A year ago, ahead of playing the last league game of the season against Udinese at the Friuli stadium, the title had already been sealed by AC Milan but the game was still a pretty important one since it would mark a rather abrupt end to one of the most revered players in Milan colours over the last ten years – Andrea Pirlo. Though the maestro himself did not participate in the match, the atmosphere was overwhelming as Pirlo was offered a farewell by his teammates and the travelling fans.
Fast forward a year and the ultimate league game in the current season too was supposed to be an absolutely inconsequential one for the title having already been decided in favour of arch rivals Juventus but as fate would have it, this, beyond any scope for doubts, will be the most important game for Milan as the club sees off an entire generation of players parting ways at the end of the season.
On Sunday, as Milan gear up to take on Novara, the fans shall see Alessandro Nesta, Filippo Inzaghi and Gennaro Gattuso for one last time in the Red & Black colours while it is believed Clarence Seedorf too will follow the suit and play his last match at San Siro. There are still uncertainties looming large over the future of club captain Massimo Ambrosini and the new found fan favourite Mark van Bommel but it is more than probable they too may not be seen wearing the famous shirt next season.
Within a day of Nesta’s announcement of putting a gracious end to his days at Milan, the news of Inzaghi and Gattuso too deciding to quit were received with great degree of shock among the Milan circles. This crop of players, over the last one decade have been enticing the fans with their continuous splendid performances winning trophies aplenty in the process. While the talks of their exit from the club at some stage were always around, a sudden exodus that sees all of them collectively bidding a goodbye to the club has saddened the Milan fans world around.
Granted, barring Nesta, none of these wizards of the yesteryears were any longer a regular fixture in the Milanese setup but the experience of having been there, done that before on the big stage was an invaluable incentive to this squad. Over the years, these players have played together long enough to understand each other’s game perfectly and with the additions that they have made to the team’s trophy cabinet they are figures of great inspiration to the younger lot aiming to take the baton from them.
Certainly being on the wrong side of the thirties, they were no longer part of the primary scheme of things. This season instead, the likes of Nocerino, Aquilani, Emanuelson and Boateng enjoyed much more playing time in different roles in midfield. That said, Milan’s fitness problems are hardly a secret and in order to apply proper rotations, the likes of Ambrosini and Seedorf were always more than handy options. Both of them in fact, were chosen over some of the younger legs on big European nights purely on their experience of playing on those grand occasions and it is only fair to say, they fared reasonably well.
However, the decision pending over the extension of their contract has finally been taken and the players have found it wise to not extend their stay and make way for the fresh legs. While the debate over whether the decision being premature shall be everlasting, there is little choice at fans’ end but to accept that a group of their heroes is part of Milan’s history now. The younger generation of Milan fans might have grown up watching these stalwarts and may well have formed their allegiance with the club for the love of these players.
It is always difficult to see the cult figures leave the club and it becomes harder if a host of them decide to part away together. However, clubs have to deal with these situations because at the end of the day, it is part and parcel in football. All four players are expected to start on Sunday against Novara and that is exactly why this game will go down as not only the most important one from the season but one of the most memorable ones in the club’s history. It is only fair that the game will be played at San Siro in front of fans cheering one last time for their superstars. For what they have given to the club over the years, the players definitely deserve that much.
For the last ten years, Gattuso has been instrumental in the role of a defensive midfielder. It can be argued that Pirlo’s highly successful spell at Milan owes a lot to the physical and determined play from Gattuso in the midfield. He suffered from diplopia of the left eye during September last year and his ocular conditions were threatening enough to end his playing career. He did make a return to the first team towards the end of the season but quite understandably, did not come into his usual self straightaway.
Gattuso in particular, along with Nesta, was one of the major reasons for Milan’s Scudetto triumph last season and to gauge his impact on the side you may not need to look further than the downfall in Ignazio Abate’s form earlier this season when he was not protected by Rino while making forward runs on the right side of the pitch. Gattuso will undoubtedly be missed by the fans for the sheer passion to play for Milan that was always apparent in those intense eyes of his.
Inzaghi seldom featured during the season and was even left out of the Champions League squad – a decision that had divided opinions among the fans given the striker’s uncanny knack of scoring goals at will. One of the most successful strikers in European tournaments, Inzaghi’s heroics during the last season against Real Madrid at San Siro to put Milan in front with his two goals is something that remains on top of the recent memories of European nights. One will never forget the two goals he scored against Liverpool at Athens in 2007 to help his side lift the Champions League title.
Though Inzaghi’s presence in Allegri’s Milan was significantly undermined, his role as an impact sub is something Milan will definitely miss as the team has more than once struggled to find goals when things do not go as planned. Inzaghi’s poaching abilities were always on exhibition during his prime years and the manner in which he has chosen to sign off will win him even more hearts from the Curva Sud.
Professor, as he is fondly known, is yet to declare anything officially but it is believed it’s only a matter of time before he does. Seedorf has, in comparison to Inzaghi and Gattuso, enjoyed much more playing time but has been unable to meet those standards of excellence he has set for himself over the years. He has scored couple of goals with his trademark blistering strikes this season but apart from showing glimpses of his brilliance, he hasn’t been able to live up to his billing.
Seedorf remains to be a rare breed in football having won the highest honour in Europe with three different clubs and has enjoyed success at all the clubs he has represented. His decade long association with Milan is his highest with any club and the memories he is leaving behind are surely worth reliving time and again. Milan may need to spend a fortune to replace Seedorf with someone of equal might.
Preview of the game
Milan will play this game with enhanced energy levels and a rediscovered zeal to ensure the legends are offered a befitting farewell. Nesta will lead the defence for one last time while Gattuso should start in his favoured right midfield role. Mark van Bommel and Antonio Nocerino should complete the midfield. Seedorf should start as trequartista while Inzaghi will pair with Ibrahimovic up front.
A build up initiated by Nesta winning the ball, Gattuso carrying it through midfield with Seedorf finding Inzaghi inside the box to put it past the keeper will be a dream sight for each of the spectators in the stands.
Novara have already been relegated to the lesser division and for a club like them, who made it to the top flight after a gap of more than five decades, it is more than shattering. However, on one of the positive notes from the season, they will be the team that sees off a bunch of legendary players at San Siro and it will be nothing short of an honour for their players.
Attilio Tesser’s boys have not been beaten in their last two rounds and their latest win over fellow relegated side Cesena must have been pretty encouraging. Novara have absolutely nothing to play for in this game but they must ensure they do not get overwhelmed with the grand occasion at San Siro that this match has now become with the developments in last 48 hours.
Probable Starting Lineup
Milan (4-3-1-2): Amelia; Zambrotta, Nesta, Yepes, Mesbah; Gattuso, van Bommel, Nocerino; Seedorf; Ibrahimovic, Inzaghi
Novara (4-3-1-2): Fontana; Morganella, Lisuzzo, Garcia, Gemiti; Porcari, Pesce, Jensen; Rigoni; Morimoto, Caracciolo
TheHardTackle’s Prediction: Milan 3-0 Novara