Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughMilan’s new team return to the top table - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Milan’s new team return to the top table - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Milan’s new team return to the top table

Periods of transition do not come as stark as they did for AC Milan, regarded as one of Europe’s true giants with seven Champions League wins, in sinking to the depths of the Europa League at one point in the last three years at odds with such proud European tradition, they hit the lowest ebb with annihilation in the Champions League by Manchester United. With each of the four goals that United rammed past them with merciless supremacy that night, the reminder that he time was up for the Carlo Ancelotti generation was drilled deeper and deeper into the dismay of Milan’s inadequacies with age that were so startlingly apparent as they left the pitch, and Europe’s premier competition, at an aggregate deficit of 7-2.

The Milan side that night of March 2010 contained the 32 year old Massimo Ambrosini and 31 year old Andrea Pirlo in midfield whilst 30 year old Ronaldinho had been fighting fitness problems when struggling to find the form that made him the peerless force of his Barcelona years. Clarence Seedorf was given the second 45 minutes at the tender age of 33, David Beckham made a cameo appearance at the age of 34 while Filippo Inzaghi also joined him in emerging from the bench with 36 years on the clock. Left in reserve were Gennarro Gattuso and Gianluca Zambrotta at 32 and 33 years respectively, it was a team subservient to ageing limbs and its time, in contradiction to the chronologic defiance borne from the much famed Milan lab of Milanello, was well and truly up.

Carlo Ancelotti had overseen the peak of this Milan side, winning the Champions League in 2003 and 2007 but he had left for the trials and tribulations of Chelsea before the season had commenced and rookie Leonardo began his maiden year in charge with a group of players that had not changed with its natural cycle. The Brazilian did a good job domestically, Ignazio Abate and Luca Antonini were brought through to impress and they managed a respectable third place finish. The core of the team that provided Ancelotti’s success throughout the decade had reached its conclusion according to the footballing elite, but the green shoots had begun a slowly emerging recovery.

Their journey of evolution had returned once again last week to the theatre of competition that staged the humiliation of Milan’s Ancelotti generation, with the baptism of fire of a trip to the Nou Camp to face the generally regarded best team in Europe, Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering matadors of pass and move, Barcelona. Of the eleven that played that night in Manchester, five survived in the squad; the 26 year old defender Thiago Silva, the goalkeeper Christian Abbiati now 34, Abate, now 24, and Seedorf and Ambrosini, now 35 and 34 respectively. The evergreen Alessandro Nesta was imperious throughout in central defence at 35 while 34 year old Mark Van Bommel provided his typical dogged defensive screen in central midfield, this was still an old Milan side, but it took only one minute to illuminate the contrast of this new dynamic; Alexandre Pato, still yet to reach the heights his potential has hinted so far in his twenty two years, sprang opportunistically through a chasm in the Catalan defence and headed towards goal to slot confidently past Valdes, a far cry from the underwhelming lethargy of Marco Borriello and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Pato, with his sidekick the creative, quixotic Antonio Cassano, Milan in which possessed a front line vibrant and mobile full of exuberance non-existent in the recent past. When you consider the forthcoming returns of the elegantly re-born Zlatan Ibrahimovic, scorer of 25 goals for Milan last year, and the much rejuvenated Robinho, the Brazilian contributed with 15 goals of his own last season, and you have a very potent attack line built on the quintessential solid foundations of Milan.

Last season formed what was very much the turning point in the recent history of the Rossaneri, following the humbling to Manchester United, Leonardo resigned against the wishes of the club, necessitating a turn to the tactically astute former coach of Cagliari, Massimo Allegri. The summer saw the arrivals of Ibrahimovic and Robinho, both rescued from stagnation with Barcelona and Manchester City, while Kevin Prince Boateng, the former Portsmouth midfielder whose stock had risen with an impressive World Cup campaign with Ghana, was also drafted in on loan. Cassano and Van Bommel were signed in January along with the highly rated Spanish left back Didac Vila and Urby Emmanuelson, the tricky full back who had graduated from the famed academy of Ajax Amsterdam. Ronaldinho departed for Gremio while Milan’s renewal saw an 18th Scudetto, a great achievement considering the difference in fortunes to their treble winning neighbours of the year previous. Hindered by cup-ties in Europe, they were beaten narrowly in the second round by Tottenham Hotspur, but Allegri was justified by domestic success after a single year of evolution.

The rebuilding process continued throughout the summer, Allegri’s methodical nature shone through in the transfer market, Nigerian left-back Taye Taiwo and French central defender Phillipe Mexes were signed on frees and Alberto Aquilani, with a point to prove from a turbulent spell with Liverpool. Kevin Prince Boateng’s loan deal from Genoa was made permanent and from the same club came Antonio Nocerino, a fierce tackling defensive midfielder and natural heir to Gennarro Gattuso’s integral ball-winner role, and £8 million Stephan El Shaarawy, a young Italian of Egyptian descent who has trickery and creativity in abundance. Nocerino’s ability was apparent in the Nou Camp; his onerous marking of Andres Iniesta caused the tricky Spaniard to be withdrawn after 38 minutes with injury. It is clear that Allegri has not only built a younger, more equipped squad, but he has seemingly achieved a perfect balance between puerile buoyancy and seasoned experience; the likes of Ambrosini and Gattuso still remain but there is no longer a universal reliance on waning bones.

After the early goal in the Nou Camp, Allegri’s tactics of catenaccio came into play and they coped well until persistent work from the majestic Lionel Messi carved an equaliser for Pedro Rodriguez, while the third jewel in Barca’s attack line, David Villa made it 2-1 with an exquisite free-kick. Milan did not submit to a lost cause though and eventually earned a deserved leveller, Thiago Silva rising unmarked to head home a Clarence Seedorf corner in injury time. The match finished a rather enjoyable 2-2 with a feeling that Milan, in possession of an ambitious, intelligent manager and a group of players at his disposal with an almost enviable blend of exciting youth and resourceful experience, have announced they are ready to return to the exclusive group of clubs situated at the top end of the competition that provided with so much romance in their glittering past. It was the seizing of two lapses of concentration uncharacteristic of their hosts, but the European champions had been the first to feel it. Milan have very much returned to the elite.

Adam Gray



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *