AC Milan legend Filippo Inzaghi earlier this week decided to coach the U-17 team and thereby join the club’s youth program rather than extending his playing career elsewhere. Will his influence at the youth coaching methodology bring about any significant change in Milan during the years to come?
Sir Alex Ferguson once jokingly said, “The guy might as well have been born offside.” Despite the tone of the statement being anything but serious, what he said was not too far from the truth. Filippo Inzaghi, one of the greatest ever in his department, in his playing days always managed to play off the shoulders of the last man marking him out. This uncanny knack to be able to be at the best positions at the decisive moments is what made him stand out of the lot and be an extremely crucial weapon to the armoury of all the coaches he played under.
It is said a through ball is only as good as the person at the receiving end makes it count. During the glory days in the major part of the last decade that AC Milan enjoyed, the Pirlos, the Kakas and the Rui Costas grabbed the headlines for bossing the midfield. But it was this one man called Pippo Inzaghi who made everything initiated from deep look ridiculously easy with his marvellous understanding with the midfielders and excellent skills to read the movement of the defenders.
His immaculate positional sense inside the final third and an equally potent skill at shooting, more than made up for his lack of artistry, work rate and physical sturdiness. Neither was he the quickest of forwards nor did he promise to out-muscle the heftiest of defenders in his way. However, with his incredible on-field intelligence – something which is seldom associated with forwards in comparison to the midfielders operating the game – Inzaghi remained more than a prized asset to his team throughout his career.
His final goal for AC Milan against Novara on the last day of the season during his substitute appearance in the last game that he played at the senior level symbolized everything Inzaghi had ever been for the world’s most successful club. Receiving a Seedorf ball on his chest inside the box, Inzaghi drove the ball a little wide forcing the keeper to stretch wide and thumped in a powerful strike with his right foot from a seemingly difficult angle – Absolutely nothing was extra-ordinary about the goal apart from the occasion. However, Inzaghi is one of those players in history who. from time to time kept reminding you why keeping things simple is not as simple as you may want to think it could be.
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Along with Inzaghi, an entire bunch of legendary figures discontinued their Milan career at the end of the last season and even before the club could ponder over the suitable replacements, a certain club from France came haunting to make matters worse. With the loss of Ibrahimovic, the Milan attack has effectively been reduced to a level where there’s no certainty over a finisher who ensures 20 goals a season. With a misfiring Robinho, an inexperienced El Shaarawy and an unreliable Pato, Cassano remains to be the only saving grace from the attacking pack and his preferred role is of an artistic creator than that of a poacher.
In order to deal with the situation, Milan exactly need a striker in the mould of Inzaghi who can, in simple words, ‘score goals’ and win games. As of now, no matter how talented, none of the forwards that Massimiliano Allegri has at disposal is even half as potent in front of goal as Inzaghi was during his prime. In fact, it would not be farcical to suggest Inzaghi may still be a more than handy option in comparison to the aforementioned names.
Not for nothing on his last visit to San Siro as Real Madrid manager, Jose Mourinho openly proclaimed Inzaghi was the name he feared the most among the entire Milanese roster and his worst fears were confirmed when Super Pippo nearly sealed all three points for the hosts with his two crucial second half goals – both being a perfect demonstration of what a classic poacher is expected to do. The night of 2007 Champions League final when Milan exacted the revenge of Istanbul against Liverpool too largely belongs to Inzaghi for his two goals that ensured Milan their seventh title.
Once again, Inzaghi, without doing anything exceptionally brilliant, was someone who stuck to his basics with a diligence few could match. Although for the last two seasons, his influence had certainly been diminished and he no longer was the one Milan relied on for goals, he still was somebody Milan fans built their hopes around at the moments when the team would be in dire need of a goal or two. That his very presence on the field continued to generate hopes of goals coming thick and fast even till the last professional game he played for Milan speaks volumes for his credentials and his astonishing conversion rate.
When it was announced Inzaghi, along with a few more iconic stars, will not be part of Milan from the 2012-13 season with the project of building a sustainable team for the future in mind, there were some rumours linking him with the lesser clubs in Italy and even some more in other leagues too. But much to the relief of most of the Milan fans, Inzaghi has rather decided to stay at his beloved club in some other capacity and serve it to the best of his potential and abilities. Super Pippo has been appointed the head coach of AC Milan’s Allievi Nazionali (U-17) team.
Inzaghi being engaged with the club’s youth structure is a piece of news Milan fans perhaps are not able to recognize in its complete might at the moment. Given the abysmal financial status quo that the club finds itself in, there are no realistic chances of landing a proven, young champion forward in the foreseeable future amidst the transfer market inflating at the rate generally a twelve year old’s sexual fantasies grow.
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The only and arguably the most organic solution to the dearth of firepower is to find the answer from the very youth setup itself – though the approach promises to reap close to no immediate benefits for the shorter term. But in the longer run – and this every club will have to realize at some stage – resorting back to and investing adequately in the youth program is going to be the only mode for survival in top flight football without going bankrupt eventually.
The earlier Milan make the move in this direction, the better they are off considering the general economic health of Italy and most importantly, Berlusconi’s more than apparent aspirations to contest for the Prime Ministerial post one more time next year. The inclusion of Filippo Inzaghi at the grassroots level is definitely a step taken in the right direction at this stage and Pippo has made his intentions clear of graduating from one level to another in his coaching stints and someday leading the senior side too. What matters at this stage is the invaluable experience that Inzaghi may offer to the budding youngsters who aspire to set San Siro alight in few years’ time.
Most of these youngsters must have idolized Inzaghi and may be nurturing an ambition to match that level of legacy and esteem that Pippo earned at San Siro. Now with an opportunity to train under their hero provides them with greatly enhanced levels of zeal and ardour to train and grow. The biggest aspect of training under Inzaghi is that he can communicate the importance of finishing and positional sense in the final third in a more pronouncing and convincing manner than any other coach could possibly do for he himself has been there and done that for a couple of decades.
The contributions made by Inzaghi putting on the famous Red & Black shirt are beyond measurable limits albeit everything comes with its expiry date. Now is the time for Inzaghi to inculcate the similar practices among the youth effervescing with an urge to prove a point and deliver at various tournaments to be handpicked to represent Milan at the highest level sooner than most expect them to.
Inzaghi is more than a fatherly figure to these young starlets but how much does that translate into the successful forwards that Milan produce from the academy in the next few years to come remains to be seen. Inzaghi has shared a good relationship with Massimiliano Allegri while playing under the latter and now is the time for Allegri to work in proper co-ordination with Inzaghi to gauge the youngsters’ overall potential, progress and ability to break into the first team. Though it is still early stages and should be preposterous to predict the success of the move, the fans certainly have found a reason or two to feel good about after the collective exodus of a number of their darlings earlier this summer.