“This will be an interesting adventure for him. He has the time to do things properly, I trust Leonardo and am happy he is with us.” With these words, Moratti finished introducing Leonardo to the media as his team’s new coach. As he proudly presented his man, the whole football world sat shocked at the identity of Inter’s most recent employee. Little did anyone know at the time how that move would pan out; however, there was only one thing guaranteed: this season’s Serie A was just about to get very interesting. Taking a trip down memory lane, one couldn’t help but wonder how times change.
One fine day, in the summer of 1997, Galliani flew to Paris. He had a simple mission: to come back with Leonardo. Fabio Capello had already identified his man, the task was given, Galliani had to obey. Leonardo hadn’t joined Milan at the best of times, as the club failed to reach objectives season after season, and a Scudetto medal is the only silverware he could boast with Milan. Yet what was built was much more important, a foundation of a relationship that would grow for years to come. An inseparable bond between Berlusconi’s club and Leonardo was being created, or at least it seemed so at the time.
With Berlusconi, Leonardo’s relationship always seemed difficult, he even said so himself, “I can’t deny our relationship is difficult. We are different, maybe incompatible.” Narcissist was a word Leonardo used to describe Berlusconi, while I couldn’t think of a better word to describe Leonardo himself. “A narcissist doesn’t like anything that isn’t a reflection of himself”, declared Leonardo after leaving, but couldn’t the same be said about the Brazilian? Berlusconi revealed that Leonardo had been too “tough-headed”. For a President that had bossed the likes of Sacchi, Capello, and Ancelotti to name a few, Silvio Berlusconi was no rookie in his business; however, Leonardo was. From the outside it seemed as if Leonardo couldn’t accept criticism from the boss, yet if he hopes to continue in this business, he needs to change his ways. Comparing his treatment with how Zamparini treated Delio Rossi or even how Moratti treated Benitez, it is easy to say Leonardo hadn’t seen the worst treatment from Milan’s owner. This week Ronaldo claimed that Leonardo is “class at human relationships” and that he “knows how to deal with people”, but sadly he failed to build the most important relationship in his career thus far.
Yet how far apart Milan and Leonardo have come was a surprise. Milan is a club famous for its family traditions, so no matter what Leonardo was still “one of them”, and removing him from the payroll wouldn’t change the personal relationship between the club and the ex-employee. That seemed to be the case with Leonardo as well. “I can’t coach another team in Italy, it would be too soon, I couldn’t do that to Milan”. Of course we all know how that turned out. Contrary to popular belief, Leonardo indeed could bite. This same man who studied philosophy and hails Ghandi’s peaceful ways, proved that there is more to his personality than just being “class at human relationships”. Generally viewed as a “good guy” due to his class looks and easy going attitude, Leonardo definitely proved that he could ruffle a few feathers.
Following the “divorce”, opinions differed on whether Leonardo had been treated fairly or not. As a coach, some argued that he had shown enough in his first season to deserve the opportunity to continue his adventure, but mostly it was people’s emotions that preferred him. Leonardo seemed too nice of a person to be treated in that manner by Berlusconi, believed the majority. However, it didn’t take long for Leonardo to prove them all wrong. “I want to change skin, to see things as a non-Milanista”, revealed the man last September. Well, at least for once he stayed true to his word. Remember, this is the same man who said he couldn’t coach another team in Italy, only to jump at the chance to coach Milan’s fiercest rivals almost 7 months into unemployment. “I didn’t know what it meant to be a coach, it’s been an extraordinary experience but I don’t know if I will do it again in the future, definitely not for the next few years”. With these words Leonardo ended his stint on Milan’s bench, openly admitting that coaching wasn’t in his short-term plans. Only to join the Nerazzuri shortly after, forgetting all his past promises and declarations.
