Steven Green1 Comment


Steven Green1 Comment

Over the last year AC Milan have released and sold enough players to fill a who’s who guide to the Balon d'Or shortlists of the past decade. Clarence Seedorf, Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo, Gianluca Zambrotta, Pippo Inzaghi and Mark Van Bommel have all been cast aside or put out to pasture in recent years, and earlier this summer the club sanctioned the sale of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to Paris Saint-Germain.

It's a bizarre way to operate a club and the fans think so too, demanding their money back for unwanted season tickets after the sale of what were arguably their best players. Milan, in one fell swoop, have overhauled their dressing room, and it's unclear as to how they'll survive such an exodus.

Club captain Massimo Ambrosini is now the most senior player and he'll be facing a tough task to shepherd the motley assortment of leftover characters without the help of his more experienced colleagues, especially if you look into what Gennaro Gattuso had to say shortly after he departed.

Speaking to France Football magazine last month, the former Rangers midfielder - now with FC Sion in Switzerland - said, "I left because I wasn’t happy in a dressing room which was once a lot easier to manage." Not one afraid of speaking his mind he continued, "When there was a training session at 9.30 many got there ten minutes beforehand and no one said anything, I got there 45 minutes early."

Secrets are highly guarded at Milanello and Gattuso gave no names away, but it's hard to imagine seasoned and decorated professionals disregarding the rules, or their professionalism in such a way.

Those who still are there have hardly done themselves any favours in the reputation department. Robinho is more than capable of throwing an epic tantrum when he wants to, evidenced upon his departure from Real Madrid to Manchester City by breaking down into tears and threatening premature retirement if the Spanish giants refused to let him go. Kevin Prince-Boateng is a diva in the making and Mathieu Flamini is no stranger to an outburst either. Both performed well in the Premier League but have so far failed to set Serie A on fire the way many believed they would.

That's not to say the current crop are bad players who won't challenge for anything, but until this week Milan had added just two players, Ricardo Montolivo and Christian Zapata.

However, a swap deal involving Antonio Cassano and Internazionale striker Giampaolo Pazzini has now been completed. Tactically this should benefit the Rossoneri; with Ibrahimovic now out of the picture Milan lack an out and out striker. Cassano and Robinho both operate in the hole or out wide, and neither will want to play second fiddle to the other as the side look to re-exert themselves at the top of the tree. Pazzini struggled for form at Inter and may well welcome the move in a bid to kick start his career after being left out of the national team for Euro 2012.

Fans can probably give up on any hopes of replacing Ibrahimovic and Silva with a flashy, expensive signing after Silvio Burlusconi seemingly laid out the welcome matt to foreign investment.

Even in the presence of a financial picture that doesn't allow for crazy spending," the former Prime Minister said, "doors are open to those who can give financial aid to our team."

Are Milan going to employ a Moneyball-style philosophy? Perhaps so. The Father Jack Hackett of Italian politics has apparently read the book and been inspired by it: "Billy Beane's team was considered inferior to the others yet they realised big objectives."

It's not something suited to a side who are expected to bring the silverware home every season. The Moneyball approach is still new to football and is slowly seeping in and filling the cracks, but to change anything too quickly at Milan could be disastrous.

Milan, along with Inter, Juventus and several others on the periphery still have strong squads, but what does it say about their ambition when they are refusing to replace the players they've let go? The supporters are certainly justified in their discontent, but this exodus could be hinting at bigger problems than they comprehend.

Players no longer flock to Italy the way the have over the past twenty years. So called "boring" football and a seemingly endless stream of betting scandals have hung like a huge 'Keep Away' sign over Serie A. Not one of the players Milan released this summer has stayed in the country.

Coverage of the league, in the UK at least, is sparse. Intermittent games are shown on ESPN but little analysis is offered – a far cry from the insight provided by the popular Gazzetta Football Italia in the 1990s.

Gazzetta was a football show like no other. Fronted by the intelligent and slightly sardonic James Richardson, news and views were presented from a number of bustling piazzas as the host supped a cappuccino and munched on a hot foccacia whilst working his way through a stack of multicoloured sports papers, often joined by the stars of the day in awkward yet hilarious skits in which Richardson was willingly the butt of the joke.

The timing of the show was crucial too. Not only did Gazzetta offer the viewer great football, it also offered a lifestyle. Italian culture has always been viewed as a classical, high-brow culture; La Dolce Vita, if you will. Where else could you find a football tournament backed by a soundtrack of Nessun Dorma?

The show eventually did disappear and recently the magazine followed suit, but in many ways Milan's list of released players leaving the country - despite being able to walk into most squads in the league and make a good living whilst doing so - signals the end of the Gazzetta generation in a way mere defunct media never could.

Steven Green is a co-host of the Aston Villa Review podcast and you can follow him on Twitter.