MILAN // A couple of opportunist goals, a display of character on a drenched night in hostile territory over the border in France, and suddenly AC Milan have a shimmer about them again. Where seven days ago Milanello, their training site, was all doom, now there is talk, once more, of the remarkable evergreens they breed there.
Their names are familiar ones. Pippo Inzaghi's two goals at Olympique Marseille provided three points in last Tuesday night's start to the Champions League campaign. Both goals had been set up by 33-year-old Clarence Seedorf. Age will continue to be the easiest stick with which to beat Milan whenever they look slow, impotent or indecisive, but the value of Seedorf and Inzaghi in recovering the mood of a squad who had just lost 4-0 to Inter Milan and failed to score against Livorno, is high.
Run a popularity contest among milanisti right now asking who they would rather have at centre-forward against Bologna in Serie A tonight, Inzaghi or new signing, Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Superpippo would come out on top. Huntelaar has yet to score following his 15 million (Dh80m) move from Real Madrid. Seedorf, for his part, has never been universally loved across the curvas of San Siro. But at Marseille's Velodrome, he provided the first full eclipse of Ronaldinho in a season which may feature many of them.
The Dutchman gave Milan the zip that Ronaldinho, 29, conspicuously had lacked through the previous two matches. Leonardo, the head coach, will be grateful to Seedorf and Inzaghi for that because pressure on him had risen sharply after the Inter and Livorno slip ups. Another to raise his voice in support of Milan's old guard has been the defender Alessandro Nesta. Answering the question whether Milan's frailties were a symptom of age, he answered simply: "Did you watch Inzaghi the other night? Being a certain age means nothing." Inzaghi was his proof. The striker, poacher supreme, is in his 37th year.
Nesta, meanwhile, is 33, and into what he regards as the bonus era of his distinguished career. He missed most of last season recovering from surgery to what, in his lowest moments, he felt were muscle problems that might stop him playing. "I was very worried for months," he said. "There was a risk the operations would not work and that would be the end of playing for me." Nesta, it is hoped, might help ease the gap left by Paolo Maldini's retiring. Nesta discourages those sorts of comparisons, as he has since he joined Milan seven summers ago. "You'll never get another Maldini," said Nesta. "But I am ready to try and carry on some of the values that Paolo and Alessandro Costacurta [the defender who was still active, at 41, for Milan until two years ago] brought to the team."
As for his task tonight, it is one well known to him. Bologna will be spearheaded in attack by the own evergreen, the 33-year-old former Juventus, Valencia and Italy international striker, Marco di Vaio, whose goals in 2008-2009 kept Bologna in the top division. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Milan v Bologna, KO 5pm, Aljazeera Sport + 1