The Season (2009-10) Gone By: A.C. Milan

With the exit of Maldini and Kaka in the summer before the start of the season 2009-10, this year was always going to be the year in which Milan starts its resurrection. A new manager at the helm and in spite of an ageing squad coupled with injuries which engulfed most of its players, Milan ended a roller-coaster of a season without any silverware but a consolation direct entry into the next year’s UEFA Champions League. Here is a look at the ups and downs of the Italian club which shaped their season.

All was lost before it began

Leonardo was handed over the reigns of A.C. Milan after Carlo Ancelloti left for Chelsea in the summer of 2009. One saw a vulnerable Milan stepping onto the field this season, as for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century they were without their legendary captain Paolo Maldini. The most inspirational figure in the Milan dressing room had finally called it a day. Before Milan could even recover from the fact that their most beloved son has hung up his boots another blow came their way. Real Madrid had successfully carried out a major coup and signed Brazilian Kaka for a then record fee of 62 million pounds in the same summer. The Brazilian never wanted to leave the Italian club and had earlier cited his interest in leading the Rossoneri as well, but the debt on the club had forced the management to accept Madrid’s offer.

The departure of these two names meant that A.C. Milan would never be the same again. Leonardo would have a tough job up his sleeves considering the fact that their arch rivals Inter Milan had won four back to back Scudetto and were playing in a league of its own. Nor would he have the likes of iconic Maldini or the poster boy Kaka to look for inspiration for his ageing squad.

First half- An unconvincing beginning

Leonardo’s stint as a manager with is former club didn’t start on a good note as the Lombardy side lost all its matches in the pre-season world football challenge in the month of July. Their Serie A campaign started on a disastrous note as they were humbled 0-4 at home by the Nerazzurri in the “Derby della Madonnina” in only their second match of the season. A string of unconvincing performances in the next two months which included a home defeat to FC Zurich in the group stages of the UEFA champions league and below par performances against Udinese, Bari and Atlanta in the local league saw the red and blacks drop down to the bottom half of the table in the Serie A.

Inter Milan vs AC Milan

Il capitano vs Il capitano

There was pressure growing on Leonardo and rumors of his early exit were doing rounds as early as the second month in charge at The San Siro. The only saving grace for Milan at this time was when they scripted a stunning victory over Real Madrid in a five goal thriller at the Santiago Bernabéu. A champions league game which was decided just two minutes from time saw Milan coming back from one goal down to hand the flamboyant home team a defeat by two goals to three. This famous win initiated an eleven game undefeated streak for the Rossoneri in all competitions which was only halted by a 0-2 away defeat to Palermo in the last match before Christmas break. This fine run came as a breath of fresh air for the Milanese club and saw them climb to a respectable second place in the league before the January transfer window and with that silenced the critics of Milan’s Brazilian manager for good.  

Second half- Running out of breath

Beckham returned in January to add a lot of pedigree to the midfield. Arrival of the former English captain opened the floodgates and saw Milan score as much as fourteen goals in four matches which included a 0-3 away win over Juventus. Coupled with a slow start by their inter-city rivals in the second half of the season Milan emerged as major threat for Jose Mourinho’s side.

The second part of the Milan derby was very crucial for the race at the top and to stop Inter Milan from lifting up an unprecedented fifth consecutive title. Milan went into the game on a high but were quickly brought down to earth by their old foes. A 2-0 defeat by a nine men Inter was a slap on the face of the Rossoneri and it showcased the flagrant differences between the two Milanese clubs. This loss halted the second half Milan juggernaut.

Where it all starting crumbling..

In the Champions League, Milan had managed to scrape through to the knockout stages but they had a daunting task ahead of them with the English champions Manchester United slated to be their next opponent. History was on the side of the Italian club as they had never been knocked out of the elite European tournament by Manchester United. But this time Sir Alex Ferguson came to San Siro to set the record straight once and for all. A couple of headers courtesy Wayne Rooney resulted in handing Milan a first ever home soil defeat against  the English champions. Seedorf got a late goal to keep the Italians still in the hunt and gave a respectable read to the scoreline at the end of  their first leg (Milan 2-3 Manchester United).

