“That lad must have been born offside.” If you don’t know who said this quote then you probably shouldn’t continue reading. Because whenever Inzaghi’s name pops up, English pundits or commentators never fail to remind us of what they think is an incredibly witty saying. Or at least they used to. In the past, Inzaghi was viewed as the stereotype Italian footballer. Diver, cheater, cunning, and obviously just lucky to score simple tap ins. Now Inzaghi is known and respected by almost everyone. Acknowledged as one of the best goalscorers in history, a master of positioning, a symbol of passion, and an ageless football legend that has won – and scored – (in) every tournament in the game.
The relationship between the normal football lover and Inzaghi was always one of jealousy and despise. He seemed untalented. A good goalscorer, but apparently anyone could have scored those easy goals, especially if he had Zidane and Del Piero or Rui Costa and Kaka supplying him. Plus his over-the-top goal celebrations and falling at the slightest contact didn’t help warm him up to the neutrals. He was always misunderstood. Inzaghi was first introduced to the English – and international – scene with Juventus in the Champions League. Back then when La Vecchia Signora had the likes of Del Piero, Zidane, and Davids on their team-sheet. Their match-ups vs Man United were classic Champions League encounters which led the two teams to become protagonists in many Pepsi adverts in the late 90s and early noughties. When United won the treble in 1999, they had to get past a Juventus side that had went 2-0 up with two Pippo Inzaghi goals. Anyway, it’s sort of ironic that to the cynics Inzaghi represents luck in every possible way, while he’s been one of the most unlucky professionals of the past generation. Injuries and unfortunate selections by coaches almost always seemed to get in his way, but over the years we have learned to never write off Inzaghi. Bury Pippo and he comes back stronger.
JUVENTUS’ REJECTION, THEN REDEMPTION
Milan’s number 9 first burst onto the scene with Atalanta in 1997 when he scored 24 goals in Serie A to win the Capocannoniere award. This earned him a move to Juventus which, theoretically, could have put him as Italy’s number one striker. Instead, despite winning a Scudetto and reaching a Champions League final, due to his not-so-perfect relationship with Del Piero, and the emergence of Trezeguet, Pippo’s time was up at Juventus. Maybe his time was up as well at the top. Or at least the cynics who Pippo loves to prove wrong thought so. A transfer to Milan put him alongside Rui Costa, Alessandro Nesta, Andrea Pirlo, and Clarence Seedorf as the new arrivals that would form the core of a successful and extraordinary Milan side for years to come. Carlo Ancelotti, another Juventus reject, took Milan to the Champions League final in 2003 versus Juventus, only two seasons after he and Pippo swapped Turin for Milan. Buffon denied Inzaghi the winner in the final, but Milan went home with the cup and Pippo had gained his redemption over his ex-team. As for Buffon, Pippo had already scored THAT goal against him earlier in the season.
LA NAZIONALE’S LEAST FAVORITE NUMBER 9
Throughout Inzaghi’s international career, Italy almost always used a strike pairing of a classic center forward, and a trequartista. Del Piero and Totti might have been poster boys for Italy’s fading generation, but it was the Vieri’s and Toni’s that scored the goals. Pippo made his Azzurri debut in 1997 but failed to crack into the starting 11 in France 98 in favor of his best buddy, Christian Vieri. In World Cup 2002, which was an unfortunate tournament for Italy and Inzaghi, not only did Vieri deny him a starting spot once again, but the linesman also unfairly denied him his first World Cup goal. In Euro 2000, one would think Inzaghi would’ve received the starting nod since Vieri was out injured, but instead Zoff opted for a weird rotation system between him, Delvecchio, and Montella. Despite scoring vs Turkey and Romania, and starting the semi final vs the Dutch, Pippo didn’t get a single minute in the heartbreaking final. He missed out on what was most probably his finest and last shot to become Italy’s number one center forward in a major tournament in Euro 2004, due to a nasty knee injury which came after a lethal qualifying campaign with Italy and 12 Champions League goals that lead Milan to Champions League glory. On paper his international career seemed over, but one should never write off Inzaghi. An extraordinary comeback from injury earned him a spot in Italy’s World Cup winning squad, and his first and only World Cup goal. Though it was Toni who edged him this time, Pippo’s time at the top wasn’t over yet. In fact, it was yet to come.
