Saturday, May 7, 2011

Milan Anything But Vintage, Though Champions Nonetheless

Milan led the table for most of the season as they ended Inter's dominance.It is difficult to articulate the pain felt by the red and black side of the San Siro, as they watched Inter cruise to five straight titles, a run culminated by a magnificent treble last season. Boasting an overage squad, Milan had consistently struggled to even reach the Champions League, let alone win it, and the club had seen stars like Kaka, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo all depart for pastures new.

However, after seven long seasons without the  Scudetto, Milan wrapped up the league at the first time of asking, grinding out a nil-nil draw in Rome earlier today. Perhaps the nature of the way in which they clinched the title illustrates the Milan of 2011, hardly flamboyant, but effective nonetheless. 

From the start, there was something different about Milan, a horde of new signings, headlined by the arrivals of Robinho and Ibrahamovich, offered renewed hope to Rossonerri supporters, while Benitez's struggles at Inter provided a source of real enjoyment.

No, this was not the Milan of Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard, not the Milan that beat Barcelona 4-0 in the 1994 Champions League final, nor was this the team inspired by the majestic Kaka, which eviscerated Manchester United along the way to a European success in 2007.

Allegri's Milan was anchored by an uncompromising midfield of Boateng, Gattuso and Van Bommel, while the experience of Nesta  and the freshness of Silva maintained solidity at the back.

True, Milan tried to add creativity to their squad in January, bringing in Sampdoria's Antonio Cassano, but the Italian has done more eating than playing since his move, while his reputation has receded, his waste line has done the opposite.

For a large stretch of 2011, it looked as though Inter, coached by former Milan great Leonardo were capable of hauling the Rossonerri back, but the Nerazzurri never reached the top of the table, as Allegri's Milan won when they needed to, churning out impressive performances against first Napoli and then Inter.

The mercurial Alexandre Pato played his part as well, though he lacked consistency, the Brazilian performed in the big games, scoring against the likes of Matzarri's Napoli and Leonardo's Inter. His partner in attack, Ibrahamovich, disappointed after a brilliant start to the season, in past weeks the big Swede has picked up more red cards than goals, as his fiery temper began to get the better of him.

This season, Milan have not boasted the best player in Serie A, I think all of us can agree that that accolade belongs to Edinson Cavani, or played the most entertaining football. They have been pragmatic, careful, the mid season signing of Van Bommel illustrates that, as does the continued inclusion of Gennaro Gattuso. It could be argued perhaps, that Milan's lack of stardust cost them dear in European competition, as the Italians failed to break down a sub par Spurs side, in a round of sixteen meeting with the Champions League debutants.

There is no doubt that Milan's progress to their eighteenth Scudetto has been helped by the failings of their adversaries, once again Roma and Juventus have disappointed, while Napoli's lack of experience, Inter's poor start and Udinese's defensive naivety put pay to the hopes of any other members of Serie A's elite. Even early leaders Lazio were unable to stay consistent, despite being benefited by the services of arguably the league's best midfield player, Hernanes.

In the long run though, nobody will remember Milan's failings, their anemic 1-0 loss to Palermo, their capitulation against Cesena, or Cassano's shirt size, all that will be recalled is that Milan were champions.

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