Trailing behind city rival Inter Milan off the pitch just as they have on it, AC Milan cannot feel but inert in this year’s transfer season.
Seeing off Kaka to Real Madrid upped the yardstick by which the market would play, not helping Milan’s own cause in forging a roster capable of challenging for the Champions League and Scudetto next year.
Handing Carlo Ancelotti an early leave of absence further split the club and the retirement of Paolo Maldini left the defence in need of rejuvenation.
Then capturing the services of burgeoning American defender Oguchi Onyewu—along with the singing of 24-year-old Brazilian Thiago Silva prior to the transfer period—provided reason to believe the backline would be replenished with a tandem of young players.
But the exodus of players from the San Siro has superseded the influx of arrivals.
The legs of Kaka will not be sprinting down the field, and vice president Adriano Galliani has identified myriad possible replacements without actually applying ink to page for any of them.
This truth, however, shouldn’t eclipse the fact that Milan can still be a competitive club come the beginning of the 2009-'10 season.
For their acquisitions of a year before—a list which includes Ronaldinho and midfielder Mathieu Flamini—have yet to enjoy the playing time initially planned upon the onset of their Rossoneri venture.
In Ronaldinho’s case, he’s now the beacon: An indication that progression is evident, not regression.
"Our objectives get bigger, a bit like Milan. We wanted to qualify for the Champions League last year, and now we want to win it," said the former Barcelona man.
"I started well last year but then I got injured. In addition, Ancelotti never played me. This time I want to play my best from the very first game. I feel more important now. I feel the trust of my teammates, the club, the fans. Responsibility is something that I like and I am not worried at all.”
Besides Ronaldinho, fresh-faced players like Felipe Mattioni can now supplement Milan’s current makeup, while those who are returning to the team—Massimo Oddo from Bayern Munich; David Di Gennaro from Genoa; and Ignazio Abate from Torino—present more options across the field.
Granted, none poses the reverberations or convincing qualities of a premium transfer target. But nonetheless, they contribute to the understanding that Milan is comprised of a more resolute contingent of players than last year.
In respect to Maldini, there cannot be a mistake about the reality that he was a shadow of himself at such a late stage in his career in his last campaign—that he was more venerable than he was productive.
Presently, the aforementioned Onyewu, Silva and even a quasi-suspect Daniele Bonera will engage in strong contention for a spot in Milan’s central defence, with a chance for Alessandro Nesta, who missed all of last season due to a recurring back injury, to reassert his claim as the sturdy knot in the club’s fabric as well.
Proceeding up the field, Gennaro Gattuso and Massimo Ambrosini—the newly elected captain in Maldini’s void—both have an opportunity to become the veritable lynchpins in central midfield.
That area, though, is conditioned on the hope that injuries aren’t a nagging distraction, as Andrea Pirlo and Gattuso can attest from their off-field frustrations last season. Gattuso was sidelined for six months and Pirlo for three.
And that is the most troubling prospect, considering the ramifications of last year’s injuries—especially at the average age maintained by the club.
Flamini, who substituted for Gattuso yet saw his field time reduced upon Beckham’s injection, is reliable as a surrogate. Even Marek Jankulovski, who flirted with the midfield position last year, could be immersed in that role if the formation accommodates him.
(Cue novice manager Leonardo.)
The lack of guaranteed wingers, of course, does make it difficult to organize a formation conducive to the collection of players over whom Leonardo has control.
A 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 configuration could be adopted, like Dunga’s Brazil, but Milan is devoid of wingers, in exception for Ronaldinho and, should Beckham return for a second loan, the 34-year-old Englishman.
There foundation of strikers, in spite of Galliani’s aim to land one in the market, is inherently underrated, as a mobile option in Alexandre Pato and a rehabilitated Marco Borriello—remember the 19-goal player with Genoa two years back—have proven the opponent’s net is a familiar area for them.
Couple these players with Filippo Inzaghi and, if initiatives are pursued to lure David Trezeguet, there will undoubtedly be the presence of experience and accountability up front, too.
The failure to sign Sevilla forward Luis Fabiano would have made the line of offense a complete unit, surely. But Galliani, as it appears, wasn’t prepared to increase the proposal above the original €14 million price tag.
“We had a desire to see (Fabiano) play for a big team and that all parties were would be left happy,” said Jose Fuentes, who represents Fabiano. “But they have not behaved like a big club.”
Though the reserve of cash provisioned by Kaka’s sale is not known to have eradicated the immense amount of debt harboured by Milan for years, Gallliani has been wise—not shy or ignorant—for being prudent in these recessionary times.
The club consists of willing and tried players alike, a good combination for any team looking to chase a title, and Leonardo has the belief—naive or not—that success is there to be had.
"We started with the idea to bring in a heavyweight forward such as (Edin) Dzeko or a real winger, and at the moment the only one who can play on the wing is Ronaldinho,” he told Sky Italia recently. “It's true that we haven't been reinforced, but I honestly believe that this squad can have a good season.''
That ploy may not be enough to knock Inter off their perennial perch or even help seize the Champions League, but Milan, should they spend another year barren, have laid a formidable base that is ripe for success.
Now, or in the future.