INJURY HEARTBREAK, COMEBACK WITH A BANG
Pippo has never been lucky with injuries. In fact, while he was at his prolific best, in 2003, injury was just about to knock on his door. He was just off a Balon d’Or worthy season with 30 goals, including 12 in the Champions League winning campaign. And was finally Italy’s leading man in the Euro 2004 qualifications, in which he also finished as top scorer for the Azzurri. His injury woes started in December 2003, and he continued to struggle with them, failing to reach a consistent run of games until the 2005/2006 season. Many had doubts about Pippo’s ability to come back, as he had almost missed an entire year and a half while also passing his 30th birthday, but Milan stood by him and offered him a contract extension in November 2004, which was a vote of confidence that Pippo repaid well. He returned stronger than ever in late October 2005, and scored the winner on his return vs Palermo in the 78th minute. SuperPippo was immediately back in business. He continued the season in an outstanding fashion, scoring 17 goals in total including last minute winners vs Lecce and Lyon, as well as another goal vs Lyon and a brace vs Pippo’s personal favorites, Bayern. He capped off the campaign by earning a spot in Italy’s 23-man squad for the World Cup in Germany, and returned home with a gold medal.
After winning the World Cup in 2006, Inzaghi returned to a Milan in crisis. Strike partner and talisman Shevchenko was gone, so was the classiest number 10 – Rui Costa, and Calciopoli had left the club’s reputation and finances severely damaged. Milan endured a difficult campaign in the league, but in the Champions League it was business as usual. It might have been Kaka who took the team through the group stages, and past Celtic, then followed by United, and undoubtedly Milan wouldn’t have reached the final if not for Seedorf’s heroics against Bayern, or Gattuso bossing United’s midfield, or Nesta leading the defense into safety, but the final was all Pippo. His moment at the top had finally arrived. Two years earlier, Milan had thrown away the Champions League to Liverpool on the cursed night, with Pippo watching from the stands. But now it was time for redemption. Milan defeated Liverpool, and got their revenge as well as the club’s 7th Champions League, while Pippo Inzaghi won over the world and booked his place in the history books with the all time greats. At the age of 33, Filippo Inzaghi had reached the most important moment of his career. That was the day he earned the respect of all the neutrals, because the Milanisti already idolized him long before.
THE PERFECT SEND OFF – ONE LAST HURRAH AT THE TOP
His legacy continued with vital goals helping Milan win the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup, thus ensuring Milan and himself continued to rule the world. He continued to break goal records, passing the 300-goal mark in his career, and finishing his European adventure with 70 goals, the second best of all time. As the seasons passed by, age started to take its toll and his role started to diminish. Nevertheless, he remained clinical as ever and proved it on what was his twilight at the top stage. When Jose Mourinho was coaching Inter in 2009, he had remarked that Pippo was the striker he was most afraid of in the Milan camp. That day Pippo came off the bench to score a wonderful equalizer. Only problem is that it was canceled for offside. Which reminds me, did you know that Ferguson once quipped that “Pippo was born offside”? Of course you did, but apparently English pundits seem to think that this is brand new information. Anyway, in 2010, Mr. Mourinho was then coaching Real Madrid who were about to face AC Milan in the Champions League. Once again he mentioned that Inzaghi was Milan’s best striker and the one most likely to cause Real’s defense trouble. The press thought he was joking around, but Pippo, aged 37, came on when Milan was 1-0 down at San Siro to score twice in a magical night that demonstrated once again what man can achieve out of pure passion and determination.
