Frank Isola: The present looks bleak at AC Milan

The once-powerful club has not been able to overcome the losses it suffered in the offseason, and a top-three finish in Serie A appears doubtful.
The only fight AC Milan showed in its match against crosstown rival Internazionale last weekend took place at halftime when the Rossoneri’s aging captain, Massimo Ambrosini, screamed at referee Paolo Valeri in the tunnel that leads to the locker rooms.

Yes, it has come to this for the once proud football giant: bullying a match official when you can no longer bully your opponent.

For his outburst, Ambrosini received a one-match ban which is the Italian equivalent of a slap on the wrist. His punishment could have been much worse, like being forced to watch a replay of a 1-0 loss to Inter in which AC Milan failed to score in the second half despite being up a man.

AC Milan today sits in 11th place in Serie A which is both shocking and discouraging. After selling off most of its top players, Milan doesn’t have the talent to make a serious run for the Scudetto and is in danger of failing to qualify for the Champions League. Milan currently sits 12 points out of the top spot in Serie A and is eight points behind Lazio for Champions League qualification.

Where have you gone Paolo Maldini?

AC Milan’s decline isn’t unexpected considering stalwarts Gennaro Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf, Fillipo Inzaghi and Alessandro Nesta all got older and departed. That happens to every club. Augmenting an aging roster with fresh talent is an ongoing process.

The problem, however, is that the management decided to sell off some of the biggest remaining key pieces. That has led to a rapid decline.

Striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva, arguably the best defender in the world, were sold to PSG. Antoino Cassano moved to Inter. Add to that the departure of Andrea Pirlo one year earlier and what you’re left with is an average side that has already suffered home losses at the San Siro to Bologna and Sampdoria.

Last season, AC Milan held its own against Barcelona in both the group stage and quarterfinals of the Champions League. The idea that the Rossoneri could deliver an eighth European title wasn’t unrealistic. Today, however, it will take a minor miracle.

In Europe, AC Milan played Anderlecht to a goalless draw before winning in Russia against Zenit St. Petersburg. In both performances, the Rossoneri failed to demonstrate that they have the chops to seriously challenge the likes of Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona.

It may take a few years for AC Milan to get back to that level. The club has the resources to sign top players and it will need to add one or two mega-stars (Did someone say Neymar?). Milan also needs its young stars to develop quickly.

The brightest young talent is Stephan El Shaarawy, whose goal against Zenit St. Petersburg on Oct. 4 made him the youngest Milan player to score a Champions League goal. The Egyptian-Italian striker turns 20 next month but his future is obviously now.

El Shaarawy has been so impressive that Sir Alex Ferguson has expressed interest. That prompted the following response from Milan boss Adriano Galliani: “El Shaarawy is an investment for this club and we are very happy with him. Manchester United have fallen in love with him? Our policy is to focus on youngsters and he won't be moving from here.”

Yes, AC Milan is committed to the future. Then again, the club has no other choice because the present looks bleak. Very bleak in fact.