Milan concedes goals, is at the top of the Serie A table and has not lost in 22 games. Is the desert walk of Italian football greatness over?
The disappointment was thick outside the Milan players when they left the field at the beginning of March. At home at the venerable San Siro in Milan, they had been second best through much of the fight against relegation-threatened Genoa. The away team won 2-1, another scratch in the paint for a football club that was once synonymous with world-class players and trophies.
Seven and a half months later, the mood is completely different. The club, which has no better to show for the last seven seasons than a 5th place, is again to be seen at the top of Serie A.
Is Milan back for good? And how could it go so wrong in the first place?
– A failed generational change
– One can point to many reasons for Milan’s collapse after the previous league gold nine years ago, but a failed generational change is probably the first and clearest mistake, Even Braastad says to Aftenposten.
He comments on Italian football for the streaming service Strive. After Milan won league title number 18 in 2011, Alessandro Nesta, Gianluca Zambrotta, Thiago Silva, Gennaro Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf, Andrea Pirlo, Filippo Inzaghi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic disappeared in just over a year. The eight players had won a total of 53 trophies. This is difficult to replace.
– It is completely brutal to look back on. The negative spiral was only reinforced by boom shots both in terms of coaching appointments and player purchases, says Braastad.
Three of the above players – Seedorf, Inzaghi and Gattuso – are among the eight coaches Milan have had since January 2014. Then the successful coach Massimiliano Allegri, who led them to league gold in 2011, was fired.
Now it is 55-year-old Stefano Pioli who coaches Milan. The most important piece in his crew is eternal young Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Top scorer Ibrahimovic
The Swede was one of three Milan players who scored 14 goals on the way to league gold in 2011. His two top colleagues from that time, now 36-year-old Robinho and 31-year-old Alexandre Pato, are currently without a club. Ibrahimovic is the top scorer in Serie A with six goals in three games.
– It is impossible to explain Milan’s success now without pointing to him, Braastad says.
The Swede returned to his former employer just before the New Year. By then, Milan had lost almost half of the league games they had played during the autumn. The rest of the season they lost twice in Serie A.
– Before the New Year, Theo Hernández and Gianluigi Donnarumma were perhaps the only two who got the stamp approved, but after Zlatan came into space Christmas last year, there has been a huge amount of self-confidence in the group, Braastad explains.
He describes the difference between some players before and after the arrival of Ibrahimovic as “extreme”. Three players in particular stand as a picture of the transformation Milan has been through.
– Davide Calabria, Franck Kessié and Hakan Çalhanoglu are three players who have been there for a long time, gained a lot of trust and a lot of criticism. Now they have taken the trip out of their shell and delivered well over time, says the Serie A commentator.
The Swede is himself one of football history’s best examples of what it means to perform time. Ever since he left Malmö in the summer of 2001, the Swede has not done much other than score goals and win trophies. It is said that he is the first player to arrive at the training facility 40 kilometers north of Milan before training, and the last to go home after training.
– This with Zlatan is almost unique. I think he can keep this level for another three to four years, the Swedish physiology professor Björn Ekblom recently told the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet.
Tangled club record
On Monday, Ibrahimovic scored two against Roma. The 3-3 result means that Milan have scored at least two goals in eleven games in a row. Thus, they have broken the club record set in 1959.
The 50s were also the decade when Milan got its first Norwegian player. Per Bredesen (89) is pleased that Milan now again tops Serie A.
– Then the memories come back. It’s just like when I was there. Then we were at the top most of the season, the 89-year-old tells Aftenposten.
Bredesen became league champion with Milan in 1957 and played a total of 214 matches in Italian top football. To date, he is the only Norwegian to become league champion in Italy. Playing for the reds and blacks he describes as “an experience”. At home in Horten, he has many albums with articles about the time in Italy.
Can Milan become league champions?
Recently, another Norwegian has made headlines in both Italian and Norwegian newspapers. At the beginning of October, Jens Petter Hauge was ready for Milan. One week ago, he scored his first goal for the club in the 3-1 victory over Celtic in the Europa League.
Has the former Bodø / Glimt player joined a club that is on its way back to its old position as an Italian and European superpower?
– Many arrows point in that direction, if not in exactly the same way as 15 years ago. Champions League place should be within reach, although the competition for the top four seems to be tougher than for a while, says Braastad.
In that case, the 2021/22 season will be Milan’s first in the Champions League since the 2013/14 season. Braastad is also excited about what the club will do in the next two transfer windows to prepare for a life without Ibrahimovic, on whom he believes they are “extremely dependent”.
The year is 2020. It seems that almost anything can happen. Is it inconceivable that Milan can become league champions already this season?
– No, it is not. They do not have the same width in the stable as Inter, Juventus and Atalanta per. now, but this season is terribly unpredictable due to the coronavirus. We have seen the consequence of this already, where combat troops and starting line-ups have been affected by players who have been infected and thus isolated and inaccessible, says Braastad.
PS! Milan play at home against Sparta Prague on Thursday night. The Europa League match will be broadcast on TV 2 Sport Premium 1 from 18:55. Jens Petter Hauge on the other hand, has a terrible day. He has tested positive for corona.