As he prepares to leave the pitch, one can’t help but stand in awe and be immensely proud of what Filippo Inzaghi managed to achieve over the course of his career. No, I’m not talking about accolades though he has them in abundance (A World Cup, 2 Champions Leagues, and 3 Scudetti are amongst the numerous trophies he won) nor about his goal records (70 in Europe, 25 for the national team, 126 with Milan, 197 in Serie A including 10 hat-tricks, 313 overall). What Pippo has achieved far exceeds all that. Boasting a technique amongst the worst in the history of professional footballers, Inzaghi based his game purely on passion and intelligence. Two elements that didn’t let him down. He couldn’t dribble, nor make a simple long pass, but desire, determination, and extremely intelligent movement were his keys to scoring. And boy did he score. There’s a reason Pippo was constantly offside Sir Alex, it’s because he times his runs off the last defender’s shoulder. He gets called offside many times each game, but the one time he’s through cleanly, it’s a guaranteed goal. He scored with every part of his body: right leg, left leg, headers, shoulders, stomach, you name it. He scored lucky goals, freak goals, easy goals, offside goals, and whatnot. But he also scored Champions League winning goals, derby goals, last minute winners, and tons of goals that will forever be carved in the memories of fans. Pippo Inzaghi may have been born offside, but he was born to score.
He burst into fame as a loathed cheating ‘lucky’ goalscorer, but bows out as a legend of the game, an idol amongst Milan fans, and one of the best Italian footballers in history. He can leave without any regrets, and with his head held high. He played for the fans, and never ever let them down. There’s a reason why such a technically limited footballer is idolized by millions of fans and respected by everyone else, it’s his passion. His desire. His dedication and hard work. Pippo lived to score and you could see in his celebrations how much he enjoyed putting the ball in the net by any means possible. Football will never forget Pippo Inzaghi. Goodbye you champion, you taught me how to live life.
“Ehhhhh ohhhhhhh Antonio Cassano” and “Ce solo un diavolo, Fantantonio!” are chants heard regularly in San Siro. I only know one other guy who has two different corri from the Curva Sud and his name is Rino Gattuso, the immense warrior and ultimate San Siro fan favorite – along with Pippo – that is also out with an eye injury, and so we’d like to take this opportunity to send him our best wishes as well.
Cassano has spent a little less than a year with Milan, but already his impact has been huge. But that’s the sort of person Cassano is, he touches people. Milanisti everywhere have such fond memories of him that one would think he had spent a decade with Milan! Topping the assist charts in Italy so far this season and his fine goals show that he’s an extraordinary player. His thumb-sucking celebration shows the father and the family man in him. His relationship with the Curva and his closeness to his team-mates in such a short time, as demonstrated by the group “rock the baby” celebration when he had his child, truly reveal how much of a lovable person he is. He also has a crazy side, famously known as Cassanata, a word created by Capello with whom he’s had a love-hate relationship. But more importantly, Fantantonio’s crazy humorous self was very present during last season’s scudetto celebrations, in which Cassano and Massimo Oddo totally stole the show.
Many have said that nothing explains Cassano better than his derby performance earlier this year. He came on in the last 10 minutes, ridiculed Inter’s defense and won a penalty, scored it, celebrated like a mad man and got a yellow card for taking his shirt off, then minutes later got sent off with a second yellow for an unnecessary foul in the dying moments. I think his playing style reveals what kind of person he is. Cassano is the most unselfish of forwards. He is such a giver, always looking to lay off an assist and play a team-mate in a better position. When Cassano gets the ball, he thinks of dribbling past his man and then passing to the most unexpected yet best scoring option for a team-mate. That’s Cassano – a genius, a team player, a giver.
