Italian Serie A News, Results, Analysis and Features on Football Soccer

Francesco Pizzolla On May - 13 - 2011

AC Milan: Worthy Scudetto Winners

At the end of the 2009/2010 season, Milan were at a crossroads. The Rossoneri hadn’t won anything important since 2007 when Kaka carried an aging squad to a surprise Champions League victory. Domestically, Milan hadn’t been crowned champions of Italy since 2004. Even worse, rivals Inter had just won the last 5 Scudetti and came off the best season in their entire history, winning a unprecedented treble. Reports started to swirl around that Silvio Berlusconi had lost interest and was looking to sell the club to Russian or Arab billionaires. Galliani said the club couldn’t spend huge amounts of money on players anymore and said they could only sign players that were “low-cost”. The club’s future looked grim. Milan fans wondered if this was the moment where the tables had finally turned and Inter had become the dominant force in Milano, with Milan sinking into perpetual mediocrity. Fast forward to the present, almost a year later, and Milan have won their 18th Scudetto in a season where they truly were the best team on the peninsula.

It all started with an ambitious summer. Leonardo left after only one season that was filled with just as many negatives as positives. Milan were on the market for a new manager and chose Massimiliano Allegri, already a 2-time Panchina d’Oro winner (award given for the best manager in Italy, he won it as Cagliari manager and as Sassuolo manager) at his young age. It was strange for the Rossoneri to choose a manager that went against their philosophy of hiring former players, but Allegri managed to convince both Galliani and Berlusconi that he was right for the job. However, on the transfer side of things, Galliani initially stuck with his “low-cost” philosophy and made a bunch of deals with Genoa. Marco Amelia was brought in on loan to compete for a starting place with Christian Abbiati, and Greek defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos was signed. In a curious move, Kevin Prince-Boateng, who shined with Ghana at the World Cup, was brought in on loan after being bought from Genoa. While those signings didn’t really raise any eyebrows, it was the final signing that allowed Milan fans to hope. In a classic Galliani masterclass move, he went to Barcelona and managed to bring back with him Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Ibra had always been linked to Milan, and the Rossoneri were close to signing him after Calciopoli but Inter beat them to it. Obtaining Ibrahimovic, who had always made the difference in Serie A, showed Milan fans that the club did care again, and they were looking to win something this season.

The start to the season was a little shaky. Initially, Allegri had planned to play with a Barcelona style 4-3-3, but after a few weeks it was clear that it just wasn’t working. The slow midfield was getting overrun, Pato and Ronaldinho showed no desire to come back and defend, and Ibrahimovic was too isolated up front. Allegri initially was criticized as to how he was handling things, and some were already saying the task at hand was way too large for him. However, “Count Max” had the intuition to change everything and showed courage. Gone was the 4-3-3, in came a more solid 4-3-1-2 with a workhorse midfield and the impressive Kevin Prince-Boateng who acted as a mix between a 4th midfielder and a trequartista behind a combination of Ibrahimovic, Pato, and Robinho. Allegri showed immense courage in leaving Ronaldinho out. The Brazilian fantasista, a Berlusconi favorite, just wasn’t playing well and when he was on the pitch he walked around.

Allegri really came into his own as the season went on. While he did show little bits of inexperience at the start (he had a tendency to wait too long to change things around), he managed to create a solid, united group of players who worked hard for each other. In addition to that, he had the courage to leave big names out and nobody ever complained. There’s a reason why almost every player lauded him in the press after the Scudetto victory. His first season was a success and it will be interesting to see how he does in the future.

Back to the season, Milan started to gain ground mainly due to the superb performances of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who showed how he really knows how to make the difference in Serie A. This is when all the media labeled Milan “Ibra-dependent” and many questioned how the Rossoneri would fare without the big Swede. Going into the winter break on top of league and hit by many injuries, Galliani had a couple of decisions to make in the winter transfer window. First, he took advantage of a bad situation at Sampdoria and brought Antonio Cassano to the club. The fantasista from Bari Vecchia came in to replace the outgoing Ronaldinho, who decided to return to Brazil. Next, Galliani brought in two Dutchmen: Urby Emanuelson and Mark Van Bommel. All players were cup-tied, which showed just how much Milan wanted to win the Scudetto.

Serie A resumed and one of the new signings, Cassano, managed to prove decisive. Italy’s number 10 managed to provide a crucial assist for Rodney Strasser in a difficult match vs. Allegri’s old club Cagliari and gift the Rossoneri an important away win. As the second half of the season went on, Milan had to deal with an enthusiastic Napoli and a resurgent Inter under old friend Leonardo. Milan put together a string of wins, and even managed to keep away Napoli by defeating them comfortably at the San Siro. After Gennaro Gattuso of all people scored the lone goal vs. Juventus, people saw omens of a Scudetto win. Following that game, Milan stumbled against Bari at home and Palermo and went into the derby with Inter breathing down their necks. The most important derby in recent years started brilliantly with a Pato goal in the opening seconds, and then he added a second and Cassano sealed the deal with a penalty kick late on.

After the crucial derby win, Milan began to gain confidence and marched on to the Scudetto. Four consecutive wins followed, and the Scudetto came down to this past weekend’s game vs. Roma. All the Rossoneri needed was a point to seal the deal, and they did just that, drawing 0-0 and bringing joy to Milan fans everywhere. The Scudetto victory capped off a great victory and reignited a club that seemed to be in confusion the past couple of seasons. The Scudetto showed that Milan are not willing to be the second team in Milan, and now a new cycle is about to commence.

With some of the older player’s contracts expiring, it looks likes it’s time for a new generation. Milan are not satisfied with just being the best team in Italy. As always, Milan aims to the best team in Europe. And now, with some renewed enthusiasm, a bright young manager, and a great core group of players, Rossoneri fans can’t be anything but excited about what’s to come.

Read Adam Digby’s look at the future of Andrea Pirlo here

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