x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Kaka extends leadership to AC Milan during power struggle

Brazilian veteran brings leadership and goals to a club with looming questions in the front office, writes Ian Hawkey.

A rejuvenated Kaka, right, has scored once in each of AC Milan’s last three games. Antonio Parrinello / Reuters
A rejuvenated Kaka, right, has scored once in each of AC Milan’s last three games. Antonio Parrinello / Reuters

Each week, it becomes harder to fathom who exactly is running AC Milan.

After their last home fixture, a group of ultras dictated terms, blockading players within the San Siro Stadium in protest over the worst start to a season since the 1980s.

Six days later, the vice-president Adriano Galliani announced he would step down after 28 years as a Milan executive.

Galliani, criticised by fans for transfer strategy and for what is perceived as too fierce a loyalty to head coach Max Allegri, had been engaged a very public power struggle with Barbara Berlusconi, who sits on the AC Milan board and is the daughter of owner Silvio Berlusconi.

Berlusconi senior, meanwhile, has problems outside his beloved football club, the former Italian prime minister having been effectively expelled from the country’s Senate because of a conviction for tax fraud.

Nonetheless, the septuagenarian found time to invite Galliani for talks and to persuade him to rescind his resignation.

Their pact? Galliani and Barbara will work together at the helm of the club. Berlusconi did not want to lose a seasoned, shrewd football man.

Scepticism over how long the compromise can last is legitimate. But Galliani’s announcement served to remind him he has important allies.

Power brokers from the cliquey, Byzantine world of elite club football declared the high esteem in which they held Milan’s long-serving negotiator-in-chief.

And even Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who – in something of a coup – Galliani hired in 2010 and then sold in 2012, called to commiserate when he heard of his resignation.

Galliani may also have benefited from an ally in the present squad. It was he who brought Kaka back to Milan from Real Madrid in August, a risky move, loved though Kaka is by most for his achievements in his first spell at the club.

Criticism of Galliani’s transfer policy surrounds Milan’s habit of recruiting, for low, or no fees, stars whose best days may be behind them.

But Kaka’s zippy bursts of acceleration, and his goals – one on each of the last three games, including the successive wins at Celtic and at Catania – evoke happy memories of the Kaka of 2007, the World Player of the Year, while at Milan.

And it was Kaka who pacified the angry protesters, face-to-face, at San Siro, easing the blockade; Kaka who calmed down Mario Balotelli during a tense confrontation with an opponent at Catania.

“He is epitome of Milan’s former values,” remarked Fabio Capello, the coach who guided a great Milan in the early 1990s.

In the club’s leadership vacuum, the Brazilian is setting the standards.

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