x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

New blood comes in for Milan

Injury problems and drop in form prompts Allegri's push to strengthen his squad with Van Bommel leading the acquisitions.

Mark van Bommel, in action for AC Milan against Sampdoria in the Coppa Italia this week, was signed from Bayern Munich.
Mark van Bommel, in action for AC Milan against Sampdoria in the Coppa Italia this week, was signed from Bayern Munich.

MILAN // For a market in recession, Serie A has been unusually agitated and lively as the January transfer window comes to a close.

AC Milan were yesterday busy pushing for the arrival of a second new full-back within six days as they negotiated with Spain's Espanyol for Didac Vila.

The selling club had already waved goodbye to Victor Ruiz, snapped up by Napoli, who are second in the Italian table, while champions Inter Milan closed in on the Sampdoria and Italy international striker Giampaolo Pazzini.

Among five of the top six teams, there has been significant strengthening, financially hard-up Roma being the exceptions. The explanation is not hard to gauge. There is an energy about the title race with 17 matches left.

First, because the defending champions, Inter, have allowed their competitors to sense an opportunity to change the order after five successive seasons of the same champion; second, because each of the contenders detects major flaws in the others.

Gaining an extra edge, they reason, might be enough to sway the balance.

Milan, who visit Catania tonight, have been busiest. Last Wednesday, for their Coppa Italia quarter-final victory over Sampdoria, they had fielded, by the end of the night, a team featuring three players who joined in 2011, plus another four new to the staff since last June.

Moreover, in the outfield 10 of the starting eleven were only three men over 30. Milan's ageing side used be a true cliché, one that got older and truer with each passing spring, during the end of the noughties.

Quietly, that notoriety is being erased under coach Massimiliano Allegri.

Allegri does not make all the key decisions over signings in the offices of the current league-leaders, and his most conspicuous new addition is a relative veteran.

Mark van Bommel is 33, a combative midfield player with 66 caps for Holland, and stints with Barcelona and Bayern Munich under his belt.

Milan acted pragmatically to get him. He had fallen out with his compatriot Louis van Gaal, the head coach at Bayern and, with his contract there due to expire in June, joined without a fee.

The circumstances that have brought Antonio Cassano to Milan were also opportunistic. He had loudly squabbled with the hierarchy at Sampdoria.

Urby Emanuelson, by contrast, is 24, a Dutch footballer from Ajax who can operate anywhere along the left flank.

The pursuit of the promising Vila, the 21-year-old left-back, indicates that Emanuelson will be encouraged to play further forward and that Gianluca Zambrotta and Luca Antonini, who have shared the full-back role on that side of the pitch, can expect to find themselves superseded.

Indeed, with everybody fit and available, a New Era Milan is taking prominent shape. Since Allegri took over from Leonardo, goalkeeper Marco Amelia has joined, albeit on loan from Genoa, so have defenders Sokratis Papastathopoulos, the vastly experienced Mario Yepes, and Vila and Emanuelson; midfielders Van Bommel and Kevin-Prince Boateng, and attacking players Cassano, Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Allegri argued for mid-year reinforcements because he has currently to contend with a long injury list, many of whose members, like Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf, Gennaro Gattuso, Alessandro Nesta, Massimo Ambrosini, Pippo Inzaghi and Zambrotta are from the corps of thirtysomethings who have defined Milan teams over the last few years, and because results have been shaky of late, with only two wins coming from their last five Serie A games.

Van Bommel and Emanuelson are ineligible for Milan's Champions League fixtures - having played in it for Bayern and Ajax respectively this season - but they can both expect plenty of action, and promptly.