AC Milan Season Awards
It was a season to remember for AC Milan fans all over the world.
After six seasons finishing behind first Juventus and then their city rivals Inter Milan five times in a row and after three and a half years without lifting a trophy, the Rossoneri triumphed and claimed the Italian Serie A for the first time since 2004. The team effort was one of domination, particularly on defense where the Rossoneri gave up only 24 goals and finished six points above Inter.
After another trophy-less season in 2009-10, Milan and first-year manager Leonardo parted ways. In came Massimiliano Allegri, a young manager who had only spent two years managing in the top flight of Italian football before joining Milan. He did, however, earn the Golden Bench trophy for his performance with Cagliari in 2008-09.
He is likely to snatch that award this year.
Many were skeptic of Allegri's hiring. He was virtually an unknown and many worried how he would handle the pressure of managing a world renowned club like AC Milan. The summer continued looking bleak as the only signings for a long time appeared to be Sokratis Papastathopoulus, Marco Amelia, Mario Yepes, and Kevin-Prince Boateng (who many critics and fans were skeptic of). With one week left in the transfer window, however, Milan went big and landed Zlatan Ibrahimovic on loan from Barcelona and Robinho on a permanent deal from Manchester City.
Allegri quickly learned how to best utilize this new found star-power, a power which only increased when first place Milan signed Antonio Cassano and Mark Van Bommel in the winter. A club that was reluctant to spend for a couple years finally caught up and made up their wrongdoings to the fans and followed through on the aim of a championship.
It was a breakout year for Milan and a breakout year for many Rossoneri. Here are my season awards for the champions.
Most Improved Player: Ignazio Abate
At times, the midfielder-turned-fullback Ignzaio Abate looked lost during the 09-10 season and was very inconsistent in the Milan defense.
This year, he was one of the best players on the team overall.
Abate was a gem in the championship campaign and seemed to fully adapt to life as a full time fullback. The club put trust in the 24-year-old when they (at least to my surprise) gave him a contract extension mid-season in 2010, but the gamble paid off. Abate returned that faith with incredible performances all season.
You cannot possibly improve as much as Abate did this season.
12th Man: Robinho
Robinho is basically the number three striker on the the pecking order, but has started frequently for the Rossoneri. His performances both on and off the bench have been fantastic.
The Big Three: Robinho, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Alexandre Pato, all sit on 14 goals and were all superb, each finding ways to score in the clutch.
It was Robinho who stole the show on celebration day. A week after clinching Serie A, the club returned to the San Siro, where the Brazilian netted twice in a 4-1 win over Cagliari before the club received its trophy.
It has been a resurgence year for Robinho. The 27-year-old struggled after leaving Real Madrid for Manchester City. Considered the first of the many marquee, big money signings in the revitalization of Manchester City, Robinho could not find his form in England and even demanded a loan to Santos in the second half of the '09-'10 season. When City refused to sell him to the club permanently, he returned and it seemed an incredible talent would be wasted at Eastlands.
Milan stepped in at the eleventh hour and snagged the frontman just before the transfer window closed. Good move for Milan. Good move for Robinho. Both the club and the forward are thrilled with the move so far and it seems that the star is going to be wearing red and black for a while.
Unsung Hero: Kevin-Prince Boateng
Boateng's arrival went rather unnoticed at the San Siro besides how strange the move was. He was sold to Genoa from Portsmouth, but never actually went to Genoa and instead went straight to Milan on loan. While for a couple weeks he was rather unnoticed, especially once Milan broke the bank on Ibrahimovic and Robinho, Boateng soon became a fan favorite with Milan. His performances were crucial to Milan's success this season.
With timely goals, brilliant set-ups, and a fiery energy that could make fans smile, Boateng earned his stay at Milan with his incredible performances. He came up big in important situations for the Rossoneri that helped them get out front and stay there in Serie A.
Most Promising Primavera Player: Alexander Merkel
Merkel, only 19, made his senior team debut in the Champions League against Ajax. He made his Serie A debut in a start against Cagliari in January. The German was rather fun to watch during the few matches that he played. He even got the nod in a Coppa Italia match against Bari and netted a goal in a 3-0 victory.
His play at the senior level has earned him notice throughout Europe. Arsenal manager Arsene Wegner is keen on Merkel, who he saw shine at the Emirates Cup last August and and former Milan youth team employer now Novarra sporting director Mauro Pederzoli is hoping to bring him and Milan's other big youth star Rodney Strasser to the Serie B promotion hopefuls.
Being so young and new to the club, he did not see much time in the senior squad, but performed well in his time up there and was a standout on the Primavera team along with fellow young stars like Rodney Strasser. Look for Merkel to become a star with the Rossoneri.
