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.
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.
In celebration of this week’s one-sided brilliant derby victory, as well as our city rivals shock 5-2 humiliation on home turf vs. the 10th placed club in the Bundesliga, we EXCLUSIVELY present you an extract from L30nardo’s new book expected this summer, titled “Goodbye Milano: L30nardo’s Guide to Coaching”. The books’ publishing company, 3 Derby Defeats ®, has put a price of 30 Denarii on each copy.
L30′s Guide To Coaching
1. Use 27 strikers/match.
2. Extensive attacking training, but peaceful attacking. “Attacking” is such an aggressive word, brings negativity, don’t want to spread that around the world.
3. Soft defending. Don’t press your opponents too much or it might irritate them. Remember, Karma is a bitch. What goes around comes around.
4. Happy positioning. Players should be positioned in a way as to create a smiley face. This way, it would bring a positive vibe to the team and help them win.
5. The art of conceding. Because games aren’t fun unless the total goals are more than our number of strikers.
6. Group hugs after conceding. It would help strengthen the teams’ spirit and morale. Also it would ease crying into each others shoulders. Remember, crying kicks the boo-hoos out.
7. No tackles while defending, it might hurt the opponents and this is not good sportsmanship.
8. Leave gaps in defense. This way the opponents get more chances, the football fans get entertained, and Julio Cesar earns his paycheck. Therefore, everybody goes home a winner.
9. Special bonus for Chivu after every red card. The bonus is bigger if it’s 2 yellows. and even bigger if it’s 2 games in a row.
10. Only maximum of 3 players have to be in the team’s defensive half. The rest of the players should attack (peaceful attacking) every area of the opponents pitch. Remember, offense is the best defense.
11. If the team can’t produce something useful with the ball, then give it to the opponents and open wide gaps so that the audience receive value for their tickets.
12. Never defend a lead, because comebacks are worth experiencing. Even if it’s for the opponents. Wish others what you wish upon yourselves.
13. Extra yoga and massage sessions after defeats. Helps relax the state of mind and gain positivity.
14. If the team wins, they deserve to be praised for winning. If the team draws, they deserve to be praised for trying. If the team loses, they deserve to be praised for participating.
15. Never shout.
16. Only shout if the score ends 0-0.
17. Scratch #16. Only shout if the game ends with less than 5 goals, each.
18. Each player is obliged to have at least 5 daily hugs from me. Makes it easier to smell the hair.
Also there’s a tutor video to help with the look on the touchline. It shows the ‘Hand on the Chin’ gesture to simulate being lost in thought. As well as the brand new ‘Fake Yell’ and ‘Talk To The Bench’ to pretend taking part in the game. Finally we have the good old ‘Follow The Ball With Your Eyes’ trick to help look interested.
We leave you now with photos of this week’s derby hero, Alexandre Pato:
Credit to Cristina for all the media.
“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.