The AC Milan Blog

AC Milan related rants, news and more.


Ibra’s Importance

A lot has been said about Zlatan Ibrahimovic since the season ended, various comments and thoughts about his performances, however despite being a divisive figure in many ways, one thing everyone can agree on is that the first half of his season was better than the second, but what should we make of his season overall?

First of all, anyone who considers this season anything other than a success for him should stop reading now. He’s had a good year, and although he was much better from August to January than January to May, he still chipped in with crucial assists during his ‘bad period’

Ibrahimovic’s importance comes not so much the games which he’s won for Milan with his goals, or helped Milan win with his assists,  but his importance was shown by the way he managed to instill a winning mentality in the side, something that was lacking since most of the senatore’s who’d tasted success lacked motivation (particularly against smaller sides and perhaps this goes towards explaining their inconsistency), and most of the younger talented players hadn’t tasted real success yet, this is why Ibra was our most important player this season.

If there was an award for Milan’s best player of the season, I’d give it to Thiago Silva, no doubt he was essential, and he was a rock throughout, for his consistent performances this season, the way he’s matured and his dogged and determined defending, he should win it, and in face, I would actually have Robinho second, ahead of Ibra in third, because I think the Brazilian’s performances are underrated as a result of his erratic finishing (which often leads to people forgetting all of the other things he does so well)

However, if deciding on who’s been the most important, I would say Ibra. This winning mentality has given the side a new-found determination, and it’s not something that’s easy to get. Some games Ibrahimovic dragged the side through on his own (mainly earlier on in the season) and he scored some wonder-goals along the way but the most telling factor that he succeeded in bringing this winning spirit in, are the games Milan won without him.

Near the end, without Ibra, or in big games like the derby, l30nardo was well and truly thumped by Allegri, and that was as a result of (not only) better tactics on Allegri’s part, but also the determination of the players to effectively bring home the scudetto despite the absence of one Zlatan Ibrahimovic

It’s been said that Ibrahimovic and Pato don’t really get on too well, and I’ve heard eyewitness stories from people at games that Ibra acts like a dick towards him amongst others in the warmup and so forth, and maybe this is true, who am I to question these people, BUT I feel Pato has a lot to learn from him nonetheless, maybe not so much on the character front, but in becoming a winner himself, and this scudetto is probably the first step in the right direction for that, and as a player, there are some qualities Ibra would do well to pass on to the duck too.

A lot has been said and done about Ibra this season, he’s split many people’s opinions, and I think it’s a shame that some people will fail to give him recognition, either out of spite for people who they feel give him too much, or simply because they don’t like him, but whether you think he was our best player or not this season, it’s clear to me that Ibra is very much like some of our senatores…. he’s a champion!

Two Champions

By Hefin Davies

Seedorf – A Trophy Collector Who Could Have Been A Midfield Icon

I have been very much intrigued and disappointed by one of the most respected names in European football, Sir Clareance Seedorf. Yeah, he got knighted last month for his on and off the field achievements. Seedorf has been playing for Milan for more than a decade and he rarely missed a game due to injury, a physical phenomenon that collected the highest number of caps for the Diavoli among the non Italian category.

Whenever he is shown on TV commentators scream about his 4 CLs with three different teams achievement. Fair enough, he won them but there is more than what meets the eye. He is one player who had every single characteristic of a great midfielder. When he was at his peak he had power, strength, footballing brain,  every inch of his body is filled with footballing skill, he can play joga bonito or your scrappy midfield game, he’s versatile and can instantly fit any system. If an alien recommend me a body to create/adapt/evolve a new generation football player I will surely put Seedorf at the top of the list.

Seedorf Lotto Ad

But the irony is that if my young nephew asked me about the greatest midfielder I ever saw or loved, without any hesitation I would say Zidane or scream Rui Manuel César Costa again and again because he made me cry. With all his qualities Seedorf doesn’t make me sit on the edge every single moment when he is on the field even though he is very much capable of doing that. Ah football of the 90s I miss you.

Seedorf was a young prodigy at the great school of Ajax FC where he won a CL title in 1995 against us and got transferred to Real Madrid via Sampdoria where he feasted on a couple of league titles and another Champions League. I don’t have much thoughts on his days as a Blanco and I wouldn’t comment on it except that he won a lot yet he is not considered anything there. Then he transferred to Inter Milan, endured a not so good time at blue side of Milan and finally in 2002 he became a Milanista. Under Carlo Ancelotti he was a part of that great squad, one of the most versatile and greatest teams of the last decade, a formidable defense boasting some of the greatest names in football history, with Dida, an attacking force of Sheva, Pippo and Crespo. But the real strength was that beastly, godly, aesthetic midfield because it was adorned with two supreme number 10s: Rui Costa (at his twilight) and Seedorf, Kaka, class A destroyer Gattuso, solid Ambrosini, lightning wingback Serginho and a technically gifted Pirlo who was castled in deep midfield and could distribute the ball in his heyday as well as anybody (I am not a fan of Pirlo because he hasn’t done anything worthwhile after opponents started chasing him out of his comfort zone). That team was built to fight on any terrain against any opponent, anytime.