Best Individual Performance: Ibrahimovic Nets First Two Milan Goals vs. Auxerre
People were quickly questioning if Ibrahimovic could meet his potential at Milan following a loss to Cesena. He followed up with a brilliant showing with two goals in three minutes to give Milan a 2-0 over Auxerre in the first game of the UEFA Champions League Group Stage. The San Siro went into an uproar as the Swede netted his first two goals with the club. His performance was one of the best of the season by any Milan player.
Best Team Performance: AC Milan 3-0 Inter Milan
Milan pulled off an incredible 1-0 win with 10 men in November against the hated rivals of the Curva Nord, but it was the Curva Sud screaming once again in April as Milan swept the season duel by capping it with a dominating 3-0 which could easily have been at least 5-0. It was Milan's most dominant performance against the Nerazzurri arguably since beating them 6-0 in 2001.
Pato scored 45 seconds in and added another in the second half with Antonio Cassano netting a penalty late on. A penalty was not called on a handball early in the match which could have made it four and Mark Van Bommel's screamer from about 35 yards slammed against the crossbar and shot upward. Again, it could have easily been five or more.
It was truly a dominating performance at the San Siro and was the match that seemed to confirm that no one was stopping Milan from winning the title.
Leonardo's first match against his former club was one to forget while it was a memorable triumph for the red and black in Allegri's greatest win.
Goal of the Season: Andrea Pirlo's Screamer vs. Parma
Milan beat Parma 1-0 on October 2nd and it was Andrea Pirlo's goal that won it. It was not just a goal, it was a screamer, as commentator Max Patrick points out.
Every point counted this season with Milan's seemingly narrow victory over Inter this season. With Pirlo's third goal in four seasons in Serie A, they got a very important three points on the road.
While Zlatan Ibrahimovic had several qualities goals this season, including a screamer of a volley against Lecce, Pirlo's was by far the best and proved to be quite important.
Best Defender: Thiago Silva
Move over Nemanja Vidic.
There is no doubt that the 26-year-old Brazilian, in only his second year at Milan after leaving Fluminese is among the elite at the center back position. The brick wall in defense and one of the most dangerous attacking defenders, especially coming forward on set pieces for the Rossoneri.
Silva's play has made him a no-brainer in the starting lineup for Max Allegri and has made himself one of the most important players on the pitch for both Milan and Brazil.
There is no doubt that Silva is not only one of Milan's best players overall, if not the very best, but he is also the leader on the pitch match after match. If it was not for the traditional seniority in terms of choosing the club captain, I would have Thiago Silva wearing the armband upon the departure of Massimo Ambrosini.
He is Milan's best defender and one of the world's best at the center back position.
Best Midfielder: Mark Van Bommel
Van Bommel left the captaincy role at Bayern Munich and joined Milan in January. The Dutchman proved that even at 33, he could be a world class player on a world class team.
Milan brought him in due to the dire need of a defensive midfielder. He performed spectacularly over the final months of the season, proving to be a vital member of the starting XI.
It is fair to say that without Van Bommel in the second half of the season, Milan could have crumbled in the midfield and by so doing possibly lose the race to the title.
Best Forward: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Ibrahimovic joined Milan in a high profile loan move from Barcelona right before the end of the transfer window in the summer. What a move it turned out to be for the Rossoneri!
Despite a couple of disciplinary issues, most notably a fight with defender Oguchi Onyewu after a rough play at training and a couple of red cards at the end of the season, Ibrahimovic was critical to Milan's success.
It was behind his four goals that Milan reached the Champions League Last 16, scoring in both Auxerre matches and against Ajax in a critical draw.
He was the top performer in Serie A as well. Along with Brazilian duo Robinho and Pato, Ibrahimovic netted 14 goals. However, it was his 11 assists that put him over both his fellow forwards for top performer on attack. While he took the most shots (116), therefore having the lowest percentage of goals per shot, he was the most productive on the attack and was good enough to help Milan lift the title for the first time in seven years.
Most Valuable Player: Christian Abbiati
This was a close one between Abbiati, Thiago Silva, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but there is no doubt that the Italian goalkeeper was the most valuable player to the squad.
The 33-year-old stopped 110 shots while allowing only 19 goals in 35 Serie A matches this season. He was a brick wall and many of the goals he allowed were unstoppable. Very seldom was Abbiati the man to blame for a goal. In fact, throughout all the major European leagues, arguably the only better goalkeepers were Iker Casillas, Victor Valdes, Edwin van der Sar, and Manuel Neuer.
He was knocked out a couple times with injury, but Abbiati is a tough customer and you would have to tie him down with heavy duty password protected locks to keep him off the pitch. No doubt, Abbiati's performances were a huge reason that Milan are the Italian champions in 2010-11.