The sad and tragic news shook the football world in no time. Many have shown affection towards Cassano, but it’s impossible to list them all. Maradona sent him a letter. Totti, Del Piero and Gilardino wrote to him on their website. Udinese and Fiorentina sent their best wishes. Materazzi and Pazzini visited in the hospital, as well as Giancarlo Abate (FIGC president), Barbara Berlusconi and Illary Blasi (who did bring him doughnuts!), while Sneijder, Ronaldo, and Samir Nasri chose to send their best wishes through Twitter. Real Madrid wore pre-match “Forza Cassano” t-shirts today against Osasuna. His team-mates in Milan have had nice gestures as well. Prince Boateng wore Cassano’s shirt after Milan scored vs. BATE, and many players have already visited him in the hospital, including Barack Obama. Therefore the least we, members of The Red & Black Forums, could do is try our best to contribute as well.
We miss you Cassano. Get well soon!
The members of The Red & Black Forums.
Credit to Cristina for creating this wonderful photo. This blog post wouldn’t have been made without her. Thanks a lot for your time and effort, Cristina.
I have a confession to make: I can not watch Roma. For some reason, I just can’t stand them. Never. Their glorified captain, who admittedly, on his day, is one of the most joyful players to watch. Their despicable fan base. Their equally pathetic city rivals. There’s nothing to like about Roma. Not even their kit. That’s why it baffles me when people praise them, for anything at all. I have never enjoyed watching Roma in my life. Even when Spalleti was in charge, transforming Totti from one of the best trequartisti to a false 9 and eventually a Golden Boot winner, and leading them to play highly entertaining football in the eyes of some, I was not a fan.
Phew, feels good to get that off my chest. Now with that on the table, it’s easy to conclude that initially I had no time for Aquilani. For me he was simply the 3rd in line after Totti and De Rossi. Oh great, another passionate Roman who intended to remain a one club man. Whether he was as good as he was hyped up to be didn’t concern me, as I thought the most I’d probably see of him would be our two games vs Roma and perhaps the derby della capitale if I was in the mood to watch 22 angry men fight or a big Champions League game if I fancied a 7-1. So on average, no more than five games a season. Except if he did crack into the Nazionale, which is of course no easy task unless you’re a Juventus player. Just ask Simone Pepe.
Anyway, things change and thankfully Aquilani changed clubs so I could get to form an opinion on him. That opinion is that the man can play. Exquisite technique, great passing, and a rare intelligence are traits that led Aquilani to become one of my favorite players. Even long before he was linked with a transfer to Milan. My first real introduction to Aquilani came in Euro 2008. Yes, you guessed it, the Spain game. Though it would be 3 years until I got to watch the game. So, technically my story with Albertino dates back to the summer of 2009. I was used to the fuss of every transfer window, many baseless rumors emerge and fade as quick as Roberto Baggio’s goal celebrations, and the norm was that Aquilani would be linked with every club possible, only for the player and his club to confirm their relationship is unbreakable. Though that time things ended quite differently. Alonso – a great, great player and a fantastic human being; one that oozes class on the pitch and off it, left Liverpool and ironically Aquilani was signed to replace him. I say ironically because Xabi Alonso is a defensive midfielder while Alberto Aquilani is an offensive one. Though what matters the most is that by changing clubs, there was a slight chance I’d get to watch him more regularly and eventually be obsessed with him. He should be thankful enough for that.
That chance arrived a year later with Juventus. A late summer swoop on loan to La Vecchia Signora meant Aquilani was back to Serie A, and of course automatically back to La Nazionale through the magical gate of Juve. My first attraction towards Aquilani was that he chose 14 as his shirt number, which also happens to be my favorite number. But then I realized he can also play a bit too. That boy, Aquilani, got some touch on him! Over the course of the season, I found myself watching Juve a lot more than I’m used to, but it wasn’t out of the ordinary. The reason was precisely Aquilani. He had swept me off my feet. His touch on the ball is such a treat to the eye, and I’m pretty sure the ball enjoys the company of Aquilani’s feet, because they treat it so nicely. With class touch and gifted technique, Aquilani’s ball control is reminiscent of an artist painting with his legs. Because that’s essentially what he is, an artist, a beautiful genius who is capable of analyzing space and imagining passes ahead that no one would imagine were possible.
