On Wednesday afternoon, Milan took to the field at the Sant Elia in Sardinia. To the surprise of many observers, a certain Alexander Merkel was included amongst the starting 11.
Not since Alexander Pato in 2008 have Milan fielded such a young player in the first team for a competitive match. After three years, it was a splendid sight. The young Merkel, who is only 18 years old, put in a tidy performance that justified his selection and left reason for optimism about his future at the club.
Italian football today is notorious for ignoring younger talents for more experienced and elder players. At Milan, this is indeed true. The likes of Gennaro Gattuso, Massimo Ambrosini, Clarence Seedorf, and Andrea Pirlo have essentially made up the Milan midfield for the last ten years.
That is an incredibly long period of time, and though Milan have enjoyed much success throughout, these players’ fixture in the Rossoneri midfield has not always been justifiable.
But against Cagliari, finally, Milan’s new young coach Max Allegri made the brave decision to give the young Merkel the important role of playing behind the two strikers from the start. The young German repaid his coach’s faith by putting in an admirable performance. He did exceptionally well in dictating the Milan attack at times, managing to create a chance or two for the front strike pair of Pato and Robinho.
For a team with so many older players, Milan's performances of the past appeared to lack the hunger necessary to win games. But with the presence of Merkel, a young star presumably hungry for success, the Milan midfield gained a much revitalised look about it.
Allegri must also be praised for his match winning substitution, bringing on the young Rodney Strasser for Gattuso. The young Dutchman put in a sound performance, contributing to the build up on a number of different occasions. Strasser’s greatest contribution to the team, however, was his match winning goal.
Strasser took his chance with aplomb to cap off a fine cameo display. For Milan’s No. 14, his solid performance will hopefully mean more playing time in this second half of the season.
With Strasser and Merkel both offering much promise on the basis of their performances in Sardinia, Milan will be better prepared come the end of the season when each team's roster is tested by injury and suspension issues.
After the successful displays of Merkel and Strasser, surely Allegri will be more inclined than previously to deploy his two starlets. Just maybe this match may prove to be the turning point when Milan started to show more faith in their younger players at the expense of their older ones. Many observers will be hoping so, as it is high time for a change in cycle at the San Siro.