Sports News - March 11, 2010

Rooney’s four goals over two legs proved to be Milan’s Nemesis

Milan quickly brushed aside the disappointment of an embarrassing Champions league defeat and went about doing their business in the Italian league, getting closer and closer to the top of the table.

They had a remote chance of qualifying  for the quarters of the Champions league when an injury prone Milan side traveled to England in March. But after ninety minutes of humiliation which saw four goals going past Christian Abbiati including another brace from Rooney, which overshadowed the return of Beckham to the theater of dreams, Milan was shown the door for the first time by Manchester United in an European tournament.

Meanwhile, the battle for Scudetto was heating up and a win over Napoli would have put Leonardo’s men at the top for the first time. But it seemed that Milan had failed to recover from the defeat at Old Trafford and only managed a draw against Napoli and with that had squandered a golden opportunity to go past Inter. What added salt into their wounds was an injury to Pato who was making a return with this game.

Injuries to its key players and fielding an ageing squad day in and day out had taken its toll on Milan and they managed to get just six points out of seven games from mid March to April end which included two defeats to Sampdoria and Palermo respectively. By the time April ended they were well and truely out of the race for the championship.

Milan went into the month of May with their manager’s exit a certainty. This did not discourage them from achieving their aim of an automatic qualification spot for next year’s Champions league and before their final home fixture against Juventus the Rossoneri made sure that the third spot is sealed by them.

Irrespective of that fact that he was handed a sqaud comprising of old war horses  and was given no transfer market budget Leonardo made sure that Milan finished the season at a respectable position. The way this first time manager conducted himself on the sidelines is a lesson for many established names. But another trophy less season for a club as big as Milan resulted in a fall out between owner Berlusconi and Leonardo and it ultimately paved way for his exit.

Sports News - May 16, 2010

A Happy Ending: Grazie Leo

Leonardo’s exit was confirmed before Milan took on the mighty Juventus and his team gave a fitting farewell to their manager shredding an already bruised and toothless Juventus 3-0 at the San Siro on the last night of their campaign. It was heartening to see the way in which Antonini celebrated his first goal in Milan colors by thumping one past Buffon and then running up to Leonardo along with the entire squad. It speaks volumes about the respect which the Brazilian commanded.

Even the fans were against his departure.  Chants and banners with “Don’t go Leo” filled the stands. Ultras section showed anger against Berlusconi’s decision with a huge banner saying “Presidente bocciato: assente ingiustificato” which means “President rejected: Absent Without Leave”.

A look into the future

With the departure of some of the senior members from the squad – Nelson Dida and Giuseppe Favalli, the average age of the squad has reduced considerably but at the same time some able reinforcements have to be brought in the team.

Fininvest, Berlusconi’s media group which owns A.C. Milan has already made it clear that no extravagant signings will be done by them in the summer. A dormant transfer window also rules out all the chances of the arrival of the Wolfsburg striker Edin Dzeko at San Siro.

After Van Basten turned down the offer for top job, the former defender duo of Filippo Galli, Milan Youth Sector Director and Mauro Tassotti are tipped to be the replacements of Leonardo as the joint managers of the senior squad. If Galli makes it to the manager post then one thing is assured that quite a few players would be making it to the senior team from their Primavera squad.

Youth is what Milan desperately needs and inclusion of young Italians who are waiting in the wings of their youth squad is the best that can happen to the club.

Lets hope that the former defenders if and when they come can take this Italian club to the top of the European football – a position where it truely belongs.

  • Kay_why

    sums up the season perfectly….. leo should have stayed…. and we need yooung blood!!!!!!

  • shady

    Nay….I would always say Leo is not suitable to manage a aging milan side who lost their best player Kaka and leaders on and of the pitch Maldini and Carletto. Now they should have got someone who can lead the team not someone who thinks just like another player.

    If JoMo goes to Real Milan should grab Pellegrini ASAP and Scudetto is theirs to take.

    PS: Please get rid of Dinho the bad influence on the team. Though he plays well, he is a bad influence. If Balotelli is available buy him. He will become the next Inzaghi.

  • Somnath

    I don’t think Scudetto is that easy to take. Inter are currently too strong.

