x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Milan gaze wistfully at a golden generation

During the international break, from which some weary and one or two jubilant footballers returned yesterday, a great Milan team took to the field.

Leonardo, the Milan coach, has a tough task on his hands at the San Siro.
Leonardo, the Milan coach, has a tough task on his hands at the San Siro.

During the international break, from which some weary and one or two jubilant footballers returned yesterday, a great Milan team took to the field. They did so in the name of charity, in an exhibition match against some retired Real Madrid legends.

Milan won and, seeing the gathering of 1990s greats plunged a number of Milanisti into willing nostalgia. There was George Weah, up front for the Milan Masters. There along the back four, were the once almost impenetrable trio of Franco Baresi, Alessandro Costacurta and Mauro Tassotti. And there, making the ceremonial kick-off was Marco van Basten, a centre-forward more iconic for the crowds at the San Siro than even Weah.

Van Basten, who does not say much in public without thinking quite hard about it, then helped his popularity with fans grow a degree further by saying he felt anxious about the current Milan, a club "not moving forward", a club "who need to invest to catch up". He touched a raw nerve. After the comics of the curvas had finished making jokes about how the 40-something collection of ex-Milan veterans played at superior pace to the current, decidedly ageing, side, a sense of genuine anguish at the direction being take by the club remains.

Ronaldinho is enduring rough criticism already and van Basten already feels obliged to talk up his compatriot Klaas Jan Huntelaar, although the Dutch striker has only made one appearance since his ?15m (Dh80.6m) move from Real Madrid. "Huntelaar will score if he has the service," said Van Basten, implying strongly that in a team short of midfield pace, asking a pure predator like Huntelaar to go retrieving the ball may be asking too much.

Milan have had two weeks to stew on the dreadful result that has marred their start to a season. A four-goal defeat against Inter in the derby on the second weekend of Serie A was never going to pass by inconspicuous, but the fortnight's internaitonal break has left it festering. Leonardo, the freshman head coach, is scrutinised not only for that but for the perceived errors of pre-season - when Milan lost to Inter (again), Bayern Munich and Chelsea - and the chaotic elements of their walloping at their hands of their neighbours, like the botched substitution of Rino Gattuso, who contrived to get sent off in between Leonardo's deciding to replace him and his stand-in, Clarence Seedorf, being ready to enter the field.

So Milan go to Tuscany this afternoon without Gattuso, and anticipating the sort of rowdy reception that the left-leaning fans of Serie A's most self-consciously socialist club, Livorno, reserve for the team owned by Silvio Berlusconi. Besides that, this is the sort of fixture that Leonardo would probably choose. Newly promoted, and heavily manned by players on loan from elsewhere, Livorno have only a point so far from their two games.

Up at the top of the table, Lazio meet Juventus in Rome. Juve would have been expected to be around the summit; Lazio perhaps less so. Their new head coach Davide Ballardini has two wins so far, plus the bonus of a set of fans not only gleeful at their own club's performance but high on the schadenfreude of seeing Roma at the foot of Serie A. Lazio, whose squad is far less affected then that of their opponents by the absences and air-miles of international week, have doubts over the readiness of Mauro Zarate and Tomasso Rocchi, who picked up injuries in practice.

Juventus will check on the several Italian internationals returning from Azzurri service. Coach Ciro Ferrera has the option of giving a Juve debut to left-back Fabio Grosso, signed late in the transfer widow from Olympique Lyonnais. Jose Mourinho may rotate his squad in Inter Milan's home game against Parma tomorrow ahead of Wednesday's Champions League clash with Barcelona. Midfielders Patrick Vieira and Sulley Muntari, and striker Mario Balotelli are tipped to come into the starting line with Wesley Sneijder and Diego Milito possibly in for a rest after duty with the Holland and Argentina national teams.

Champions Inter and promoted Parma both have four points. Claudio Ranieri will be without Brazil goalkeeper Doni and full back Cicinho, both out with long-term injuries, in his maiden match in charge of Roma at Siena tomorrow, when his side will be looking for their first points of the season. ihawkey@thenational.ae Lazio v Juventus, KO 10.45pm, Al Jazeera +1