Losing the Scudetto is not what will truly hurt A.C. Milan.
“It was strange to hear Milan made an approach, as I didn’t expect them to show an interest in me. I thought you had to play in the Champions League to attract the attention of a club at this level.” Bakaye Traore was obviously having trouble believing his luck at moving to the San Siro giants on a free transfer, as Milan wasted no time in strengthening their side after the failed defense of their Scudetto this season.
In addition to signing the 27 year-old Malian international, the Rossoneri also snapped up creative talent Riccardo Montolivo, and are now being heavily linked with Chievo stopper Francesco Acerbi. These signings will prove worth their weight in goal as a season of new hopes beckons, but ones that will still divert little attention from the fact Milan will also be playing without what has been core of their team the past decade from now on. Change has unfortunately come too quickly to ensure a measured transition to the next era.
The likes of Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf and Filippo Inzaghi will leave the club after a decade of service to the red-and-black half of Milan, with a tearful farewell having been bid to the outgoing icons of the club. However, if the ramifications of their departures are not properly taken into consideration, it could lead to an even greater outpouring of tears in the very near future.
The quartet was made up of more than just any old fogies. They were dedicated servants of Milan who recognized the honour of fighting for the club’s emblem they wore over their hearts. Fans understood that though they lacked the physical prowess to consistently continue spurring Milan to titles over the course of a long season, they remained integral elements to the team, on and off the pitch.
If Andrea Pirlo’s departure for Juventus at the beginning of Serie A 2011/2012 is anything to go by, Milan are now in big trouble. All of a sudden, the team finds itself missing a host of established veterans that leaves a gaping hole in the squad not to be easily plugged. Adriano Galliani may be able to temporarily plaster over that void by making up the numbers through physical replacements, but it’ll take much more time, work and patience to recreate the mental attributes cultivated over the years Milan’s veterans spent in the squad.
The most obvious example of how a host of sudden departures can lead to the downfall of a club lies in 2006’s Calciopoli scandal involving Juventus. Fabio Capello’s Bianconeri swept to the Serie A title, but it was a different story in the Champions League, where the early initiates of a young, unproven Arsenal ran rings around the likes of Emerson, Lilian Thuram, and Jonathon Zebina. Their subsequent exit from European competition confirmed Italy’s dominant side was in need of serious renewal, much like the Milan of today used to be.
That said, when the punishments were handed out by the jurisdiction overseeing the ruling of Italy’s match-fixing scandal, nothing could prepare Juventus for what was about to happen. Most of the old guard, bar Gianluigi Buffon, Pavel Nedved and Alessandro Del Piero, left, and the serious renewal many felt the team had to undergo was enforced.
The only problem was, like a rug pulled under one’s feet, the transition had happened too rapidly, and all at once. Young players and new faces entering the clubs ranks needed time to adapt and learn how to cope with the massive expectations of the fans and media. Juventus spent enormous amounts of money in an attempt to re-introduce big-name signings, but credibility in being fronted by star players again was not restored as the Turin giants went through some of its darkest times. The importance of the Bianconeri’s old guard of 2006, however old, ageing or physically incapable, was only truly highlighted by their Scudetto at long last this year. It had been an arduous, five-year journey of transition since their return to Serie A.
Naturally, Milan know they likewise will have to splash the cash to sign big names in the stead of their departing stars. Names such as Mario Balotelli and Wesley Sneijder continue being linked with the former Scudetto winners, despite constant denial from representative parties. Nevertheless, there remain too many nagging uncertainties lingering about this Milan side. Will the team address their lack of creativity going forwards in the absence of either Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Antonio Cassano? Will Antonio Nocerino repeat his goalscoring feats next season? Will Thiago Silva and Alexandre Pato stay fit for long enough?
Without the stabilizing presence of the club’s old guard, new pressure will be thrust onto the shoulders of the new leaders of the team, Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva. How they handle that is open to debate. What will be certain is that the possibility of acting as a point of reference could distract them from what they perform so well free of mental burden, their technical duties on the pitch.
The pressure will continue remaining heavily stacked on Milan to win all the same. Should the club hit a crisis next season, whom will the squad turn to for counsel, now that its established team members are gone? Will anyone find it in himself to act in captain Massimo Ambrosini’s stead to lead by example? The expectations Milan fans harbour are understandable, but they still have to be tampered with realism in understanding the next few seasons could represent long periods of transition, as each new squad member takes time to grow into the shirt and understand the significance of wearing it.
Taking that into account, it will be a wise move for Milan to reconsider their treatment of Paolo Maldini, who has been snubbed for a consultant role at Milanello. Apart from appointing someone who could speed up the transition process, Galliani also needs to reconsider his policy of offering those with expiring contracts renewals at the last moment, so that enough preparation can be undertaken in advance to replace a departing member.
These new methodologies will be key to seeing how fast one of Calcio’s powerhouses get back on their feet. Italy’s top clubs can ill afford any of their number to go through another lean spell, if Serie A’s resurgence in European standing is to have its momentum maintained.