The back end of the season is upon us with just a few games to go before the Serie A draws to a close. For AC Milan though, the season ended a long time ago with the (former) heavyweights of Italian football suffering their worst season in many years. The Milan outfit find themselves in a lowly 11th place in the league (at the time of writing) and with only seven games to go their hopes of playing in either of next seasons European competitions have all but disappeared.
The appointment of new manager, and former player, Clarence Seedorf hasn’t really sparked the team to life as was expected but, after the failings of Massimiliano Allegri before him, the focus was always going to be on counting losses and building for next season. With financial restraints and a lack of Champions League football, though, such rebuilding is going to be easier said than done – but not impossible.
The first, and most important step that Seedorf and the powers above him need to take is to clear out all of the deadwood in the club. To be frank, the current crop at Milan consist of a mix players who have either seen their best years pass them by or who, even in their best years, quite simply aren’t good enough to wear the famous jersey. The reality of it is that almost half of the squad shouldn’t be at the club and if AC are to move forward, the axe needs to be uncompromisingly wielded.
First and foremost, the older guard need to be (respectfully) shown the door. The likes of Christian Abbiati, Marco Amelia, Phillipe Mexes, Cristian Zaccardo, Giampaolo Pazzini and Robinho have all done the club a good service but are no longer at the level required of an AC Milan player, and on top of that, are eating at the club’s resources with their high wages that could be better spent investing in younger players. Not all of the oldies should leave, though. Players like Nigel de Jong, Riccardo Montolivo and the legendary Kaka are all still important players at the club and will play a vital role in the rebuilding process.
Secondly, those who are not good enough also need to be sold off. The likes of Kevin Constant, Sulley-Ali Muntari and Urby Emmanuelson, along with the understudies to Abbiati’s goal, are all players that fall under this category. I say this with all due respect, but when you compare these players to the squads of not too long ago you realise that they are not fit to wear the jerseys worn by the greats before them.
A natural consequence of getting rid of all these players (I have mentioned 11 in total) is that they all need to be replaced, and replaced with the right players. Signing the ‘bigger’ players will be tougher than in the past because of the lack of Champions League but I firmly believe that the name of the club alone should be enough to attract the right kinds of players.
The key is to focus on young, Italian players who understand just what it means to play for AC Milan. Italy is blessed with a number of talented youngsters, many of whom grew up dreaming of one day donning the famous red and black strip. Many of these youngsters are closer to home than most realise. The likes of Bryan Crsitante, Mattia de Sciglio, and Andrea Petagna (amongst others) are all local players who will have a big influence on the future of the club. Externally, it would be wise for the club to look at players like goalkeeper Mattia Perrin of Genoa and Alessio Cerci of Torino who have been in great form this season.
Pushing the combination of these signed/promoted players into regular game time alongside the likes of Mario Balotelli, Stephen el Shaarawy and skipper Riccardo Montolivo is vital requirement for progress as it builds a core of (talented) Italian players within the club. To see the benefits of this Italian core, one just needs to look back a few years at the squad built around the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Alessandro Nesta, Paolo Maldini, Gennaro Gattuso and Flippo Inzaghi and the successes which they achieved.
This isn’t to say that the club shouldn’t invest their money elsewhere, though, but when doing so an extra degree of caution and care should be taken. Given financial concerns, the key in this regard is to get the right quality for the right price. Two players that would certainly fall into this category are Rafael van der Vaart and Jeremy Menez. The former is the current skipper of Hamburg, but given their imminent relegation it is more than likely that the dynamic Dutch international will be on the move. The latter is currently on the fringes of money-rich PSG with game time something of rarity for him. The icing on the cake though is that the Frenchman’s contract is running out at the end of the season and a move back to Serie A could well be on the cards for the former Roma star. I’ve given a lot of attention to potential attacking signings but a defensive player that stands out is Real Madrid’s Fabio Coentrao. Signing him would be a bit of a reach but he would certainly stand out with the quality he possesses. The Portugese international has fallen down the pecking order at Madrid and is said to be very keen to move on. It might also be wise to scout out one or two more signings in the mould of Keisuke Honda, Adil Rami and Adel Taarabt who have all added something to the club at very little cost
Of course, the players that Milan actually sign is another story but for the purposes of this article the names I have mentioned serve as the perfect examples of the blend of age and experience coupled with the quality required to take AC Milan forward. Such progression will not happen over night either. In fact, next season could be just as bad. Replacing the majority of the senior players in a squad with a mix of new and young players means that time will be needed to get them to gel but once they do, the difference will be noticeable.
Changes in the backroom staff could also beneficial to the club. Clarence Seedorf’s appointment as manager served to bring back part of the identity to the club that had gone missing. Bringing in a few more former players into coaching roles could well provide that bit of passion that has been lacking in the current side. The club needs fighters and if the people at the top are fighting for the club the players on the field will do the same.
In essence, the key for Milan is to be shrewd in the market, signing a balance of young players who will be part of the long-term future of the club along with a few experienced heads who add something extra to the dynamic of the side – all the while considering the financial implications of each deal. A patient approach is also vital as this won’t be a quick fix. The club needs to show faith in Seedorf and his crew even if things don’t look like they’re improving. Stability breeds success. And, on top of all of this, and possibly most importantly, the right mentality needs to be instilled into the players. No player is bigger than the club. Playing for AC Milan is a privilege, not an option.