There’s plenty to like about Aquilani apart from his football too. For starters, I love his name. Aquilani. Derived from Aqua, water. And he’s got a first name to match it as well: Alberto. Beautiful, so Italian. His name is just as good on the eyes as it is on the ears. Just reminds me of water and the color blue, which are two things I love a lot. Another obvious trait is his likable face, a face of a guy one would love to hang around with. Next up would be his pretty Michela. A gal we’d surely all love to hang around with as well! But see, that’s the beauty of Aquilani, he reflects Italy in every way possible. The son of Rome, the capital of Italy, and hometown to many famous artists and architects. Il Principino, the little prince, resembles just that. He is like a painting by Da Vinci or a music piece by Mozart, enjoyable at all times. His football is so poetic that sometimes I think he belongs in a museum, to be admired in the way he was meant to be.
So often I found myself last season wondering if one day Aquilani would get to play for Milan. While watching a Juventus game, or reading new rumors linking Pirlo to Juventus, my mind would wander into a mini-daydream with Alberto donning a Rossonero jersey and composing a beautiful attack in Milan’s orchestra. It seemed too far of a dream, but sometimes I got myself too excited at the prospect of that happening. I once read a comment that Aquilani is the heir to Rui Costa. That’s brilliantly spot on. And that is why, deep down, I believed that one day Aquilani would in fact become a Milan player. That day had to arrive. Aquilani was simply born to play for Milan. I couldn’t think of a more perfect couple.
Despite that, I have no interest in the transfer market. Don’t get me wrong, discussing football is probably one of my favorite activities. I could spend days discussing tactics or different players, and recalling previous matches or random events from them is a hobby of mine. But I fail to see what’s exciting in the transfer market. Thanks to the internet and the increasing amount of rubbish rumors, as well as the emergence of games where “You could be the manager!”, we have a growing population of aspiring managers. On the computer. Notice I said managers, as apparently being a coach is no fun. It’s not enough to be responsible for the line-up, training, tactics, and team-talks. No transfer, no fun. I guess all coaches should head to England then. Oh well. It truly baffles me. Anyway, back to the original point. Links eventually emerged and faded during the summer, but I kept my hopes up of my dream coming true. Pirlo joining Juve and Aquilani joining Milan through Liverpool were two things I wished for and predicted as early as last February. That’s not to say there were no obstacles. The Hamsik and Montolivo deals had to fall through as well as Aquilani’s loan to Fiorentina to prompt Galliani to sign up my favorite Roman. I would be lying to say I didn’t secretly hope for the situation to pan out the way it did. During the final week of the market, when it became clear that Aquilani has become the club’s priority, I almost had a heart-attack. A weird combination of excitement, adrenaline, high pressure, disbelief, fear of the transfer collapsing, impatience for the official announcement, and sleepless nights awaiting Alberto to put on a Milan jersey were unforgettable moments for me personally. The moment the transfer became official presented me with such a great feeling. A feeling of fulfillment. To see him wear our beloved jersey finally and enter the pitch as a Milan player was also a new high, I just felt such awe and couldn’t take my eyes off that genius with the swift touch on the ball. We’ve already witnessed his first glorious assist, yet I don’t know how I will celebrate his first goal. Probably by a mix of Inzaghi’s most passionate celebration with Tardelli’s after scoring in the World Cup final in addition to Grosso’s vs Germany. Yes, I plan on waking up the whole neighborhood. Let’s hope that moment arrives soon enough as I frankly can’t wait.
In the end, Mr. X or no Mr. X, the most important thing is that Aquilani is here. There was not one player on earth that I’d have preferred to join Milan this summer more than Alberto, and for that I’m grateful. Though I might not forgive him for picking 18 as his shirt number when 14 was wide open. And it was a good luck charm for him in Juve and La Nazionale as well. But, what can one do? Celebrate I guess. I’ve been waiting and dreaming of this moment far too long to let a shirt number bother me too much. Aquilani is an AC Milan player? I guess life is just that good. Thanks to everyone who made it happen, and more importantly, Benvenuto Alberto.
