x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Long term planning is the goal for AC Milan

AC Milan's eagerness to start recruiting for next season acknowledges that, as champions, there will be tough challenges ahead.

One more point is all that AC Milan realistically need to secure the 2011 scudetto. Judge them by the activity around the club's headquarters and they apparently feel they have rather less time to starting putting in place the blocks to build on that achievement.

The club's eagerness to start recruiting for next season acknowledges that, as champions, there will be tough challenges ahead.

Before Sunday's 1-0 win against Bologna, a result that maintained an eight-point lead over Inter Milan, Adriano Galliani, the club's long-serving vice-president, had been busy meeting various representatives of prospective recruits.

Players such as Paulo Henrique Ganso, the 21-year-old Brazilian from Santos, a so-called "New Kaka". For his signature, Milan face competition from elsewhere in Europe, and hope that his compatriots Robinho and Alexandre Pato can sway Ganso.

Philippe Mexes, the French defender from Roma, where Milan will next weekend seek to win the title, is another target with whom negotiations are advanced.

Galliani, the urbane wheeler-dealer who suffered menacing criticism from Milan supporters for his willingness to accept bids for Kaka two years ago, is more bullish than he has appeared at any time since then.

It had been a long wait until he could say, as he did at the weekend: "The key to this success has been our transfer policy."

Recruiting Kaka, signed in 2003 as a teenager, probably ranks as the most perspicacious piece of business done by Milan in the last decade; selling him to Real Madrid in 2009, albeit for a fee over €50 million (Dh265m), was taken as an admission that Milan were no longer able to compete with the likes of Real in the marketplace.

In the last five or six years, a succession of glamorous footballers have been serenaded into Milan, amid claims they had been "snatched" from other heavyweight clubs who were evidently ready to let them go.

They represented a risky and ultimately flawed Milan policy.

Ronaldinho, who left his best years behind him at Barcelona, has hardly been missed since January, when he returned to his native Brazil. His compatriot Ronaldo, recruited from Real in 2007, would look back on his Milan days only as a series of cameos. Christian Vieri, signed on a free transfer from Inter Milan, aged 32, in 2005, would struggle to even do that.

Milan developed a weakness for a free transfer, though the term is usually misleading: the cheaper the fee, the higher the salary.

What Milan can often do is attract players who have cunningly come to the end of their contracts at other clubs, because of the rossonero prestige.

Most players between about 22 and 30 started watching televised football seriously in the late 1980s or mid 1990s, when Milan were the greatest club side in the world.

That aura counts. It helped when a man like Mathieu Flamini, scorer of the only goal against Bologna on Sunday, decided to join Milan from Arsenal, where his contract had expired, in 2008.

Antonio Cassano, who joined from Sampdoria in January and has contributed vividly to the title run-in, came in free. So did Mark van Bommel, the veteran midfielder, from Bayern Munich.

Taye Taiwo, the powerful Nigerian left-back, will be free - and he is keen on Milan - from Marseille as of next month.

Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were effectively cut-price recruits last summer because Milan signed them for fractions of the sums Manchester City and Barcelona had paid for two stars who then had problems fitting in, respectively, in England and in Spain. Kevin-Prince Boateng, co-owned with Genoa, also arrived with a mixed reputation for settling in at various places.

"We invested well, and used our imagination," Galliani said. He is entitled to boast, at least until any unmanageably awkward facets to the characters of Cassano, Robinho, Boateng or Ibrahimovic start showing.