  • @ shady i kinda agree with somnath on this, the Nerazzurri are 2 bloody strong at the moment i doubt whether we can evn come close to lifting the scudetto in our rebuilding period.

    And as far as Leo is concerned he did pertty well for someone who is managing for the first time and too a club like Milan.Just look at the set of players he had at his disposal. At the start of the season the “Footballing Pundits” said it would be difficult for the Rosonerri to make it to the Europa League for the season post the world cup, well i guess the Brazilian did prove them wrong now didn’t he?

  • Just like Juventus underachieved this season, IMO Milan highly overachieved.

    Look at the squad.
    Their defense is dependent on a rookie and a aging injury prone classy workhorse. Who else?

    Finally they seem to have (temporarily) sorted out the Goalie problem.

    In the midfield you have three players over the hill but still putting up more than occasional great performances. Flamini hasn’t convinced anyone so far.

    Attack is led by a mercurial Brazilian who has already seen the best days. On his day he is unstoppable and on other days the squad lacks ideas. Now that his biggest motivation (Making to the 2010 World cup) is gone, it is anybody’s guess how he will perform next season. Will it be the “I don’t care” attitude of 08-09 season or the great form of last season.

    Looking at the first XI apart from Thiago Silva, Abate and Pato, everyone is over the hill and needs replacement and for some positions they need immediately.

    The problem is the Berlusconi won’t spend and the mid-table clubs (Napoli, Palermo) are showing tremendous ambition.

    Based on the squad available to him, Leo did a phenomenal job. The very fact that his team was in the running for Scudetto till March itself is an achievement itself.

    Though the other side of the argument is that, had Inter done their routine early exit in Europe, they would have not lost so many points in second half.

    Irrespective of the coach, Milan needs 5-6 good first team players who can carry the team for next 6 years. And that will cost a lot of money.

  • redNblack_blood

    @ arvind the only hope for us are the Primavera and Berretti(U-18). we have reached the last 8 of both these competitions and i am seriously hoping they will churn out some talented players within next couple of seasons for the senior squad.

  • Somnath

    Milan have already won the Primavera Coppa Italia. But don’t hang your hopes on these kids. Kids in Italy usually don’t break into first team before they are 24.

    And the 4+7 rule is starting from next season, so there has to be 4 Italian players starting each game.

  • Somnath

    And reaching the UCL in this years’ Serie A is not a big deal 😀

    Other than Milan, Roma & Bari each of the teams underachived IMO. Yes Inter too, their slip ups actually made it a title race.

    Juve lost 15 games this season & still were “only” 7th. We were in running for UCL spot till last month, despite going through the worst season in history. Tells you a lot about the lack of consistensy of other teams.

  • ROFL, what will Inter do with the 4+7 rule next season?

  • Also to qualify for the UCL next season, Serie A Teams will have to be in the Top 3!

  • Sorry to burst the bubble… but the 4+7 rule is NOT LIMITED to Italians, but to players trained by association. Else it will fall foul of European Union rules. Trained by association is defined as per UEFA – Someone who has spent more than 3 years between 15-21 at any Italian club. Secondly it is not a 4+7 rule, but a rule mandating 8 players trained by association in a squad of 25 very similar to what is required by UEFA for CL competitions.

  • Somnath

    I don’t think Inter will face a problem. They are currently the most attractive club in Italy. They can get 4 of the best Italian players with a snap.

  • Somnath

    @Arvind

    You are mistaken. 4+7 rule states & I quote : A team has to start with 4 players who are eligible to play for the national team of the nation in which the league is domiciled in.

    The rule you are stating is for building up the whole squad of 25 players. 4 + 7 applies to starting 11 only. A team can finish with a 1 + 10.

  • Somnath

    The six-plus-five rule does not impinge on the core area of the right to freedom of movement. The rule is merely a rule of the game declared in the general interest of sport in order to improve the sporting balance between clubs and associations”.

    FIFA endorsed the rule in May last year, but six months later EU ministers said it clearly broke EU rules.

    The six-plus-five rule established that at the start of each match, a club must field at least six players who would be eligible for the national team of the country of the club.

    But there would be no limit on substitutes and no limit on the number of non-national players that clubs can sign.

