Pacey Colombian full-back Pablo Armero will start the coming Serie A season in high spirits. The new AC Milan man, signed on loan from Italian rivals Udinese, formed a key part of the dynamic Colombia side which fought to the quarter-finals of the World Cup before faltering against hosts Brazil.
Nevertheless, the Cafeteros received a hero's welcome on returning to home soil, with an attacking style in large part inspired by the incursions out wide of Armero and Juan Cuadrado winning the nation plenty of friends. The left-sided wideman, however, should not get too excited over what will doubtless be a tough campaign for the Rossoneri.
Armero's signing brings together a player and a club who have struggled far more than they should have over the past few years. The Colombian failed to convince during a year-long stay at Napoli, losing his place in the first team and eventually finishing 2013/14 with an unsuccessful loan spell at West Ham.
He continued to shine in international colours, but the challenge of translating that form week-in, week-out in European football eluded him. Just like Milan, Armero's failure to deliver the goods is one of the biggest enigmas in the game today.
There are several reasons to be cheerful for Rossoneri fans who have seen the brilliance of the 1990s and 2000s evaporate, leaving a rump of a team more accustomed to fighting it out in mid-table obscurity. Real Madrid goalkeeper Diego Lopez provides much-needed competition in the No. 1 position, which for the last five years has been the exclusive domain of the ageing Christian Abbiati.
French duo Jeremy Menez and Adil Rami, along with ex-Paris Saint-Germain defender Alex, also come in to bolster a midfield and back line which looked decidedly creaky throughout the last Serie A campaign. But those new signings, Armero included, look decidedly insufficient for Milan to improve on what was a disastrous eighth-place finish last time round.
Rookie coach Clarence Seedorf will be encouraged by how his moribund men finished the 2013/14 season, with seven victories in the last nine games maintaining the side in the top 10. Armero will enter the starting line-up as a direct replacement for Kevin Constant, providing the width in a team that, with the likes of Sulley Muntari, Riccardo Montolivo and Michael Essien in the middle of the park, has plenty of industry but precious little creation.
But the Colombian faces a daunting challenge. He must put back together a disjointed club career in one of the most demanding environments in world football, under a coach that has directed precious few important matches from the bench. In the Cafetero setup he had the luxury of feeding off the brilliant James Rodriguez, shadowed by two defensive midfielders accustomed to covering the flanks and giving the left-back room to operate.
In Milan, and across Serie A, his defensive shortcomings are liable to be exposed painfully if Milan show the same pondering tendencies in distribution and attack as they did throughout 2013/14.
Armero deserves another chance to make his name at one of Serie A's elite. But the Rossoneri do not feel like the right fit for a player whose brilliance going forward is mirrored by his fragility defending when opposing strikers exploit the space left by his advances. Milan need solid, disciplined performers to break out of their current rut; the Colombian enigma is unlikely to be the answer to their prayers.
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