I know, he’s the 2004 & 2005 Fifa World Player of the year. I know he’s one of the most flamboyant, loved players to ever play the game. He used to be the role model for every offensive soccer player in the world. Just check out these 2 highlight reels 1 2. I loved watching any match he was involved with, even when he made the assist that knocked Milan out of the 2006 Champions League. Ronaldinho was the best player in the world, and there will never be anyone like him again.
All that said, Ronaldinho isn’t very good anymore. Sure, he was good enough to destroy Sienna with a couple beautiful passes but he was downright pathetic against Inter last weekend and it was embarrassing for himself and the club. Look at this Alexandre Despatie-level dive after a missed shot (watch the 45s mark of this clip). That could have put them up 1-0, but instead he scuffed it, dove and complained to the ref. The ‘Dinho I know wouldn’t do this stuff.
As I mentioned in my previous column, I’m an AC Milan fan. That’s why it hurts so much to say this.
If Ronaldinho is a starter, Milan might not even make the Champions League. He needs to come off the bench.
This isn’t a new idea. Carlo Ancellotti did it last season and it worked well. As soon as he took ‘Dinho out of the starting lineup, they started winning. There’s a reason for it. Ronnie doesn’t have his pace anymore. I don’t know if it’s because he parties all night, he’s getting older or just doesn’t like running hard, but teams aren’t worried about him going by anyone. Watch how a defender marks Pato, and then watch how they mark Ronnie. Defenders look legitimately scared of Pato, and they back off. They are in Dinho’s grill so fast he barely has time to dive properly. He still has the vision and the ball control, but they’re not as effective without his pace. He’s fine against lower-level teams, but top-notch teams have the players to man-mark him and take him out of the game.
Another reason that he needs to hit the bench is to make room for Milan’s most gifted offensive catalyst, Pato. Sure, “The Duck” doesn’t sound like an intimidating nickname, but this kid is electric. He’s got pace, courage and unpredictability, which is just what Milan need more of. In order to use him properly though, he needs to be the link between midfield and attack, not Ronaldinho.
Here is the lineup and formation I would use if I took over for Leonardo as manager, and let’s be honest, I SHOULD take over for him. Do you know how good I am at FIFA 09 on the Xbox?:
Center Fwd – Klass-Jan Huntelaar
Support Striker (left) – Pato
Attacking Mid – Clarence Seedorf
Left Mid - Massimo Ambrosini
Center Mid (regista) – Andrea Pirlo
Right Mid – Mathieu Flamini
Left Back – Gianluca Zambrotta
Center Backs – Alessandro Nesta & Thiago Silva
Right Back – Massimo Oddo
Goalkeeper – anyone but Nelson Dida
Pato is at his best attacking from the left where he can cut inside for a shot or take the defender wide with his pace. Does that sound familiar? Yeah, it’s what Dinho used to do. Seedorf is a better fit than Ronaldinho because he’s more comfortable NOT being the offensive focus and will track back and tackle when needed. Flamini needs to be involved as a box-to-box player like he was at Arsenal. He’s probably the most under-utilized player on the roster. Pirlo can still sit back and distribute as long as Ambrosini and Flamini are willing to be the ball winners. Nesta looks like he’s back to being world class and Thiago Silva looks quite good, so Leonardo needs to explain to his full-backs that they are never, ever, ever to push up. That means Jankulovski never plays in the fullback roll again, and I’m fine with that. While overlapping fullbacks give width and option to the attack, Milan’s players don’t have the pace to do it anymore. I’ve seen more speed during a shuffleboard game. So why not just have them focus on defense? There is more than enough offense with Pato, Pirlo, Seedorf and “The Hunter”. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is the young, hungry center forward they’ve been craving for the past 4 years and they didn’t even start him against Inter? Give me a break. Ronaldinho can come on for Seedorf or Pato when the coach feels it will give them an offensive spark late in the game, depending on the opponent. He can also start against the weaker clubs to give the others a much-needed rest.
This brings me to another omission, Gennaro Gattuso. He is one of my favorite soccer players of all time, but he’s done. He is the only soccer player that ever reminded me of a checking-line winger in hockey. He’s always been there to shut down the opponents best midfield player, to slide through tackles so hard that opponents would one-touch passes when they didn’t need to. His nickname means “The Snarl” for a reason. His domination of Cristiano Ronaldo in the 06-07 Champions League was phenomenal. He backhand slapped Ibrahimovic in the face in ’03! How can you not like him? Unfortunately, he spontaneously combusted against Inter this weekend and his decline was evident all of last season. It was one thing to take be injured or take an unfortunate card, but his second yellow showed that he can’t play intelligently for a full game. He definitely showed his diminished skill at the Confederation Cup this summer. He needs to become a “closer” off the bench. When Milan is up by a goal or two, he needs to come on as a substitution with 25-35 minutes left and just fly around like the Tasmanian Devil.
Milan’s only real hope this year is to clear their head, grasp the reality that their team needs to center around the young core of Pato, Flamini, Silva and Huntelaar and ask the rest of the team to play within their best capabilities, which is solid possession in midfield and the phenomenal defensive prowess of Alessandro Nesta. The rest of the team needs to know their role and deal with it, especially Ronaldinho.