Sadly, we underachieved a lot and I still hold some grudge towards our former coach big Carlo; such a nice man but he lacked that killer instinct to unleash reign of fire on anything and everything in Europe. I don’t want to be ungrateful for 2 Champions Leagues and one Scudetto at a time when it was infested by the Juve – Inter court referee duel, but a dropped CL in 2005, the Deportivo debacle and Europa League doesn’t make make me too happy. I digressed from the original subject, but you can’t blame me because I was always enchanted by that team.

So here is Seedorf, who seems to play decent football when we are in the semis or finals of a major championship. Some call him a Big Game player; others, like me think ‘it’s about time Clarence, it’s about time’. If you follow him day in and day out like me or the Curva Sud you know how bad, frustrating and infuriating he can be all year long, lacking mobility, dedication or intention to stamp his authority on the game. I was never angrier than when he was the laziest player in that infamous Maldini farewell game against Roma. For a player who wears number 10 and starts every single game for one of the greatest clubs, he has been mediocre to hapless week in and week out for many campaigns.

But there is this aspect of him which is known only to us Milanista’s and which is so unique in this guy. Push him to the limit and he will deliver, as soon as he sniffs a title he goes for the jugular. In the 2007 CL semifinal against Bayern Munich he combined well with Kaka to bring us closer to our 7th Champions League. When Ronaldinho was brought to Milan, Seedorf wasn’t the indispensable partner of Kaka anymore so what does he do? Play a screamer of game against Inter in the derby in Pirlo’s role, where he adapted and excelled like a true star. When asked about his completion with Ronaldinho, he claimed he is much more of a central midfielder. After he fought back for his starting position when Dinho was out nursing a knee injury we started to see the usual Slowdorf back in games.

Seedorf Schooling Cambiasso

Seedorf Schooling Cambiasso

He is one player who has kept his place even with so much transition in the coaching position. Ancelotti loved him, Pirlo and him were his boys. Carlo overlooked their mistakes and burned Gourcuff for them, after all the coach won titles with them. Then came our caretaker coach, Leonardo, who had a rough time with Zambrotta and Gattuso but Seedorf the charmer was still unquestioned. Then the field marshal (ahahha) Allegri was given command to bring trophies, who is the coach with the lowest bias, who favors consistency and hard work over anything. Seedorf had a tough time regaining his starting position, but he managed it well. Being his last year of contract, he stepped up big time in the final half of the season and made up for the disastrous first leg against Spurs with a resounding second leg. But it was not good enough for another CL run. That was the day we saw the rise of the majestic Dorf. He started to be one of the influential players in midfield, he surprised me with his dogged performance and ability of holding the ball even under heavy pressure, a few effective tricks here and there, wily through balls and free kicks. He became one of the creative outlets of this solid Milan midfield. With every passing week he started gaining respect and love from Milanistas. Milan fans are so fickle at adoring their heroes; one good game and everything is forgiven, even the skeptic like me is thrilled and pumped up after his strong showing although I know a contract form him means more of that inconsistent Seedorf. But I hope he leaves Milan as a hero or we resign him at a lower wage and keep him on the very edge. He recently poked Milan for not assuring him another two year contract. Aah Seedorf, you are such an interesting player.

I never mentioned that Clarence is too old (around 35) and we never had enough cover to provide him some rest and it’s not his fault that he starts 30 odd games every year and he is bound to have many bad games at this time of his career. These are valid points but the fact of the matter is that he rarely plays with conviction. He is a mix of a champion and a culprit and he has complete control on whom to summon and when. Champion summoning usually happens when he is near some personal (contract / starting line-up) or team (Champions League / final half of the season only if you are top of the table) glory. He is a man who doesn’t settle for mediocrity (according to the Clareance standard), like CL qualification, farewell games, cutting down the lead of the opponent. He is capable of playing great games unlike many other yesteryear heroes such as Andrea Pirlo who works 10x more than Seedorf yet italian is not capable of putting up a show against tough opponents, able to stamp his authority on a game or entitled to the world master or controller or a hard game. Pirlo has digressed into a sniper who is able to deliver few lethal shots once in a while and the team should make them count. Seedorf can take the game by the scruff of the neck to unleash a masterful show whenever he wants. I think he has figured out everything; he wants trophies and to keep playing and anyone or anything that comes in his way will be shown who he is (like the lioness when somebody attacks the cubs). He will even take a pounding to prove that point. A great player who could have been the greatest, but I am delighted to have him at least this year because he has been so good.

Maybe I am writing this post to reduce the guilt I have for ridiculing him day in and day out for all those sub par performances but when great memories are revisited he will always be remembered for the part he played and that evergreen blissful smile.

Seedorf Smiling

Seedorf Smiling - Courtesy UEFA

One thing I have to admire is his statesman like demeanor (except for kicking water bottles when he was subbed for Pato in 2008 – see what I did there). He always calms agitated players: Gattuso screaming at Poulsen, Gattuso having a go at Pato. Always there to talk with officials, mediating or soothing a highly volatile situation.

