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Milan aim to rejoin Champions League elite

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Phil Minshull | 08:34 UK time, Friday, 13 May 2011

AC Milan caught up with local rival Inter by clinching their 18th Scudetto with a 0-0 draw at Roma last Saturday, although they are still well adrift of the 27 titles won by Juventus.

The Rossoneri are generally considered to be worthy champions and you will not hear too many complaints from fans of other teams that they were robbed.

Yes, reservations have been aired about the quality of football at times during the course of this Serie A campaign - and Inter must have wished it could have been extended another month or so after their terrific run over the second half of the season.

In truth, however, their chance of winning a sixth successive title really came to an end when they went down 3-0 in the Milan derby at the beginning of April.

The understandable elation in the red and black half of the city has yet to subside but Milan and their president Silvio Berlusconi have already taken stock of the situation.

Coach Massimiliano Allegri and striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrate winning the tile - photo: Getty

Despite winning their first league title since 2004, the reality is that in recent seasons they have fallen badly short on the European stage. In the last three years they have not able to compete with the likes of Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid, despite their illustrious history, and that reality seems to have finally dawned on Berlusconi, who has ambitions to win the Champions League once again.

This season, Milan went out to Tottenham in the last 16, the third time in four seasons they hade exited at the same stage and each time to Premier League opposition, a far cry from earlier in the decade when they were twice Champions League winners, with their 2007 triumph against Liverpool taking their tally to seven in total.

The team's deficiencies were also laid bare earlier this season when Real, who in truth were still finding their feet after the arrival of Jose Mourinho, beat them 2-0 in the Santiago Bernabeu during the group stage and then drew 2-2 in Milan after dominating the first half.

Too old or too slow has been the usual criticism of Milan in the last two to three years, as various icons have gradually reached their sell-by date. It's an easy attack to make but, in this case, it also looks like an accurate one.

Filippo Inzaghi's strike rate has naturally diminished as time has gone on, despite the occasional marvellous reminder of the striker he used to be, such as his two goals in the aforementioned draw with Real.

Defenders like Alessandro Nesta and Massimo Oddo have lost their speed, even if they can compensate against less testing domestic opposition with vision and anticipation, and even the indefatigable Clarence Seedorf has become less-and-less effective in the last two years.

Berlusconi finally put aside his reluctance to open his wallet last summer, which many astute pundits believe was one of the root causes of their lack of continental competitiveness from 2008 onwards, a period when their rivals across the Mediterranean were spending millions of euros in the transfer market.

Milan added to their forward line by signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho, and boosted their strikeforce again when Serie A bad boy Antonio Cassano arrived in January, but now the time has come to address other areas if they are to challenge seriously in Europe.

Veteran defenders Nesta and Marek Jankulovski look set to part company with the club, although the latter has hardly made much of a contribution this season.

Midfielder Andrea Pirlo could also be leaving in the summer if Italian media reports in the last few days are to be believed, with Il Corriere dello Sport reporting on Thursday that Juventus have signed him on a three-year contract.

It would also be no surprise to see the likes of Gianluca Zambrotta and Gennaro Gattuso reduced to subsidiary roles next season as Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri rings the changes in the hope of making an impact on the Champions League again.

Milan have already begun strengthening their squad by signing Nigeria defender Taiwo - photo: Getty

With the domestic league tile secured, Milan moved swiftly into the transfer market this week to make the first two signings of what could become a deluge, Allegri announcing that they had acquired Roma's Philippe Mexes and Marseille's Taye Taiwo.

Mexes announced he was leaving Roma last month, and Milan was always his likely destination, but the signing of Taiwo came as a slight surprise as several other clubs, including Real Madrid, were thought to be chasing the Nigerian international defender.

"For the defence we have bought those two players and I think we are fine like this. We will see later for the midfield and attack," said Allegri.

Rumours are now rife about which other players may soon be on their way to Italy's second city.

"We have already bought Mexes and Taiwo, but I do not do names. But we'll definitely buy some more players, the squad will be further reinforced," added Milan chief executive, and Berlusconi's right hand man, Adriano Galliani.

Other names being thrown around have included the Brazilian pair Ganso, from Santos, and Kaka, who might be on his way back from Real to Milan, where he spent six seasons and was three times the Serie A Player of the Year as well as the 2007 Fifa World Player of the Year.

Allegri has made no secret of the fact that he admires both men.

"They are both great players. For Kaka, his career speaks for itself. Ganso is still young and has great quality, but if he comes to Europe he will have to show a lot more," added Allegri earlier this week.

In their search for a creative midfielder, super-talented Argentine teenager Erik Lamela of River Plate has apparently been lined up as plan B if they can't get Ganso.

It looks like a summer of upheavals ahead in and around the San Siro after Galliani's confirmation that they could be this summer's big spenders among Europe's top clubs.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    great blog Phil. Its really the time for Milan to comeback to the limelight. Or else it is too much about EPl teams and Barca.

