38 games spread over a year, both home and away. On top of this, add the numerous matches of UEFA Champions League, Coppa Italia and the number shoot up even further. To manage a team, nay, direct a team to the most coveted of titles in Italy is no mere feat, that too in the very first season in charge. Add to it a team full of disparate individuals with ego problems and you are heading towards a massive headache. Oh, did I say you? Sorry I meant Max Allegri. In his very first season for the Rossoneri, not only did the steer the red half of Milan to their first Scudetto since 2004, but also crafted them into a team which believes in itself. A team which believes that it can recapture its rightful place in the football world.
Allegri, a former Cagliari manager, was given the chance of a lifetime to manage Milan earlier this season and now, when it is all over, we can look back and see how the Mister modelled and remodelled the side over the course of a year to knock Inter off their perch. Looking back over the period of a year, it is easy to figure out those moments that stood out from the rest, those moments that made every Milanista stand up, shout and cheer loudly. Here’s a flashback.
2nd October, Parma 0-1 Milan
In the very few matches that he started in, Andrea Pirlo clearly made his point why he will be very much missed from the next season onwards. A player of his stature is on the decline and it may so happen in years to come that his position of the deep-lying playmaker will be completely obsolete. A simple one-two with Seedorf later, Pirlo found enough space right in the middle of the field to pass the ball to almost anyone, but instead took it upon him to remind Galliani, who was watching from the stands, about why he is considered a Milan legend. A blistering shot later, the ball nestled itself in the top left corner and the Milan ultras went into an overdrive. Ronaldinho’s expression in that celebration said it all. It was a superb strike from one of the classiest players to have donned the red stripes of Milan. It was recorded that the shot was going at 84 kilometer per hour!
Fast forward to 7th November; the result Bari 2-3 Milan. This was the game that started the bench spell of Pirlo which would go on till the end of the season. A tense Allegri experimented a lot in the midfield. With this game, Milan started to find the right formation. With Gattuso, Ambrosini and Flamini giving the team balance in the middle, the forward line suddenly started to look like one that could challenge for the Serie A title. With Milan dominating the midfield and with Ambrosini and Flamini also on the score sheet, this game became the turning point for Pirlo’s career with Milan.
Slowly and surely, he started to be seen more as a bench-warmer than as a first team material. However, this should not be seen as a cold shoulder from Milan to a player who has been with them for more than 10 years, but more of as a move to inject youth in the ranks. Over time, Allegri gradually made his presence felt in the team. At first, he used to play it safe with all the big names easily finding their way into the team-list, but over time with success, he decided to go for a change of guard. So out went Ronaldinho, who really looked like a shadow of himself compared to the form he was in during his stay at Barcelona. There are players who believe they are legends and then there are players who just want to behave like a spoilt brat. At Barcelona, Ronnie believed he was a superstar and he delivered the same match-in and match-out. That ability to mock the best defenses of the world soon turned into a booze-fest with weight and fitness problems shackling him down. The aura of invincibility that he created soon turned around him and most of his acts on the field ended up giving the ball and the possession away at crucial junctures in a match. People soon grew tired of the buck-tooted smile and out he went through the transfer window.
Then came 10th November; Milan 3-1 Palermo. Although not much significant in terms of football, but this was the match which saw Milan scale the top for the very first time this season. In terms of football, it was heartening to see all the forwards – Pato, Ibrahimovic and Robinho – score. The match also heralded an unknown entity in the form of Kevin Prince-Boateng, who gradually started to find his way into the team and into Rossoneri hearts.
14th November, Inter 0-1 Milan
It was the 275th Derby della Madonnina which featured Ibrahimovic against his old employers. And that’s the whole story. His solitary goal proved to be the difference between the two sides of Milan. With Abate seeing red in the 60th minute, Milan survived the remaining half an hour defending out of their skins.
The last significant turning point came on 12th December; the result Bologna 0-3 Milan. With Boateng scoring his first ever goal in the previous match against Brescia, he was naturally on fire taking on Bologna. Prince started the scoring in this game and also set up the next for Robinho. The dominance of Milan was there for all to see, but if one reads between the lines, it was Milan’s best performance from a technical perspective. Rarely loosing possession or control of the ball, Milan players dished out a performance which not only gave them a huge boost going into the winter break, but also consolidated their position at the top.
With almost half a season gone, it was up to Milan to hold on to the numero uno position for the second half of the season. Milan were less active during the winter transfer window, and only a few players came in. But from the nature of signing, it was clear where Milan’s priorities lay – on capturing The League. This was not the season to go hammers and tongs in Europe. This was the season to rebuild, this was the season to build a foundation for the future, and this was the season to uncork champagnes atop an open roof bus. All the other clubs sniggered at Milan, most notably Inter as they proudly looked to hold on to their hollow crown of “European Champions” with former Rossoneri Leonardo leading them. As to why Leonardo turned his back on Milan was unknown, but his decision to join the rivals was not taken too lightly by the Milan faithful.
The above table shows how Milan has dominated proceedings in Serie A. With only a solitary loss coming their way in the second half of the season, they stormed their way to their 18th title, thereby deserving the title of “Campioni d’Italia”. Most notable was their 3-0 triumph over defending Champions Inter, which can be seen as a watershed moment in Italian football with the hegemony of Inter coming to an end after a tainted five year period of domination.
With Milan securing their title, a legend headed off to greener pastures, a legend in his own right. He’s a certain player who had formed an amazing partnership with Gattuso during the early years and was one of the cornerstones of Milan midfield over 10 years. The fire and ice combination with Gattuso yielded huge success, most notably on the European front. He won the Scudetto twice, the Champions League twice and is also a World Cup winner with Italy. A player with humble origins, his subtle demeanour off the field was a high point of his personality. Success never went to his head and with his feet firmly rooted to the ground, he soared higher than what many had expected from him when he began his career. Playing for so long in the dark and murky waters of Italian football, his private life remained his own and not a single para of gossip was found related to him. His departure leaves the entire Rossoneri squad and the millions of fans worldwide in a state of sorrow. He is none other than – “Grande Pirlo”.