    The report says that, at worst, the six-plus-five rule could constitute “indirect discrimination” because “it is not directly based on the nationality of professional players”.

    http://eurosport.yahoo.com/02032009/58/champions-league-six-plus-five-rule-legal.html

  • As you mentioned in the link the rule is not applied yet. It is still in proposal stage. Already the EU is raising a stink on it. With the freedom of movement laws, it will simply fall foul of it, unless UEFA/FIFA manages a special dispensation for Football which is very doubtful

  • redNblack_blood

    @ SOMNATH — of course they have won the Primavera Coppa Italia………
    I WAS TALKING BOUT “Primavera Championship” DOOOODDDDDDDD

    Milan is playing Sampdoria on June 2……

  • redNblack_blood

    @somnath – 24 is the avg age then but i guess Milan would have to bring that age down a little considering the shortage of players we have with us. and if Galli makes it to the manager;s seat then be ready for some surprises

  • Pranjal

    Well one of the options no one discussed is a succesive Panchina d’Oro (Golden bench) winner Massimiliano Allegri. He is an astute tactician and worked brilliantly with limited resources for Cagliari.

    Leonardo was brilliant with the poor pathetic mess he undertook as he manager to churn results against minnows, but he did made some tactical howlers and showed no tactical flexibility. In a way, he was stubborn with his type of attacking football and did not really had contingency or alternate plans. He failed in all the major test in the season. He had no experience as a coach, he did not even completed the mandatory training required to coach a club in Europe and that somehow showed when he was pitted against JoMo or SAF. He was hellbent to play attacking football with the “4-2” fantasy formation but he made a mistake by sticking on to it on every occasion, especially with the poor bunch of player he had. He had used this tactic in almost every game.Instead of changing formation when pato was absent he used Hunter, a classic target man, as a wide player. A role never suited to him and he never succeded in it.

    Now, when you play with this formation against a team like United or Inter you are bound to get smacked. 4-3-3 with R80 and Pato on wings and three man midfield of Becks, Pirlo and Ambro was put against a solid 5 men midfield of Man Utd with far more physically superior players like Park and Fletcher. Needless to say we completely lost the midfield battle, We were lucky to lose 2-3 only at our home.

    on return leg he puts Hunter on Pato’s position and still stick to this formation, this time we don’t have Nesta and Antonini in defense, mighty bonera who was dismal in the first leg replacing Nesta and Janku in Antonini’s place. Hunter and borrielo are worst pairing ever as they hate each other. This time we were also playing away at OT.
    Needless to say we were properly humiliated this time.

    Similar formations were produced against Inter in the first fixture and score was 0-4. In the return leg we were lucky that Inter players were red carded twice and Beckham was playing instead of Pato who had the coutesy to trace back and help defenders.

    Don’t get me wrong, i absolutely adore Leo for his scouting and when he was a technical director at Milan. I feel sad for him as he is leaving as he was forced into something he should have never accepted. He is a great man and worked hard for Milan, but making him the head coach with zero experience was a mistake. In the process we also lost a brilliant scout who brought us Pato, Silva and Kaka.

    I hope we end up with a experienced Italian coach like Massimiliano Allegri or maybe Tassoti.No MVB for the time being please.

  • @ pranjal- marco has declined the offer to be the manager also i agree that Leo’s tactics were questionable to say the least in the major fixtures throughout the season but honestly speaking with the bunch of players we had , we were never a threat for a ruthless Inter or any other European powerhouse

  • @ EVERYONE its gonna be Allegri most probably who would be replacing Leo. Davide Astori, who is co-owned by Milan & Cagliari, could well be involved in this deal as Allegri still has an year left with Cagliari.

  • Pranjal

    @Sachin

    Look i have already said that he did a good job with the squad at hand, but the inflexibility in tactics did prove that he was stubborn and inexperienced. There is a difference between losing and being whipped. we were whipped in the big matches. 7-2, 6-0 are historic defeats.

    Barcelona is the best team with the best players in the World, if you go all guns blazing against them you will be punished, take arsenal game for example this year. However Man Utd who are known for good attacking football came up with a ultra defensive strategy to get through the Semi Final two seasons ago. Similarly Jose played his cards right with a very conservative approach towards a superior squad in this years SF.

