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Having lost to Arsenal a couple of weeks ago a lot of journalists went on ‘Milan are old, its the end of an era’ rants which personally I think is just a lazy theme that they can knock out quickly and painlessly – this same theme could quite easily have been said when they lost to Liverpool or even when they beat Liverpool — they were still old bastards then!
In my opinion, although Arsenal deserved to win, I don’t think Milan were as outplayed as the press said. Seedorf was hugely missed. I also thought the Fabregas goal was quite lucky but inevitably secured the game considering the timing of it (I await the tirade of Gooners completely disagreeing with me). Don’t get me wrong, Fab and Flamini bossed Kaka out of the game which was the key. I just think Seedorf would have made a real difference to that game, regardless of the ‘one man doesn’t make a team’ comments that some will send in reply.
But alas back to the point, old Milan. Yes they are old, ridiculously old when you think about it but how have they managed to play together for so long? Paolo Maldini is coming up to 40 and has floated the possibility of playing another season. A lot of this has been put down to the Milan Lab. Since its introduction in 2002 the praise showered on this elusive institution has been endless — some have even credited it with giving players 5 extra playing years to their careers. But what is it and are these accolades completely justifiable? Can a glorfied physio room really make the difference to a players career?
In 2000 Milan bought Redondo from Real Madrid for 30 million Euros. At his peak, it was anticipated as an awesome signing of one of the best athletes playing in Europe. In the previous season he had helped Madrid win the Champions League so the excitement of the signing (and obviously the price paid) was huge. Remember Raul’s third goal against Man Utd with the ‘backheel of Old Trafford’ ? He completely bossed Roy Keane and won UEFA 1999-2000 most valuable player. Moving to Milan, his body crumbled and he played 16 games in 4 years – Milan vowed to never spend that much money on a player again.
This was the start of the Milan Lab, a ‘High Tech Scientific Research Centre set up by AC Milan’ focusing on the psychological and physical attributes of the players, with the idea that each player is unique and therefore should follow their own individually created program. Run by a Belgian chiropractor and practitioner of applied kinesiology, the lab aims to reduce injuries by intricate analysis of each player, from the way they jump to the type of shoes and clothes they wear. Every detail makes a difference and according to an interview made in the Financial Times there has been a reduction of traumatic injuries by 90%.
The Milan lab has a huge influence on who they buy and squad selection. Supposedly their data is so detailed that it can even suggest when a player needs to be rested due to a high possibility of injury. And the majority of this information can be created by a simple 8 minute test and software created in association with Microsoft – sounds a little far fetched to me, I wonder how much of this is marketing bull shit? But if you look at the ages of the first team squad, the physio room has surely played a part in keeping this team together (ages as of March 15th 2008):
Dida — 34 Cafu — 37 Maldini — 39
Kaladze — 30 Emerson — 31 Pato — 18
Gattuso- 30 Inzaghi — 35 Seedorf — 31
Gilardino — 25 Nesta – 31 Kalac — 35
Simic — 32 Jankulovski — 31 Favalli — 36
Gourcuff — 21 Pirlo — 28 Kaka — 25
Ambrosini — 30 Bonera — 26 Serginho — 36
Fiori — 38 Digao — 22 Brocchi — 32
Ba- 34 Damian — 18 Paloschi — 18
Oddo — 31 Ronaldo — 31 Average age: 29
Take Ronaldo for example, before his hellish injury, the Brazilian appeared to be on his way back to the weight and fitness level that would allow him to possibly get his form back. Milan discovered Ronaldo had hypothyroidism which causes an insufficient amount of the hormones created by the thyroid gland thus helping get the rep as Fatty Fatterson from Fatville. Within 5 months Milan had helped him lose 5.5kgs. Does this prove the effectiveness of Milan Lab? Of course no. Over the last two seasons Serginho, Ambrosini, Maldini, Kaladze and Nesta have all experienced long term injuries, so where was the Milan Lab then? If the intricate software was so great why weren’t these injuries not predicted before hand and thus why weren’t they left out of games in anticipation?
Which takes me back to the first comment — Milan are in fact a bunch of old bastards, they play in the Serie A which is a far slower pace than other leagues thus allowing you to play longer (perhaps — responses on a post card please) and they haven’t succeeded in winning the Serie A title since 2003/2004 when Shevchenko was the absolute schiznit (he scored 24) and Jon Dahl Tomasson used to pop on for a super sub appearance (he scored 12). When you think about the athletes they have at Milan, it’s hardly surprising they have played for so long. Seedorf, Maldini, Cafu, Serginho are all absolute class players who are proper thinkers in football — whatever athletic ability they have lost over the years they have more than compensated with pure brilliance and experience. No Milan Lab or any other marketing ploy can take the credit for that.
I wouldn’t be surprised if they bought Didier Drogba (Gilardino is turd and Pato is too young to be playing that role) in the summer and perhaps one more lively midfielder that we will be seeing Milan again in the later stages of the champions league once again influencing Guardian writers et al to rethink their opinion on the age debate — if they qualify that is!