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Ebrahim Sadien On May - 29 - 2013

Milan Focus: The Travels Of Antonio Nocerino

Antonio Nocerino has gone from ascending to the ranks of the Italian national team to being surplus requirements at Milan in the space of just two seasons. Just as quick as he rose to prominence, he has now fallen almost into the ranks of complete unimportance.

How has arguably one of Serie A’s best midfielders in the 2011/2012 season become the forgotten man of AC Milan and the Italian National team?

Nocerino signed for Milan from Palermo on the transfer deadline day in 2011. With Mathieu Flamini and an aging Gennaro Gattuso struggling with injuries, Nocerino was immediately thrust into the starting lineup. The Neapolitan immediately settled and began to win over Milan tifosi. His box to box energy was crucial in an aging Rossoneri midfield.

Upon arriving at Milanello he was immediately touted as the new Gattuso. While primarily brought into the squad to replace Gattuso, he immediately went about distancing himself from the comparisons. With his performances he did exactly this. Nocerino proved to be a different type of midfielder. While his first priority was to provide defensive cover, Nocerino’s energy and hard work resulted in him contributing to the attack a lot more than his predecessor Gattuso. Not to be unfair on the Rossoneri legend, very few defensive midfielders possess the unique qualities Gattuso had but Nocerino proved to the perfect player for Massimiliano Allegri’s system. It has to be noted though that Nocerino and in fact many other midfielders in the Rossoneri line-up benefited tremendously from having Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the team. Not only was the “Big Swede” able to link-up and setup the onrushing midfielders with his intelligent play but importantly attracted a lot of attention from opposition defenders. This allowed the likes of Nocerino and Kevin-Prince Boateng to find and exploit lots of space as defenders were drawn and concerned with Ibrahimovic but back to our player focus.

The bustling Nocerino notched up ten league goals including a hat-trick in Milan’s 4-1 demolition of Parma. As testimony to his importance to the team he started 33 games making an additonal two substitute appearances during the 38 game 2011-2012 Serie A season. Emboding passion and determination with each performance Nocerino obviously impressed with a knack for scoring goals things looked bright. Then came the 2012/2013 season.

Out with the aging stars and high profile names on big wages, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and in was a new generation Milan. Manager Allegri put his trust in youth and players like Nocerino who had but a season under their belts. They were expected to push on and become leaders within the team. Milan could no longer rely on the brilliance of Ibrahimovic and the Rossoneri midfielders were required to work harder utilizing intelligent running to find space and create opportunities going forward. The goals dried up for Nocerino and of more concern was his inability to provide the struggling defense with adequate cover.

By the mid-point of the season, Flamini regained match fitness and Sulley Muntari recovered from his pre-season injury. Both contributed to an excellent run which saw Milan unbeaten in the league from January to April 2013. Nocerino had to settle for a place on the bench.

An injury to Ricardo Montolivo and Massimo Ambrosini towards the very end of the season granted Nocerino with a life line as he was thrust into the starting line-up once more. His performances however, were still a far cry from those that lit up Serie A in the previous season.

With a difficult season over for Milan, Nocerino is one of a few players facing a possible exit. The midfielder became frustrated on the bench from January to April and is rumoured to be keen to secure first team football next season in order to cement a place on the ‘Azzurri’ National team. “I am 28. Next season there is a World Cup,” he told Gazzetta dello Sport in April. “I would like to be there. I’d have problems in having another season like this one.”

Perhaps suffering due to heightened expectations during an over-achieving season, Nocerino’s future at Milan is clouded with uncertainty. And in missing out on a place in the National squad, there will be no trip to this summer’s FIFA Confederations Cup where Italy are to face Mexico, Japan and hosts Brazil during the group phase, talk about experience gaining stuff.

Whether or not he remains at the Rossoneri next season, the midfielder will require vast improvement and may even need to reinvent himself if he is to secure a place in the National team for World Cup in 2014.

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