15 May, 2008

Destroy and Rebuild

Things are not right at Barcelona or AC Milan. For clubs used to national domination and European success, this season has been nothing short of a catastrophe for both super-powers. Milan have basically the same team that won the Champions League last year, bolstered mainly just by the Brazilian prodigy Pato, but for one reason or another things really have not come together over the last 12 months. Age is a factor certainly, but more so is complacency; too many of their guys have been there together too long, and thus a mass injection of youth and hunger is on the cards this summer. At Barce, the usual footballing demons of money and ego have gotten the better of them apparently, and after somehow stitching together a team for the last few years, Frank Rikjaard seems to have finally lost control this season. Injuries to key players have not helped, sure, but the lack of cutting edge up front and a half-hearted approach from some of the established stars has been their undoing, despite sterling efforts from new prospects Bojan and Giovanni Dos Santos.

After protests before, during and after their defeat to Mallorca only hours before, just 8 first-team Barce players showed up for training earlier this week, with manager Rikjaard and 16 well-known stars all A.W.O.L. Deco, who was comprehensively booed before being substituted against Mallorca, was given a few days off to lick his wounds, while Samuel Eto'o, Gianluca Zambrotta and Rafa Márquez were all nursing injuries. Conspicuously all four of these men are prevalent on a supposed register of transfer-listed players, with a mass clear-out also expected this summer. Gaby Milito, Sylvinho and Albert Jorquera were all absent with long-term injury problems; Yaya Touré, Lilian Thuram, Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry and Edmílson were all reportedly training in private, whatever that means; Andrés Iniesta and Eidur Gudjohnsen just did laps of the pitch in the Nou Camp; Xavi was away with a fever; and finally Ronaldinho was doing, well, whatever he’s been doing since his last appearance for the club at the beginning of March. Frequenters to our good friends over at The Spoiler might have noticed a couple of interesting pieces recently investigating exactly what’s going on with the former World Player of the Year, but as major clubs back away from buying him, one has to feel that something’s not right. He’s always had the reputation as a party animal, but until two years ago, his performances were still nothing short of stellar. Now though, he looks like damaged goods, lacking the appetite to play and perhaps even the physicality to carry him through another season at the top level.

Top of the list to help steady the Barce ship is reigning World Player of the Year Kaka’, with an audacious swap deal including Gianluca Zambrotta, Deco and Ronaldinho reportedly tabled to tempt Milan to part with their crowning jewel. In addition to Kaka’, latest reports from Spain indicate some more seriously heavyweight targets for the Catalans as they desperately attempt to recover both pride and a support base, with back-to-back Real Madrid La Liga titles upsetting plenty of the Nou Camp faithful. Cesc Fabregas would be the other real coup for Barcelona, but as he seems unlikely to leave to Arsenal in reality, Liverpool’s Javier Mascherano has been touted as a suitable second-best having impressed so much this season. Other rumoured targets include Chelsea’s Frank Lampard, Bayern Munich’s Philip Lahm, plus the fantastic Brazilian duo from Sevilla, Dani Alves and Luis Fabiano. The three aforementioned Barce gentleman join a considerably long shopping list for AC this summer then, which currently also includes Chelsea’s Petr Cech, Bayern Munich’s Willy Sagnol, Valencia’s Joaquin, Chelsea’s Didier Drogba, Spurs’ Dimitar Berbatov and Arsenal’s Emmanuel Adebayor, with Andriy Shevchenko also expected to return to his pals at the San Siro after a couple of troubled years in West London.

Assuming at best that half of the above moves do actually take place, we could see the resurgence of perhaps the two most glamorous European sides in history. Not forgetting too that new managers are expected to take the reigns at both clubs before kick-off next season, a change of regime, personal and attitude will undoubtedly shake some of the cobwebs from these two great dynasties. Exciting Milan and Barcelona teams are part of the fabric of European football, and anyone who calls themselves a football fan should be hoping for an end to this current blip, lest we face the infinite boredom of all-English Champions League semi-finals for the remainder of time itself.

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