x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

AC Milan fashion a new style

With old boys gone, manager Allegri must now entrust youngsters such as El Shaarawy, writes Ian Hawkey.

Stephan El Shaarawy, right, has been in good scoring form of late for AC Milan, including against Cagliari last week.
Stephan El Shaarawy, right, has been in good scoring form of late for AC Milan, including against Cagliari last week.

Alessandro Nesta is in Canada, turning out for Montreal Impact. They have kept three clean sheets, no AC Milan supporter will be surprised to know, in the six matches since the 36-year-old defender arrived in Major League Soccer.

Clarence Seedorf, meanwhile, sees out his career in the Brazilian league. The Dutchman, 36, scored both Botafogo's goals in the 2-2 draw with Corinthians last week, In the Swiss league last week, Rino Gattuso, 34, was also on the score sheet, side-footing home the first goal of his new career with Sion.

Those three were the image of Milan for the best part of a decade, up until the summer, when they became the heralds of a mass exodus of senior players from the 2010 Italian champions. In truth, Nesta, Seedorf and Gattuso had been hearing it muttered for at least five years that they represented the stubborn policy of a club dependent for too long on the savvy of their veterans.

But they each had a Peter Pan quality, Nesta's defending so intelligent and astute that even with fading pace he was worth his place ahead of younger stoppers in the first XI.

Seedorf remained close to the best definition of the complete all-round midfielder, even in his final campaign in Serie A.

Gattuso's snarling motivational assets are missed every time a Milan without the raging Rino look supine or soft.

And the new, younger Milan have looked that several times since the beginning of the season.

Two defeats in their opening pair of league matches at San Siro broke an 80-year record for poor starts at home.

A Milan 1-1 draw at Parma on Saturday night left them 11th in the Serie A table.

They now face an ominous immediate schedule.

They travel to Zenit Saint Petersburg on Wednesday in a Champions League they have embarked on in lacklustre fashion - a 0-0 draw at home with Anderlecht - and on Sunday afternoon meet Inter Milan in the derby.

Massimiliano Allegri, the coach, is under scrutiny, inevitably, and his well-reported row at the club's practice ground with Pippo Inzaghi, another of the long-serving totems recently departed from the squad, was easily interpreted as a show of nerves from a man in fear of losing his job.

Inzaghi, the striker whose poached goals were a trademark of the successful Milan teams of the first 10 years of the new millennium, is now the youth team coach, and talked of as a possible caretaker if Silvio Berlusconi, the club president, calls time on Allegri.

Berlusconi knows, though, he has given his coach a tough assignment. Not only have the veterans left, but the productive Zlatan Ibrahimovic was sold to Paris Saint-Germain along with Brazilian centre-half Thiago Silva in the summer. The club earned more than €60 million (Dh285.1m) from those sales. Less than 20 per cent of that money has been reinvested in players.

Supporters are disillusioned. Fewer season tickets were bought than in any pre-season of Berlusconi's quarter-of-a-century in charge.

All gloom and doom? Not quite. Milan beat Cagliari 2-0 for their first home win on Wednesday night and a young footballer in whom the club have invested strong hopes through his teens scored both goals. Stephan El Shaarawy, son of an Egyptian father and an Italian mother, capped by Italy in August and 20 years old next month.

He then netted Milan's solitary strike in Parma, for his fourth Serie A goal of the season.

He is not yet as deadly from inside the box as Inzaghi was, nor as capable as Ibrahimovic of turning a match with a moment of genius, but he combines genuine talent with graft.

"I want to thank the head coach," he said of Allegri after the Cagliari match. "All the team is with him." Allegri will appreciate the alibi. He may need more of them from the new boy.