    As per new players their attack really doing good with Imbra, Pato and Robinh. Cassano may be a Bad boy but not a bad player at all.

    i dont believe Kaka will come here again. He would like to seek a new challange, and it might be the last big transfer for him. So he will be looking for a huge salary only can be matched by Chelsea or City.

    And also it is very difficult to do good in C'League with buying promising players like Ganso overnight. They should try for recent future like 2-3 years later. But if they want immediate success they need to spend further more, getting the likes of prove players.

  • Comment number 2.

    Good blog Phil.. good to hear that taiwo has finally moved to a bigger club. I played alongside him in Nigeria before my career was cut short by a serious knee injury. He is a very good player even though personally i feel he's not there yet (i mean as a top class defender). I wish him well well with his new club.

    As for milan, i believe with a few more signing i can see them doing really well in next year CL. I also fancy them to lift next year scudetto as well if they can strengthen their squad especially their back four.

  • Comment number 3.

    Well Done Milan ! .. Although I must say the likes of Juve .. Inter .. Roma and Napoli haven't been as good thus making it a bit easier for Milan to secure the title...

    Personally I think the real test for them will come next season because a lot of new faces will be introduced into the team and will be expected to gel and play well plus the added pressure of retaining the title..

    Mexes is a good deal on free transfer but a I have doubts if Taiwo will be able to cope with playing at the very highest level ..

    As for the Champions league .. Milan have the attack but not the midfield nor the defence to compete ... Plus Allegri has very little experience which makes ' Time and Patience ' an even more important factor if they are to secure another CL trophy

  • Comment number 4.

    Phil, any idea on how much milan paid for Taiye Taiwo?

  • Comment number 5.

    I was very dissapointed this year to see Milan take the Scudetto, not because I think they didn't deserve it, but because I really wanted Napoli win it. Simply because they are a fantastic side, with some exciting players and for a fan of English football, three at the back was a real treat.

    I think it would be a mistake for Milan to bring back Kaka. His hunger for the game has diminished along with his fitness, and I trust that the manager will look to Brazil for the next talent in line, the explosive Ganso.

    It would be a great shock to see Pirlo in anything but a Milan shirt, but a pat on the back for them for having the bravery to ship him out with a view to the future. And of course, the player everyone loves - Clarence Seedorf. How we will miss him in the floodlights of the Champions League.

    One can only hope Milan find their feet again, and signs are that they will. A club of true pedigree.

  • Comment number 6.

    Let's face it, Milan were the best of the worst in Italy this year. After a disastrous start under Benitez, Inter had more than one chance to overtake Milan and win the title. Seria A was more a case of 'who's going to lose it', than 'who's going to win it.'

    All the Italian teams, apart from Mourinho's Inter last year, have been well below par in Europe now for quite a few years, and this isn't going to chance overnight.

    This trend is not helped by the fact that Italian teams - especially Milan - are obsessed with buying 'flashy names' to keep their fans happy, though recently these have been players that other top clubs deemed surplus to requirements: Eto'o, Sneijder (Real Madrid really messed up there, also selling Robben the same year), Robinho (failed at City), Ibra (failed at Barcelona) and in the past players like Lucio, Dinho, etc.

    Italy has become a stepping stone for ageing players ... off to Italy for a few years before heading out to pasture in America.

  • Comment number 7.

    dont u guys think that seedorf was outstanding in the away game of Milan against Spurs?
    If a guy can play like this even in this age then it will be foolish to let him go. May be they can buy a replacement of him and play im in fewer but important games. He is still a class act.

  • Comment number 8.

    Phil, great blog. Milan won IMO because the other teams where subpar.Benitez ruined Inter's campaign (well, in fairness to Rafa though, Inter's injury list was just off the charts at the time). Having said that, congrats to Milan. Job well done.

    #6 (Lastdays): What? I hope you are not suggesting that those players you name are somehow subpar? I really hope not.

    Eto and Ibra are in the top 10 of strikers in world football today (personally I believe Eto is in the Top 5 - despite playing in the left wing all season, he is still the third top scorer in Italy and 2nd top scorer in UEFA CL). There are perhaps 2 or 3 midfielders better than Sneijder. IMO no defender is better than Lucio in world football...none (please don't say Vidic or Rio or John Terry or even Pique or Puyol the warrior who comes close IMO...there is none better than Lucio in world football in central defense). Honestly I really wish Eto would come to English PL (to my beloved Arsenal of course) to show why is the one of the best of all time. He has already shown it to Vidic, Ferdinand, Campbell, Dawson, etc etc in CL football. So mate, please, don't even for one minute suggest that these players are "ageing" players who are on their way to USA via Milan as you put it. They are and still remain on the top or near the top of the heap!!!

  • Comment number 9.

    Load of nonsense about Milan being able to win because Inter messed up. Milan are on course to improve on the points tally Inter got last season, under Mourinho.

    http://soccernet.espn.go.com/tables/_/league/ita.1/italian-serie-a?cc=5739 .

