AC Milan may be surprise leaders of the Serie A but it is the rebuilding job that awaits manager Massimiliano Allegri which will determine his and the club’s destiny this season.
AC Milan may be the surprise leaders of the Serie A but it is the rebuilding job that awaits manager Massimiliano Allegri which will determine his and the club’s destiny this season.
Anoraks and journalists often have the same reason to ladle out quirky facts – they have this prickly need to impress – and the point where they deviate is quite clear. The football nerd just wants to put one over his mates in the pub, perhaps win another round of drinks while the hacks play them up to pad up their match reports or sensationalise a non-story.
after the Derby della Madonnina last sunday, the statistics were in rampant flow. We were dutifully informed that aC Milan have not beaten Internazionale Milano since the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal of 2006. The 0-1 defeat was the first suffered by the nerazzurri at home since March 2008 (the rossoneri playing as the visitors at the san siro). Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s penalty inside the first five minutes settled the match last weekend. Even before the clash, this was already Inter’s worst start to a league campaign since Jose Mourinho’s serie a debut in 2008/09.
rafael Benitez’s charges have now dropped 16 out of 36 points. They are in the fifth position, six points short of their table topping city rivals.
Their stealthy rise has seen the attention shift from previous league leaders Lazio and napoli and Milan are spoken genuinely as potential scudetto winners. Lazio and napoli, second and third respectively, form a buffer between Milan and the usual contenders, Inter, Juventus and as roma.
at this point in time, the talk is of Milan’s revival under Massimiliano “Max” allegri.
at least one prominent figure from the rival camp has trumpeted Milan’s chances this week. In the process, Gianluigi Buffon delivered an unflattering verdict on Juventus’ prospects when he declared that finishing close to the rossoneri would represent success for the Turin outfit.
There are six months more to go before any club are crowned champions yet, as though to confirm Buffon’s fears, allegri feels that he has not built the Milan team of his desire. His ruthlessness is expected to bring in more changes before the season takes a break next month.
In the last three games – matches that witnessed a sharp increase in Milan’s bearing – allegri had replaced the wayward ronaldinho with the tactically more disciplined Clarence seedorf.
as allegri had assigned defensive duties to Gennaro Gattuso, Massimo ambrosini and Mathieu Flamini, the Dutchman has had an easier time paying back his coach’s faith in him with excellent turns in the demanding trequartista position: in the hole behind the main strikers.
The presence of Ibrahimovic and robinho has also provided seedorf – a player blessed with an amazing versatility – with greater freedom to provide an additional attacking threat. Milan’s midfield may be groaning with time – Gattuso, ambrosini and Flamini have a combined age of 91– but is impossible to find another mid-section with that type of experience. similarly, the value of a footballer like seedorf, while contributing 34 years on his own, cannot be tracked along these lines.
Milan’s seasoned players have been blamed in the past three seasons for holding back the progress of the team at the same the effectiveness of the Milan Lab – the famous medical institution credited for extending the careers of everyone from the retired Paolo Maldini to the often injured Filippo Inzaghi – has been silently questioned. It is not guaranteed that the likes of Gattuso (33 in two months’ time), ambrosini (33), andrea Pirlo (31), alessandro nesta (35 in March), Gianluca Zambrotta (34 in February), Inzaghi (37) and seedorf are capable of maintaining their form and shape until next May.
This is where the canniness of san siro managerial debutant allegri will eventually tell. allegri was not high on the list of primary clubs in Italy, never mind Europe, and it is still a mystery as to why Milan courted and convinced the former Cagliari boss to succeed Leonardo. When their approach was made, allegri was out in the cold at Cagliari, after his managerial tenure was cut short in april.
after guiding the rossoblu to ninth place in season 2008/09, he could only manage a place outside the top 10 and last term and was replaced by the Cagliari youth coach before he could complete the campaign.
as such his selection caused doubts to be raised loudly: Leonardo, a respected former Milan player, could not handle the egos that bounced around in their dressing room and the pressure that came from all corners. What were the odds that an unheralded individual would return the rossoneri to championship chasing material? The nucleus of the team that triumphed in the Champions League 2007 was still intact when allegri was handed the reins in mid-June.
In terms of line-up alone, the rossoneri are still a team to fear and respect. The fact that they have yet to win the scudetto in the last six seasons – the closest they came during this period was when they ended up as the runners-up to Juventus in the sham season 2004/05 – and have been performing poorly in the Champions League had alarmed the club hierarchy. allegri’s fast established standing in the serie a – he was voted as the manager of the season twice in a row by his peers and his transformation of Cagliari into an attacking unit on a narrow budget and key player exits - won over the Milan club.
Milan, of course, is where reputation is made or mangled. The gamble on the 43year-old was akin to the one that silvio Berlusconi took on another rising coaching star, arrigo sacchi in 1986. Berlusconi, in his second stint as the club president, is eager for silverware and has provided allegri with two maverick talent in Ibrahimovic and robinho. The swede and Brazilian would ensure that he has his work cut out for him and, in true fashion, it arrived when Ibrahimovic had a training ground bust-up with defender oguchi onyewu in full view of supporters early this month.
The club covered it up with clichés – vicepresident adriano Galliani claimed that the brawl was “a good sign” – and the derby win helped put a distance between the incident and the euphoria of scaling the summit of the serie a last sunday. allegri has earned himself a lot of breathing space though the rebuilding of the squad and the quest for glory are the determining factors in the longevity of his career at the san siro. These are also issues that are not within allegri’s control.
He is very much dependent on Galliani making the purchases that could gradually replace the likes of Pirlo, Gattuso, Zambrotta, Inzaghi, nesta, seedorf and ambrosini. This is a huge task, even inconceivable in the hands of the untrained, and Galliani must operate with lesser financial clout to beat bigger rivals from the Premier League, La Liga and serie a itself for the signatures of outstanding players.
The notion that Milan might not hold out the allure of old has been crushed with the signing of Ibrahimovic and robinho, which has also burnished Galliani’s sense of self. He now must demonstrate that ambition again if allegri and the rossoneri were to maintain their pole position.
Dangerous duo: AC Milan’s Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have found a new spark for themselves at San Siro.