    When you know Inter and Utd are way stronger than Milan how can you field a 4-3-3 or a “4-2” fantasy formation against them. How can a coach only have one formation or tactic to play the entire season, even after the tactic failed several times against big and focused teams. Samp beat us, Palermo did a double over us, We could manage only two points against Napoli. These are the 4th, 5th, 6th teams in standings. Leave Juve, we even lost to 8th and 9th teams also. Roma rose from 15th to 2nd and finished 10 points ahead us. They do not have the best squad in the World.

    I am not blaming Leo, i am sad that he is leaving, i am blaming the decision to bring him as coach, when he was doing good as a scout and a Tech. director. He did some wonderful things as a coach as well, R80, Antonini improved a lot under Leo. He also managed to bring the squad together. But i still don’t see him as the coach due to his inexperience, inflexibility and stubbornness.

  • Pranjal

    I also think that Serie A as a whole was poor this season. Inter managed it’s lowest total in the standings since 2006-07, when it gathered 97 points. Maybe they have there focus diverted by CL. Also teams like Juve and Viola were extremely poor and provided no competition whatsoever. Napoli, Genoa, Udinese and Lazio promised a lot after the previous season but they underperformed. Even after losing 15 games, almost equal to there no. of victories, Juve finished 7th, that says a lot. The worst ever Juve team can still appear for EL.
    We squeezed 3rd spot at the penultimate game and finished 10 points behind 2nd spot. I would not be too happy with the performance.

  • @ pranjal — Inconsistent is the word that best describes 19 out of 20 teams in serie A. I mean one day a top notch team would win against another top grade team and the same bunch of would end up losing to the teams in the relegation zone the next day. Milan did this on more than one occasion last season. As far as sharing points against Napoli and our loses to Sampdoria and palermo are concerned, we did miss quite a few players due to injuries in them but Scudetto was at stake for us in those mathes and we certainly didn’t play like the way we should have.
    Personally i would have preferred winning the scudetto over the champions league and we had a big chance of doing that but we messed up big time in the last couple of months.

  • Somnath

    @Arvind

    You are wrong again. After initially challenging EU has finally accepted the rule.

    Next season it will be 4+7, the one after that 5+6, then finally 6+5 which will go on.

    http://inea-online.com/download/regel/gutachten_eng.pdf

    Check this.

  • amit.sin

    We were never in the running for the Italian championship, B&G should not be ignorent and should invest asap

  • Gaurav_bigbang

    BAD BAD season for Italy. Inter were miles ahead. Was the team in black and white stripes Juve :O?????? The Rossoneri should thank their stars they are still in UCL next season, others were quite simply not good enough. Monaeyyy spend some Monaeyyy Milan

  • Azzurroooooo_shiv

    Milan won’t be shelling out anything post the world cup. Prime MInister can’t afford heavy spendings as Italy is going through financial crisis so no star players this time around at least at this side of milan for sure.

  • @ Somnath,

    I don’t think EU has accepted the proposed rule. Otherwise clubs would have already started to prepare for it by signing local players. Many big clubs in the world have less than 4 local players in their STARTING XI (Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, Inter and even Ranieri’s Roma)

    Secondly after reading the document one thing stands out “The expert opinion is prepared without preconceived notions as to the result as our client FIFA has no supervisory authority”.

    Well it is a bunch of lawyers who have been appointed by FIFA to prove why 6+5 rule is compliant with current EU Laws. Just that One of lawyers is also happens to be European bureaucrat.

    The document is still FIFA sponsored and NOT AN OFFICIAL EU Stance as you think/claim. Was it in the news that EU has accepted the rule? I really doubt it.

  • @ Arrurroooooo_shiv- well you are right Berlu has decided to keep his money in his pocket this time around as well or at least it looks like that for the time being. Our 2nd team is the one from where most of the people will move up to the senior team this summer. Primavera guys who are going to be in the first team are Adiyiah, Strasser, Green and Albeterazi.

    @ Somnath – 4 guys making it to the senior team from the Primavera squad…. not dat bad ehh buddy?? :)

  • Aamir

    Actually his name is Verdi not Green , Verdi means “Green color” in Italian . People often make mistake due to translation 😛

  • @bluefox — thnk u thnk u :)