When Milan signed Ibrahimovic in late August, almost everyone thought that Milan’s strike partnership for the season would include both Pato and Ibrahimovic together in the starting line-up. Of course, Robinho hadn’t arrived by then. But even when he did, Alexandre Pato and Zlatan the man looked destined to lead Milan’s front line, supported by either one of the two smiling Brazilians, ‘Dinho and ‘Binho.
Now that the season is practically over, Milan is faced with a dilemma. In fact, this issue started mid-season after Pato returned from his long injury lay-off. By then, Ronaldinho was already gone, and Robinho had established himself as a vital part of Milan’s attack due to his work-rate and fancy footwork. Despite that, Pato was paired with Ibrahimovic upfront, and needless to say, the outcome was much less than desired. However, this isn’t a discussion of whether the two strikers are compatible or not, it is basically a comparison between the two of them this season. Since Milan’s formation includes one leading striker supported by Robinho, with Cassano as his cover, there is one spot left for one of Pato and Zlatan. Pato has emerged this season as a center forward, the same position that Ibra occupies. So unless Massimiliano Allegri is ready to scrap his formation to accommodate the two together, which is highly unlikely, only one of them could be the focal point of Milan’s attack. So who has had the better season, the lethal Brazilian or the big Swede?
A look at both strikers’ statistics this season would reveal the following:
Zlatan Ibrahimovic: 42 appearances in all competitions (3 as a sub), 24 goals, 11 assists. (0.57 goal/game ratio)
Alexandre Pato: 23 appearances in all competitions (7 as a sub), 15 goals, 3 assists. (0.65 goal/game ratio)
Ibrahimovic has played almost double Pato’s games, due to the young Brazilian’s injury problems, yet Pato has the better goal/game ratio. But Ibra has the better assist ratio with 0.26 assists/game, since Pato has 0.13 assists/game. What is notable is that the difference in their goal and assists ratios isn’t huge, but comparing their shot ratio, Pato emerges as a clear winner. Out of 70 shots all season, Pato had 32 of them on goal, 15 of which were scored. That is a staggering 0.47 goal/shot on target. Which basically means that every two shots on target by Pato, one of them will be a goal. That is an outstanding achievement and proves how clinical Pato is, which is even more impressive considering his age and the fact that he never got a consistent run of games due to his constant injuries. On the other hand, Ibrahimovic has had 140 shots this season, which is exactly double that of Pato. Out of the 140 shots, 70 of them were on target, and 24 were converted into goals. So that means that Ibra’s goal/shot on target ratio sits at 0.34, which isn’t bad at all, but isn’t quite where Pato’s is.
But of course, statistics only tell half the story. One shouldn’t undermine the importance of Ibra on the team. His Charlie Sheen ‘winning’ attitude has brushed off on other players. It affected youngsters who hadn’t won silverware before, and seniors who had tasted success but struggled in recent times. Ibrahimovic’s signing inspired the team and provided the players with much needed self belief. In addition to that, Ibra practically carried the team’s attack in the first 4 months. Milan endured a difficult start to the campaign, and while most players were still starting their engines, Ibrahimovic made sure Milan had something to play for till the end of the season. His physical presence upfront was immense for Allegri’s side, as Ibrahimovic scored for fun while the mister was busy building the team. No one could forget Ibra’s genius solo goals to win 1-0 games.
On the other hand, Pato enjoyed a great finish to the season. He stepped up when Ibra suffered with goal drought and attitude problems, and carried Milan’s attack without any problems. His start to the season was good with a brace vs Chievo coming to mind, but injuries cut his season short. Nevertheless, he maintained a great clinical record, scoring in most games and just after returning from injury. Pato also delivered when it mattered. He scored when it was deeply needed, with a man of the match performance along with a brace vs Inter, as well as vital goals vs Chievo (2nd leg) and Fiorentina, to name a few.