By joining Inter, Leonardo had signaled the end to a 13-year relationship with Milan. “I wasn’t looking for work, I was looking for a dream and this is the biggest challenge there is”, cried the man who received a more affectionate send off than Paolo Maldini himself. “I thank Milan for 13 years together and I will never forget them but now I start a new adventure. I am a free man”. Clearly Milan were tying down his freedom. After all, that is a club that offered him the chance to finish his career on a high by re-signing him in 2003, as well as giving him work by getting him on the payroll as a director and scout, among other things. As a thank you, Leonardo fought with Berlusconi, left the club, then insulted Berlusconi some more, got rid of his “rossonero skin” as he called it, and then answered Moratti’s call. Not bad for someone who didn’t want to be viewed as a “good guy”, in his own words not mine. Despite Galliani’s desperate attempts, “If he joins Inter one day, I will never forgive him!” quipped Galliani at the time where the rumors had reached the top, “Of course I am joking about not forgiving him. However, I would feel upset to see a former AC Milan player and coach like Leonardo working for our city rivals”. It didn’t matter to Leonardo anyway. “Galliani would respect my decision”, declared the Brazilian, forgetting that Galliani may be the single most important man in Leonardo’s career. He was the man responsible for kick-starting his coaching career, in Galliani’s words “In 2009 I spent three months convincing Leonardo he was able to be a coach and I was right. We hear from each other sometimes and I think his role is as a coach, I knew this before he did as he used to say he wanted to be a director”. The two hit off an amazing relationship that saw Galliani help Leonardo with post career depression. After all what Galliani did for Leonardo, and after Milan’s vice-president last minute attempts to stop the move, Leonardo didn’t bother and now speaks of Galliani as a rival. It would be naive to believe that Leonardo would put Galliani’s feelings before his, don’t forget Leonardo moved on easily from a 13-year relationship with Milan. Obviously it’s much easier to get over one person than to get over a whole entity. So much for being “class at human relationships”.
As if he couldn’t wait to make more enemies. Soon enough after joining Inter and committing the ultimate sin, Leonardo started creating the “anti-Milan”. Perhaps feeling lonely on the other side of Milano, Leonardo tried to convince old pals Maldini and Kaka to jump ship too! Of course it seemed unlikely that either of these two gentlemen would have the indecency to commit the same horror decision, but he tried anyway. Leonardo seemed insecure, desperate some might say for proving Berlusconi and Milan wrong. Perhaps that’s why he seemed like such a perfect match with Moratti, as both men had one target, and one target only: to get back at Milan. Leonardo for the obvious reasons, and Moratti for perhaps watching how once again an ex-Interista favorite of him was enjoying success with the cross-town rivals. Now with both clubs finding themselves in the middle of a tug-of-war for the Brazilian Ganso, Leonardo knows he has a high-profile role to play, and he is doing the best he could. Reportedly the Inter coach speaks on the phone daily with the young Brazilian starlet, such is his eagerness to get one over Milan. Lauded in the past for helping Milan sign world class Brazilians Kaka, Pato and Thiago Silva, Leonardo is now doing his deeds on the “blue” side of the city. For him, the Milan chapter is over, and he is doing the best he could to become “one of the rest” at Inter.
Till this day, Leonardo is still part of the “Hall of Fame” on Milan’s website. Still considered one of the club’s legends, he was recently invited to Berlusconi’s 25 year party. Needless to say he didn’t show up. The difference in class is obvious. Milan didn’t take the matters personal, yet Leonardo did. For Milan, Leonardo’s time with the Rossoneri will forever remain a beautiful part in the club’s rich history. However, for Leonardo, Milan was just another step in his career. The Brazilian was quick to cash in and forget the memories. Him and Inter seem to be a perfect match, indeed worthy of each other.
Note: all the photos credit to Cristina.