The man commands respect for his character. I see him as a Milan director in the future if he doesn’t run for UEFA, FIFA or the US presidential role. Thanks Seedorf for all those bittersweet memories. I will not forget you. Have a great future, I will not miss you as a player but I will surely miss your smile.

Scudetto Celebration

Looking back at the most memorable moments from Milan’s 18th scudetto celebrations… from Oddo’s drunken run around the Olimpico to Kevin Prince’s moonwalk in front of 80.000 fans, we relive the moments.

We begin where Milan first sealed the scudetto with a 0-0 tie against Roma on May 7th, and where the first celebrations kicked off away from home at the Stadio Olimpico. Here is a video of the most memorable moments and celebrations scenes that took place right after Milan sealed the title:

The biggest partiers of the night were Antonio Cassano who celebrated his first scudetto in style and Massimo Oddo who celebrated by running around the Stadio Olimpico’s 400m track in under a minute to allegedly have his contract extended after title win.

The usually serious Max Allegri was soaked in champagne by the players and received praise from Adriano Galliani after winning the title in his first year at Milan. He also spent some moments personally celebrating with some fans that made the trip to Rome:

Before the game against Cagliari, the team paraded around the Piazza Duomo saluting and celebrating with thousands of fans that gathered. A lengthy video of the celebrations can be found here. The party was moved to the San Siro where the Scudetto trophy was officially presented to the team along with the festivities organized by Adriano Galliani.

The San Siro was sold out in anticipation for the scudetto celebration. The game had a sort of summer friendly feel to it, with a brace from Robinho, who joins Ibrahimovic and Pato as Milan’s top scorer with 14 goals each this season. A header from outside the box from Rino Gattuso and a goal from Clarence Seedorf who continues his great season-ending form completed Milan’s poker 4-1 win.

The final whistle blew and the long-awaited celebrations took place in front of the home crowd. The team came out one by one dawning the new jerseys with the scudetto patch. They then took a lap of honor around the stadium followed by more festivities highlighted by Kevin Prince Boateng’s long-awaited moonwalk and a beautiful fireworks display. Scenes that will be remembered not only by those who were present in the stadium, but by Milan fans around the world.

Milan’s top 5 players of the season (as chosen by the R&B forums):

1. Thiago Silva

2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic

3. Christian Abbiati

4. Kevin Prince Boateng

5. Alexandre Pato

Finally, let’s take a look at the most memorable goals, celebrations and scenes from the season:

FORZA MILAN! CAMPIONI D’ITALIA 2011!

The 5 Stops Where AC Milan’s Scudetto Was Won

1. Signing Of Ibrahimovic

The two suspensions Ibrahimovic has recently received from the FIGC may have ruined everything Ibra did this season with Milan, but one must admit that once this guy was signed Milan suddenly became title contenders. His amazing solo displays in the first half of the season were more than enough to put Milan on top. He has been fundamental to Milan’s Scudetto winning season, and it’s his 8th consecutive league (Dutch – Italian – Spanish) title in a row. Not a coincidence at all.

The signing of Ibrahimovic was the start of a great season for Milan

The signing of Ibrahimovic was the start of a great season for Milan

2. AC Milan vs. Real Madrid

I know Real Madrid isn’t a Serie A team, but Milan’s match against them at San Siro was the start of a great season for Ignazio Abate. Many Milan supporters were upset that the fullback positions, which are pretty weak compared to the CBs Milan have, weren’t reinforced with better quality players. But, in the game against Real Madrid, Abate put an amazing performance (when compared to the performances he put before) to stop Cristiano Ronaldo (with the help of Gennaro Gattuso) and he never stopped improving from that game on. Soon, Milan had the formidable defense that won us the title.

3. Milan 3 – 1 Palermo (Round 11)

It was in this match that Milan clinched the very important 3 points to go on and top the league table. Allegri knew the importance of that match, claiming in his pre-match conference that it was Milan’s most important match of the season, and so it proved to be. The only downside of that match was the injury of Inzaghi ( who might feature in Milan’s next 2 Serie A matches) and the injury of Pato just before the derby.

Pato - Milan's Wonderkid

Pato - Milan's Wonderkid

4. Milan 3 – 0 Napoli (Round 27)

Milan were facing one of their competitors for the title and knew that it was bound to be a tough match. Yet, despite the great team Mazzari has made Napoli into, Milan’s Trio (Ibra, Boateng, Pato) proved to be too good for Napoli’s defense as they scored one each. This win gave Milan the confidence and the lead needed to eventually win the Scudetto.

5. Milan 3 – 0 Inter (Round 32)

Pre-match, no one thought that Milan would have it as easy as they did against their arch rivals. Everyone expected a very tough encounter (with the absence of Ibrahimovic), but a very very early Pato goal gave Milan the boost to maintain their lead, control the game, and eventually score two more to leave Inter happy they didn’t concede more.

Allegri's laugh says it all: Milan Scudetto #18

The Defensive Midfielder Position – Where Milan’s Scudetto Was Won

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.

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