Ibrahimovic has definitely enjoyed the better start to the campaign, as Pato’s injuries didn’t help his cause. But even if the Brazilian was fit, it’s highly unlikely that he would have had the big effect that Zlatan has had on Milan’s season until the Christmas break. On the other hand, while Ibrahimovic was busy getting red cards for fun at the end of the season, Pato was enjoying a great spell of form until injuries once again hindered his progress. It is undeniable that both players played their roles in Milan’s success this season. Both of them stepped up when the other was struggling, so in a way, they completed each other.
Needless to say, this comparison counts for almost nothing, since no one knows what will happen next season. Maybe Allegri will accommodate them together, and even if he didn’t, both men are likely to be protagonists for Milan in the next campaign. With Pato’s injury troubles, and Ibrahimovic’s habit of losing his nerves and shying away in Europe, both men will be needed for Milan to reach silverware. They both enjoyed good seasons individually and on team level, and it’s arguable which one of them outshone the other. However, this shouldn’t concern any Milan fan, as Milanisti should be grateful to boast having two of the best strikers in the world as a part of their team.
Abbiati; Bonera, Nesta, T. Silva, Antonini; Pirlo, Ambrosini, Seedorf; Pato, Borriello, Ronaldinho. No, that’s not the team that lost 4-0 to Man Utd at Old Trafford. On the contrary, that was Milan’s starting line-up for the first official game this season, the 4-0 win vs Lecce. However, people with short memories are more likely to go for the first option. After all, that line-up was almost an exact replica of Milan’s Leonardo. Nowadays, only Abbiati, Nesta, T. Silva and Pato are guaranteed starters on the team, with Pato now occupying his natural position.
What has changed since then? A lot. Ronaldinho and Borriello where shipped out for good. Ambrosini, Pippo, Pirlo, and to a lesser extent, Pato, missed large parts of the season due to injuries. Also players like Bonera and Antonini started to see limited minutes in comparison to the rise of Abate, Boateng, and Yepes. Oh and we signed Ibrahimovic, Robinho, and Cassano too.
Yet there has to be a main difference between the current Milan side and its precedent, right? Leonardo’s Milan was a more attacking version of Ancelotti’s Milan, with much worse players of course. So how could Allegri’s Milan be defined? By a rock solid defense. I think Allegri closely resembles Capello: focuses on defense, very good tactically, excellent man manager, and has a fairly humble and uncontroversial character. With Milan’s transfer deals, some feared that Milan would even upgrade its 4-2-fantasia (only God knows how Milan would have lined-up if Leonardo was still in charge!), and pessimists thought Allegri wasn’t much of a character to handle egos such as Zlatan’s and Cassano’s in the same dressing room. But Allegri, swiftly and confidently, brushed all those doubts away.
Credit to Allegri for transforming a defensively weak team in the best side in the country in less than six months. It might sound cliche, but as usual, good teams are built from the back. Rock solid defense is the foundation upon which any successful football team is built, just ask Capello or Mourinho. Or just look at Leonardo’s Inter to understand that ‘outscoring’ opponents isn’t such a good idea in today’s football.
Yet, as pointed out earlier, Milan started the season as if Leonardo was in charge. Or not. There were some tactical moves and a bit of defensive strategy imposed, but overall there wasn’t much of a difference. A slow midfield that was vulnerable to counterattacks and forwards that didn’t contribute with any defensive effort. Allegri, however, could be excused. After all, Ibrahimovic and Robinho arrived late in the market, after all the pre-season was over and so the team was ‘built’ without them. Also, Allegri had to integrate some players that clearly were more of a liability than an asset – coughronaldinho – uhm, excuse me. Lest we forget, failure to obey Berlusconi is widely believed to have cost both Leonardo and Ancelotti their jobs. And of course, Allegri knew better than to start his stint on Milan’s bench by ignoring his boss’s instructions.
