Happy belated birthday Gennaro Gattuso! Last week the Italian midfielder turned 30 and gave his adoring Milanese public an insight into how long he thinks he can carry on playing for the Champions League holders…….for ever!
Well not quite, he modestly suggested he had ‘three or four’ more years left at the top before he called time on his career — intending to bow out from the game in a rossoneri shirt.
But why not continue for longer alongside team-mates who are clearly benefiting from the club’s scientific approach to prolonging the careers of great footballers ?
Milanello, the elegant training centre of Milan, is tucked away in woods a few kilometres south of the lakeside town of Varese — the base of chiropractors and kinesiologists that specialise in the treatment of players who would be considered geriatric anywhere else.
Five and a half years ago saw the official inception of ‘Milan Lab’ – the secretive hub of the operation which has caused private consternation from jealous rivals keen to learn or unmask the practices which take place within.
But many of the techniques had been developed years before, hence you get Paolo Maldini winning recognition as UEFA’s defender of the year at 39 and players like Cafu deciding to join the club at the age of 33.
The 37-year-old was all set to tread the path of many Brazilians before him and play out his senior years in Japan’s J League before Milan’s offer. With the help of Milan Lab, he continues to bustle up and down the flank like a teenager and flummox conventional theory that states one day his legs will go.
Milan are open about most aspects of the lab – the key being that each player undergoes a screening process on a daily basis – biochemical, neurostructural and mental. Put simply, it’s about finding the nuances of what makes a player tick so that the coaches can say: ‘This is where he is today and this is what he needs to be doing.’
Yet it is the ‘biochemical’ aspect which concerns some outsiders. Two Milan players have been caught in doping scandals in the last 18 months with Marco Borriello suspended for a banned steroid hormone discovered in a urine sample and Ronaldo reportedly under investigation for a prescribed genetic therapy treatment.
Ronaldo was being treated in Brazil under the supervision of national team physician Jose Luis Runco. The therapy, called growth factor, uses a natural protein to stimulate cell proliferation and is banned in Italy.
Others will point to the alarming dip in form suffered by Andriy Shevchenko since he quit the club, with many observers noting that the 31-year-old’s ‘legs had gone’ shortly after his arrival at Chelsea.
You can see why Gattuso might want to retire in red and black.