Milan's penchant for the troubled but talented

As Milan close in on Valencia’s Adil Rami, Aditya Bajaj draws attention towards other unsettled stars the Rossoneri have pounced upon over the years.
 Aditya Bajaj
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The turn of the century saw the Italian league enter a financial crisis. Once considered an abode for the biggest and wealthiest stars in the world, the biggest of clubs were brought to their knees as year after year their income failed to match the expenditure. Fiorentina were relegated to Serie B, while the likes of Roma and Lazio were all given ultimatums to solve their financial crisis or else face a similar fate.

Back in 2002, Milan had not won anything for three years and splashed on the likes of Filippo Inzaghi, Manuel Rui Costa and Clarence Seedorf to bolster the squad and get the club back to its glory days of the late eighties and early nineties.

Around the same summer, Rivaldo had run into trouble in Barcelona with the Catalans having brought back Louis Van Gaal as their manager with the pair sharing a bit of history between them back in 1999 over the Brazilian’s playing position on the pitch. Looking to cut down on a few financial problems of their own, the Spanish outfit decided to rescind the contract of the player who had just helped Brazil lift the World Cup that summer allowing him to leave for free, to avoid a situation of keeping an unhappy player with a hefty wage on their payroll.

In came Milan to sign him for free that summer, and further bolstering the attack that already consisted the likes of Andriy Shevchenko and Pippo Inzaghi alongside the likes of Rui Costa and Seedorf. Carlo Ancelotti’s side went on to win the Champions league that season – their first since 1994.

Since then, the Rossoneri have continued to push on for such deals always keeping tabs on the troubled but talented stars and snapping them up for a minimal fee.

Crippled financially because of the Calciopoli in 2006, Adriano Galliani wasted no time in signing Ronaldo from Real Madrid for €8 million towards the end of the winter transfer market in January, 2007 with the Diavolo looking terribly short of firepower upfront since selling Shevchenko to Chelsea the previous summer. Fondly known as ‘the Phenomenon’, the striker went totally out of favour with Fabio Capello despite enjoying some of his best years at the Bernabeu. Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s arrival from Manchester United and the Brazilian’s own weight issues did not help.

Cup-bound and ineligible to play the Champions League for Milan, he did not disappoint however at the San Siro. Used exclusively in the league by Ancelotti, Ronaldo went on to score nine goals since his arrival helping the Rossoneri clinch the crucial Champions League spot for next season while an ageing Pippo Inzaghi led the attack in Europe’s top competition as Milan went on to lift their seventh European crown at Athens.

Similarly, out of favour for his wild ways in his latter days as a Barcelona player, Milan once again came to the rescue of Ronaldinho as they signed him in the summer of 2008. Now while he was not so integral that season, it was only after the departure of Kaka that the Ballon d’Or winner became the linchpin of Leonardo’s 4-2-fantasia system helping a heavily depleted Milan finish third in the league.

Rivaldo Barcelona   Free     2002-03   1.5
Ronaldo Real Madrid €8m 2007-08 1.5
Ronaldinho Barcelona €21m 2008-09 2.5
  Zlatan Ibrahimovic   Barcelona €24m 2010-11 2
Robinho    Manchester City    €18m 2010-11  Still with the club
Antonio Cassano Sampdoria €3m 2010-11 1.5
Mario Balotelli Manchester City €20m 2012-13 Still with the club
Adil Rami Valencia loan 2013-14 Eligible from January 2014

The tradition continued with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s last minute signing back in the summer of 2010 – a deal often considered the biggest coup pulled out by Galliani in his time with the club. Signed by Barcelona for a fee close to €65 million (€45 million in cash + Samuel Eto’o who was valued at €20 million) from Inter the previous season, the Swede’s troubled single season at Camp Nou and his problems with Pep Guardiola have been well documented both by the media and the mercurial striker himself since then and is the worst kept secret in football.

Where Barcelona saw a problem, Milan saw an opportunity bringing Zlatan back to Italy on loan with an option to buy for a cut-price €24 million. His arrival proved so crucial, the Rossoneri ended the Nerrazurri’s hegemony in Italy lifting their first Scudetto in seven seasons in 2011.

The same season in January, Antonio Cassano was bought from Sampdoria for a mere €3 million as the controversial striker - who throughout his career ran into trouble with every club he has played for from Roma to Real Madrid – was frozen out by the Genoa based club over a heated row with president Riccardo Garrone in October, 2010. ‘Fantantonio’  played a part in bolstering Milan’s attack that now consisted of Ibrahimovic, Alexandre Pato, Pippo Inzaghi and Robinho who was also signed alongside his Swedish colleague after enduring a troubled time back at Manchester City.

Last January saw the arrival of Mario Balotelli from Manchester City with the Italian finally ending his tumultuous time at City with the English club willing to sell him for €20 million despite holding out for an initial sum close to €30 million. No prizes for guessing how crucial the Italian international has been to the Massimiliano Allegri’s side scoring goals with regularity and sometimes even single-handedly carrying the team as the Rossoneri rallied on to claim a highly unlikely Champions League spot on the last day of the 2012-13 season.  

Over the past few years, Galliani has been slightly predictable in his approach in the transfer market going either for free agents or the ones who have ran into trouble with their clubs and could be available for cheap. Adil Rami joins a host such players who have represented Milan over the past decade or so.

Of course, there are advantages to this approach.

Playing good cop to disgruntled players more often than not motivates them to such an extent that they get back to performing to the best of their abilities feeling special and loved again. Also, the fact their parent clubs are desperate to offload them brings down the transfer fee to a large extent. Rami ran into trouble with Valencia over an insult to a fellow team-mate and the Rossoneri have won themselves a defender who at 27, is a French international and was one of the hottest properties in Europe last season.

The price?

A loan deal with an option to buy for a reported €7 million. Allegri’s side have been deeply troubled at the back, having conceded 13 goals in 7 games already this season and the French international could solve a lot of the problems in the heart of the defense. Also he has until January gel with his new team-mates.

 Adil Rami | The french international defender is a vital signing at the back for Milan

However, such deals also have a major flipside. You never know how they’d end up and there is always an iota of doubt over the stability of the player.

Although each of the players pushed Milan towards some success or the other, what’s also true is that none of them stayed on for more than two seasons. Rivaldo had his contract rescinded in one and a half years over a lack of playing time while Ronaldo’s contract was not extended owing to his knee injury that kept him out of the squad for the majority of 2007-08 season. Similarly Ronaldinho was frozen out by Allegri over spending late nights partying at Milan, and eventually sent off to Brazil after spending two full seasons in the red and black. Antonio Cassano, once again blasted the management for selling their top assets like Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva, and pushed for a transfer to rivals Inter just after one and a half seasons with the Diavolo. The only exception was Zlatan Ibrahimovic who despite spending only two seasons at the club, was sold to Paris St. Germain alongside Thiago Silva, against his wishes as Milan struggled to balance their books.

In short, each of these players, apart from Ibra, eventually left more or less for the same reasons they left their previous clubs, which is interesting.

Balotelli has settled in well and is the club’s most important player while Rami will certainly be looked upon to solve the squad’s defensive frailties. These are two very crucial players to Milan’s future but also players who just like their predecessors carry a baggage of infamous history from their previous clubs.

It would interesting to see if they move beyond and rise above the standard set by their seniors.

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