The latest Serie A season is now three games in and although it is of course too early to make any firm predictions, some clear markers have already been laid down.
Before the close of the window it was Juventus who took the lead as the big spenders in Italy, bringing in a number of players to strengthen the squad, not least of all the Brazilian Diego from Werder Bremen for £21.5 million. Diego has made a big splash in the Serie A pond already, and when added to the signings of Grosso, Cannavaro, Almiron and the much coveted Felipe Melo, Juventus have the look of a squad that could challenge Inter for the Scudetto – assuming they stay clear of injuries.
In the Blue and Black part of Milan, Mourinho has also been busy restructuring a team that is not only expected to win the league but also mount a genuine challenge for the Champions League crown. With the departure of Ibrahimovic to Barcelona and Eto moving in the opposite direction, Inter’s attack is a slightly different prospect this term, but with the addition of Wesley Sneijder from Real Madrid you would have to think it is no less potent.
Eto’s wonder strike for Inter at the weekend demonstrated that nicely and when coupled with the more defensive minded signings of Lucio and Thiago Motta, my money would be on Jose taking another league title this term.
So the question has to be asked what of the forgotten Milanese side? The once mighty AC Milan, owned by the ever controversial billionaire businessman and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Since Milan were docked points and missed out on the Champions League in the wake of the Calciopoli scandal the side has been a non factor both domestically and in Europe. Now the fans are getting restless. At the end of last season Carlo Ancelotti left the helm for pastures new, and the legendary ex Brazil and Milan left back Leonardo was promoted from his role with the club as a director to team Principle. Like Ciro Ferrara at Juventus, Leo has no previous managerial experience and his appointment raised more than a few eyebrows across the football world. In addition the loss of Kaka and failure to secure the services of Gourcuff, who signed a permanent contract with Bordeaux as opposed to returning to Milan from his loan spell, has left the side with fewer options than it had last term, and that was not exactly a very successful campaign by Milan standards.
Already Milan have suffered a crushing and frankly embarrassing derby defeat to Inter. Losing by four goals is not acceptable and anyone who saw the match would know that it could have been much worse. A draw at the weekend against Livorno only serves to compound the misery as Milan have only one win from four so far this season and are nestled in the ambiguity of mid table.
It is well documented that Milan failed to win a single game in pre season, and the additions of Oddo and last minute signing of Klaas Jan Huntelaar has failed to placate the Milan faithful who are all too acutely aware that the average age of their side is the very wrong side of thirty and desperately needs an injection of youth. So far Leonardo has done little to inspire confidence in his ability to grow into a top class coach, he is a nice guy and the players seem to like him, but that has not translated into results on the pitch and the sides fortunes show no signs of changing any time soon.
On paper Milan still has the quality to compete for a champion’s league spot this season, the competition in Serie A is not as fraught as in the EPL or La Liga and with the demise of Roma, with no disrespect to the Palermo’s and Florentina’s of this world, Milan should be a shoe in for third place. However there is no getting away from the fact that the team is not getting any younger. The Milanello training facility is fabled for its ability to extend a players top flight career, however age catches up to us all and I fear for Milan that the magic tonic has worn off. There is still time for the side to salvage this season, and realistically a third place finish and good showing in the domestic cup will have to do as there is no European football for Milan this time around.
There are rumours abound that Leonardo may be replaced if results do not turn quickly. I don’t think anyone would be surprised by this as I am in no doubt this Milan team has more to offer than it has shown so far this season. However this may only serve to paper over the cracks of what are more fundamental issues at Milan. The club needs to invest in the playing staff, but for political reasons the owner cannot be seen to be spending money on his play thing whilst the country he runs is struggling through a recession. It has been muted that it is for this reason Leo was handed the job as coach, given he would be less likely to rock the boat and be less demanding than a manager on more of a par with Ancelotti’s stature in the game.
Klaas Jan Huntelaar, hailed as the new Marco van Basten has yet to make the impact at Milan they had hoped for, but a goal scorer can make a tangible difference for a side, even one that isn’t firing on all cylinders so the sooner he and Pato can form an understanding the better for Milan. Ronaldinho has once again flattered to deceive. Following the departure of Kaka many had looked to the once imperial Brazilian with the most famous smile in football to lead Milan back to glory. It hasn’t happened for Ronnie or the team and alarm bells are ringing loud and clear.
Paulo Maldini’s retirement signalled the end of an era for Milan. If this new phase in the rich tapestry of the clubs history is to be a memorable one for the right reasons, some changes need to be made.. sooner rather later.