Beginning the season with a bang after his transfer from Catalan giants Barcelona, Ibrahimovic’s goals and performances have catapulted Milan to the top of the Serie A ladder – a rare feat over the past decade. Statistics have proven Ibrahimovic to be the most integral, hence decisive, component of any team in the world even surpassing Ballon D’Or winner Leo Messi. This has in-turn earnt various praise from his European and domestic counterparts for effectiveness in contributing to a team’s performance and final outcome of a particular match.
Although, we all should know by now – if not, the more you accustom yourself to the inner workings of the beautiful game you shall come to realise – a week or two in football is equivalent to an aeon.
It appears, over recent weeks, that the Midas touch has deviated away from Milan talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The rangy Swede has failed to strike the back of the net since February 28th, and managed only two goals in his past eight Serie A matches. The man affectionately known as Ibracadabra, due his exquisite finishing and imagination on the football pitch, appears to have misplaced his aces with the only magic surfacing on the weekend being his vanishing act late in the second half against Bari. Frustrated by his recent goal drought, Ibrahimovic lashed out at Bari defender Marco Rossi which left the referee no choice but to hand out a straight red card. The striker now faces the prospect of a three match ban which Milan has the opportunity to appeal. A deliberate and selfish act – which leaves Milan in a tricky situation with the derby on the horizon – has altered the perception of the majority of Milan fans about his maturity and leadership on the field. With constant complaints of fatigue, and at risk of early burn out, these were early signs of his frustration and it was just too much to bear any further. Having watched the period in which Milan were reduced to ten men it coerced Milan to play in a different manner. Instead of relying on the physical presence of Ibrahimovic, substitutions of Emanuelson and Cassano digressed and increased the fluidity of Milan’s play by focusing on short passing opposed to the long ball tactic. Milan looked far more dangerous and likely to penetrate Bari’s defence. This was confirmed when Cassano equalised from a delightful cross from Antonini. Perhaps this is a blessing in disguise as it will enable Pato to play in more of a direct route to goal opposed to dropping deep into the midfield and promoting the ball forward which, as a result, hindered his effectiveness and natural style of play. However, the Palermo match certainly was cause of concern as it was evident Milan lacked the killer punch in the opponents defensive third. Having an abundance of riches Milan struggled to create goal scoring opportunities and as Gattuso stated post-match, “When myself and Flamini are the most dangerous attacking weapons on the field there’s something terribly wrong”.
It’s going to be a struggle against the current Italian and European champions with or without Ibrahimovic taking the field. Nonetheless, Milan has all the ingredients needed to succeed and overcome a rampaging Internazionale. All they have to do is believe.
Since Prandelli’s made his Italy coaching debut last May, a position that caused him a headache was the right back position. In a little over six months, he has already tried Marco Motta, De Silvestri, Santon, Maggio and Cassani for the role. None of them has impressed so far to deserve a starting place. For a spot that is obviously up for grabs, it is hard to swallow that Abate didn’t get called up once.
Marco Motta, De Silvestri, Santon, Maggio and Cassani all have some characteristics in common. Each one of them has less than 10 caps for the senior national team and they have all featured at one time or another for at least one level of national youth teams. Abate has already played for Italy in the youth levels so he is halfway there and of the players mentioned, only Santon, Maggio, and Cassani weren’t given their debuts by Prandelli.
From the ones given their debuts by Prandelli, Marco Motta doesn’t even start for a struggling Juventus, with an 18 year old makeshift right back with no first team experience that goes beyond this season starting over him.
While De Silvestri hasn’t proven his early hype so far. Failure with Lazio made him switch to Fiorentina and despite starting almost regularly under Prandelli, he has had to prove himself all over again for Mihajlovic. He has only started to play regularly after the winter break, with a spell as a make-shift left back due to Pasqual’s injury.
The youngest of the bunch, Santon, wasn’t a regular under Benitez and mostly played out of position. He only started to see minutes when he was loaned to Cesena. Maybe Prandelli prefers Santon due to his versatility, as he could play at ease on both flanks. He could even prefer him as he is younger and has greater potential, therefore could be one for the future.
