this problem was not addressed a few years earlier. The answer to this question surely lies with outgoing coach Carlo Ancelotti and his loyalty to the players he had at his disposal.

The coach had a special bond with his main lieutenants, Maldini, Pirlo, Gattuso, Nesta and Inzaghi, a relationship he just could not break and now, after his departure, an inexperienced coach is left to pick up the pieces. The best comparison to this would be the break up of the great Liverpool dynasty built up in the late seventies and eighties by Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan.

As the team grew older, replacements were not drafted in and as the decade came to a close, incoming manager Graeme Souness was left with a team of ageing stars and no one to replace them.

Pre season has been a disaster for Milan, seven matches played, no wins, one draw and six defeats. Although its all about reaching peak fitness levels for August 23 when the new campaign opens, it’s the manner in which the defeats have come that will give everyone associated with the Italian giant’s nightmares.

Ancelotti has already returned to haunt his former employers as his new Chelsea team eased to a 2-1 victory over Milan in a tournament in the USA. The same competition saw their city neighbours Internazionale run out comfortable 2-0 winners in the latest head to head between the two great rivals. The only bright spot of a disappointing tour saw Milan fight out an entertaining 2-2 draw with the LA Galaxy, small comfort indeed.

The most recent pre season build up pitted Milan against Bayern Munich in the inaugural Audi cup played in Bayern’s impressive Allianz Arena. This would be the first real test of the Leonardo era as his team had now got some games under their belt, it would be a good pointer as to just how far the team had come. After 90 minutes, Leonardo had his answer; his team had been systematically taken apart by a scintillating display from the hosts.

Ronaldinho spent the entire game sulking as the service was just not there for him. Nesta and Thiago Silva in defence were being run ragged by the outstanding Mario Gomez and Leonardo was left wondering what to do, a truly embarrassing display from the Italians saw them hammered 4-1. The best player on the Milan side being second choice goalkeeper Marco Storari, whose heroics kept the score below ten!

A club steeped in history both domestically and in Europe has some serious re-building to do if it is to return to its rightful place as one of football’s powerhouses.

Loyalty and neglect have been the major contributors to its downfall over the past few seasons, a seemingly stubborn willingness to accept that nothing is wrong with the odd good performance masking the real problems that lay at the heart of this great club. The 2009-10 season promises to be a watershed in this proud club’s history. For football’s sake the sooner its problems are sorted, the better.

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