So, Allegri needed time. He slowly but convincingly shaped the team as the season went further. Initially, he tried the Berlusconi formula of Pirlo, Seedorf, Ronaldinho, Pato, and Ibrahimovic in one team, but I guess he did that to prove a point. After the two Madrid games, it was clear that some changes needed to be made. Allegri had made his point, now it was time for work.
The key game for change was the 10th round of Serie A vs Bari at San Nicola. The starting line-up that day was: Abbiati; Abate, Nesta, Yepes (T. Silva was injured), Zambrotta; Ambrosini, Gattuso, Flamini; Seedorf; Ibrahimovic, Robinho. A 4-3-1-2 formation, clearly familiar to Milan through the Ancelotti-era, but yet a little bit different. Three pure defensive midfielders were used, with the anchor in midfield (usually Pirlo under Ancelotti) a player with defensive skills primarily. Milan would maintain this shape for the rest of the season with great success, and the defensive midfielder slot, then occupied by Il Capitano Massimo Ambrosini, and currently by Mark ‘the Boss’ van Bommel, would remain the key spot for the transformation of Milan from Scudetto hopefuls to Scudetto favorites.
Of course some argued at the time that it was only Bari, and for so called ‘football experts’ who follow the games through live text, Milan had won ‘only’ 3-2 so it was nothing to take note of. However, that day, Allegri had finally dared to do what many people wanted to see: using a proper defensive midfielder as the last man in midfield, instead of the flashy but unconvincing defensively Andrea Pirlo. In that game, 30 minutes on the clock and Milan were already 2-0 up. Failure to convert chances, as well as lacking T. Silva, and slacking a bit contributed to the final score of 3-2, but on that day, the result wasn’t the most important thing. That game was the foundation for what was to follow, Milan leading for the Scudetto and bossing title rivals Napoli and Inter by playing entertaining football while remaining solid defensively.
Massimo Ambrosini and Mark van Bommel are the two players who were primarily used in that position since the Bari game. And undoubtedly, they delivered. Undoubtedly, they were better than Pirlo. So undoubtedly, Milan controlled the midfield, and thus, undoubtedly, Milan conceded less. If we compare the two players, they do share some characteristics in common. To put it simply, they boss football matches. However, there is a more detailed explanation for that. Both players are excellent leaders (Ambrosini is the current Milan captain, while van Bommel captains his national team and was Bayern’s first ever non-German captain), both players have great tactical knowledge and are great at reading games and both players are solid defensively while having sufficient technique to control the midfield. They also have a good eye for a decent pass, which isn’t the priority for their position but rather a luxury. Does this mean there’s no room for Pirlo? Of course not, a player with Pirlo’s technique and passing ability could always have room in any team. However, not at the expense of the team’s balance. Pirlo was used mainly this season by Allegri (when not sidelined by injuries), in a more advanced role that seemed to suit him (something I suggested at the beginning of the season).
So I guess the main point of change under Allegri was the use of Ambrosini/van Bommel in place of Pirlo. As mentioned earlier, and as the numbers prove, Milan’s defense is the best in the league and one of the best in the world. And what is the reason for that? Nesta and T. Silva were starters last season, so was Abate towards the end. And while dropping Antonini contributed a bit, there is no doubt that the main reason for Milan’s success is the use of a proper defensive midfielder in front of the back four. Gone are the days of conceding for fun, like vs Man Utd or Inter last season; nowadays Milan dominate games, or let me rephrase that, Milan boss games on a weekly basis. A nice reminder of that is the games vs. the so-called Scudetto rivals, Napoli and Inter, who were both brushed aside 3-0 and outclassed and outplayed everywhere on the pitch. Grazie for that Allegri, Ambrosini, and van Bommel.keep looking »