It’s been a perculiar, unpredictable season for Milan as the side have endured great levels of torment from humiliating defeats to the likes of Inter and Manchester United, and they have found themselves looking desperately blunt on other occasions, often with dramatic late goals saving them from further embarrassment. Huntelaar’s late double act at Catania and Seedorf’s injury time winner recently against Chievo Verona are just two games that spring to mind.
Despite this, they now find themselves just a single point behind their now-stuttering Milanese neighbours. Leonardo is keen to bring an attacking, expansive style of football to Milan, and who can blame him with the likes of Ronaldinho, Pato and Borriello as well as cultured, if aging midfielders such as Pirlo, Seedorf and up until now, Beckham. Despite that recent humbling 7-2 aggregate defeat to United, Milan aren’t necessarily too far off being able to compete with Europe’s top sides once again. Winning this season’s Serie A would clearly be a tremendous boost for morale and momentum, and it’d make it an awful lot easier to attract more big names to the club, but it shouldn’t be seen as the be-all or end-all.
It’s vital at this stage that Berlusconi gives Leonardo time to learn the errors of his ways and continue to develop the AC project, but it’s also equally important for him to resist the seemingly regular temptations to poke his nose into the tactical developments. Whilst it’s been a Milan tradition to play skillfull, attacking football since the days of Giuseppe Viani in the late 50s, Leonardo needs to be afforded the freedom to find the right level of balance freely and organically.
However, despite any pressure coming from above, Leo really does need to learn the errors of his ways, and fast. Whilst they could actually have found themselves two or three goals up early on against Manchester United, it’s naive to think that you can approach these sorts of games with three forwards who have absolutely no defensive responsibilities, and an aging, more than slightly immobile midfield. A change in formation coupled with perhaps three or four signings next season will see Milan well on their way to achieving the titles they so desperately crave.
Barcelona and Manchester United have shown for the last two or three years that you can still be defensively solid whilst still playing attacking football, whilst Real Madrid and Arsenal look to be following a similar trend this season. The key to all of these sides is a decent sense of balance throughout the respective teams, and also a large degree of discipline despite the often-free flowing playing systems. Firstly, this straight-edged 4-3-3 formation at Milan has to abanonded, in favour of a more modern, multi-dimensional system. What they should be looking to mirror is the increasingly popular fluid 4-2-3-1 system that can just as easily transform into a 4-5-1, 4-4-1-1 or a 4-2-2-2. With some added personnel, it’d be a mouth-watering prospect to see the Rossoneri line up in similar fashion to this next season:
Gallas Nesta Silva Srna
Pato Ronaldinho Vargas
Salvatore Sirigu has been hugely impressive in goal for Palermo since displacing Rubinho, and despite recently signing a new contract, would most likely cost under 10 million Euros. He is likely to become Italy’s number one when Buffon eventually hangs up his gloves, and he has the potential to be a permanent fixture for Milan for the next decade, and possibly beyond.
The signings of Gallas and Srna would transform the defence completely. Srna would admittedly be pricey with Shakthar in such a healthy financial position, possibly in the region of 15 million Euros, but William Gallas’ contract with Arsenal expires in the summer, and the opportunity would be there for Milan to pick up a tremendous bargain if they declare their interest now. Obviously his preferred position is centre back, but he offers versatility and experience, and he could be the longer term replacement for Nesta centrally whilst filling in at right back next season to add some much needed solidity to that flank with Pato playing ahead of him.
Juan Manuel Vargas could add an incredible level of energy to the left flank, and could potentially be highly destructive in combination with the forward-thinking Dario Srna. Vargas offers goals, regular assists and also the added bonus of a high work rate – something Ronaldinho certainly does not offer in a fairly similar position right now.
In the bigger games, Leo could consider dropping either Pato or Borriello and playing Mancini on the right, should Milan decide to sign him permanently. Another option if Milan want to add depth on the wings is to approach the highly rated Milos Krasic of CSKA, who is also available on a free transfer at the end of the Russian season. Seedorf still has the ability to operate in this sort of position in small doses, and there’s also always the chance that Beckham could once again return for a third loan spell next season.
Finally, I would be looking to replace Pirlo within the next year or two. Whilst I’ve long been an admirer, it’s now getting to the point where he’s slowly becoming too much of a luxury player, and almost acting as a burden if they do want to play a more fast-paced, free-flowing game. Marcelo Lippi has it right in the national team by playing him as more of an advanced trequartista, but unfortunately for Pirlo, Milan already have Ronaldinho who can operate in this role far more effectively. If you look at the deep-lying playmakers at the other top clubs using similar systems to the one I propose, such as Michael Carrick and Xabi Alonso, you’ll notice that they actually offer a high level of defensive cover, which Pirlo has never really been able to offer to quite the same extent, and certainly won’t be able to as he drifts into the dreaded thirties. This is obviously a highly specialised position, so the top players will come at a premium price, so it may be wise for Milan to look for a younger, less polished player who can be developed to play in this role for years to come. Stefan Defour, just 21 years old, at Standard Liege is an ideal candidate for this role.
The total price of these players would admittedly be rather significant, but unfortunately it’s a price Berlusconi will have to pay if Milan are to continue playing exciting, attacking football and bring success in doing so. What he has to decide now is if he’s content to continue playing second fiddle to Europe’s other giants, or if he’s genuinely ready to make a financial sacrifice (money which should by all logic be available following the sale of Kaka anyway) in order to help Milan climb from their knees and put on the show we’d all love to see at the Giuseppe Meazza.