So if it is understandable that Santon merits a spot, due to his potential and versatility, this still leaves a spot open for one of Maggio and Abate, since Cassani is injured. Firstly, Maggio is 29 while Abate is 24, therefore the age factor is with Abate. Secondly, Maggio plays in a three man defense system, which means that Maggio generally plays with less worries defensively opposed to Abate who has proven his defensive qualities by solidifying himself as a starting fixture in Italy’s best defense line, as well as by successfully marking world class players in the form of Ronaldo and Eto’o.
The last point is that while some might argue that Maggio is a better threat offensively, whose to say that Abate won’t get there? A year and a half ago, Abate was a mediocre midfielder who spent most of his career in Italy’s lower leagues. The improvement he has had over the past year is an example set to others, on what one could achieve with hard work and passion. To think that only close to a year ago Abate started training as a defender and now he is a guaranteed starter in Italy’s top of the table team. Doesn’t that guarantee him at least a chance with the national team?
In the Prandelli era there has been an obvious lack of talent that led to calling up many ‘oriundi’ and giving debuts to mid table team players, proving that this indeed is a transition period for Italy. With so many players getting chances to prove whether they are of international quality or no, it is hard to argue that Milan’s right back doesn’t deserve an opportunity, especially in a position that is still up for grabs.
A clinical Bari took the lead at the end of the first half capitalizing on a defensive error from a setpiece. Milan created many opportunities in the second half, but frustration got the best of Zlatan Ibrahimovic who was sent off for intentionally punching Bari defender Marco Rossi. Substitute Antonio Cassano was the hero of the night, scoring a goal late in the second half and salvaging a point for Milan, who failed to widen the gap from Inter and Napoli.
Photo gallery: AC Milan (1) vs. Bari (1) – 13/03/2011
Top meets bottom in what is supposed to be a must win encounter for us.
AC Milan host Bari in San Siro on Sunday lunchtime knowing that a win would put them seven points ahead of Inter just one matchday (away vs. Palermo) before the big derby. What is supposed to be an easy encounter on paper might prove a tough test for Allegri’s side. Bari’s last visit to San Siro (in 2009) saw out a goalless draw between both sides. One must admit though that time (transfers actually) affected the soon to be Serie B side greatly.
The midweek fixture against Tottenham in the Champions League saw Milan exit from European competition and now have only the Serie A and the Italian Cup to focus on, which might prove to be a blessing in disguise. Milan will also be glad that Clarence Seedorf, who had a series of less than average performances this season, displayed a very impressive one against Spurs, one that suits his reputation. Antonini also got some playing time against Tottenham and might get the nod from Allegri today in order to regain lost fitness. Another alternative would be to put Emanuelson at LB to see if he can handle that position. Merkel featured as well against the English side and might feature in the starting eleven. Boateng was not summoned by Allegri for this match after he felt some ankle pain against Tottenham.
We must go all out attack from the first minute against Bari trying to score a goal so we won’t chase one for 90 minutes. The win would mean a lot as it would bring us one step closer to the Scudetto and one step farther from our nearest chasers, Inter (this could change if Napoli win against Parma on Sunday). Bari, on the other hand, have the slightest of hope for staying in Serie A and many argue that it’s only a matter of time before they are mathematically relegated. Even a win at San Siro would not do them much good, but it surely wouldn’t hurt. Basically, Bari has nothing to lose with their fate very close to be sealed, so they might prove a tricky obstacle to overcome.
Milan still has to do without Pirlo, Massimo Ambrosini, Boateng and Inzaghi, all injured.
Recent Serie A Form:
AC Milan: W W W W D
Bari: L D L D L
Expected Milan Formation:
Abbiati, Abate, Nesta, Thiago Silva, Antonini, Gattuso, Van Bommel, Merkel, Robinho, Ibrahimovic, Pato« go back — keep looking »