    They had a great season and fully deserved it.

  • Comment number 10.

    It doesn't say much about the standard of Serie A when this squad are champions. I follow the Itaian league and this is not a great squad by any means. I hope they don't waste 24m on Ibrahimovic. I'm not sure how many years have to go by before people see he is just not going to do it in the big CL games(as much as I want him to). The point is, if they afford 24m on him, then they can afford Neymar.
    There are also a host of squad players, defenders mainly, who need to be shipped out.

  • Comment number 11.

    Hello Phil,
    As a huge Milan fan it is sad to see what the team has done over the last few years.
    The Scudetto this year I feel is more of a testament of how far serie A has fallen as opposed to Milan's dominance, just more consistancy than any other team.
    Allegri got the team playing very well defensely especially once Ronaldinho left. However that still could not hide the sometimes woeful displays against lesser teams. True fans were left wistfully thinking about the golden days of Ancelotti's reign.
    The team has lacked focus and discipline. The terrible loss to Palermo in Coppa Italia was a case in point. You secure the scudetto then party till dawn when you have an away game in 3 days...chanting garbage to Leonardo. In Capello or Trappatoni's day you would never have seen that.
    At the end of the day the team still needs extensive overhaul and Midfield needs to be next and an infusion of talented youth is required.
    Regardless of what happens I just wish to say THANK YOU to the greats who are left; Inzaghi/Pirlo/Seedorf/Ambrosini/Nesta/Abiatti. Those of the future Pato/Thiago Silva/Boetang/ & in 4 years Christian Maldini! FORZA MILAN!! Milano Siamo noi!

    At one time I would have included Gattuso but this past year he has been classless in the extreme.

  • Comment number 12.

    There'll be a big clearout, but many non-essential players anyway. Jankelowski will leave. Inzaghi I don't know, though I really hope Paloschi is taken back, whether he is co-owned or loaned out I don't know, and given a chance. Gattuso and Ambrosini may stay but if they do I hope Allegri has a better plan A. Even if they can maintain the quality they are injured too much. Pirlo is looking like leaving, which is a shame, as I don't see the sense. At 31 and playing a relatively static role he could have 3 or 4 good years left. Zambrotta I don't know. Seedorf probably will leave and Nesta. Oddo and Van Bommel I hope will leave, not worth it. We're looking at Abbiati (or Marchetti?), Abate, Silva, Mexes, Antonini/Taiwo, Flamini, two missing pieces in midfield 3, (Emanuelson a different kind of option, don't see him as central player), don't know how likely the Essien rumours are, and the choice of Cassano, Ibra, Robinho, Pato in front 3 and maybe Inzaghi or Paloschi depending. Could be pretty damn good I say.

  • Comment number 13.

    There's no magic to performing in Champions League that Ibra is not in ownership of. He has disappointed in 3 or 4 games against EPL, though done well in another, away to Arsenal getting 2 goals. That's mostly why English people are convinced he is so overrated. His time at Barca was good performance-wise, got 16 or so goals in 23 starts, set up a bunch of goals. Situation with system and Guardiola too complicated to be simply called a "flop".

  • Comment number 14.

    personally in my honest opinion anything Berlusconi touches either turns to rubbish or is underage.... I hope they hammered in Europe by Man City. Now that would be funny. Italy could then declare war on Dubai.

  • Comment number 15.

    milan like evryone else must now break even no more insane levels of debt to buy titles, they dont have the money to buy more than the 2 defenders plus ibra is only on loan and they must buy him ,days of clubs spending 100 mill are gone their is no way they could break even...

  • Comment number 16.

    On the assumption that Inter will be back to their best again next season having the hunger again, then we could have a proper competitive title battle in Italy on our hands next season. The truth of the matter is that Inter still have the best squad overall.

    As an avid Serie A follower, its been 100% clear that Milan have won this title purely because everybody else has been quite poor this season. That said, this is still a fairly decent Milan side that won the title and with a bit of strengthening over the summer it could be up there with the Barcas and Reals etc of the world. Its maybe time to let a few of the ageing stars move on with this final high point. Cassano was a genius signing, you only have to look at what happened to Sampdoria to see how influential he was there.

    Hopefully when they return to the European table next season they'll have finally learnt how to deal with teams with pace anyway.

  • Comment number 17.

    The Rossoneri are back. Well done Milan. Congratulations to the players and their fans.



    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 18.

    Phil,

    Any chance of a blog on what went wrong for Sampdoria this season?

    After finishing fourth last year (and threatening to challenge for the title in the process) I'm somewhat astonished to see they've been relegated!

    Surely there's more to it than the departures of Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini in the middle of the season...

    Thanks,
    fulhambob

  • Comment number 19.

    I am a big Juventus Fan. Any chance of a blog on whats going wrong with Juve .....

 

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