Milan have lost that winning feeling

Spare a thought for Amantino Mancini. The 29-year-old Brazilian became the surprise protagonist of the January transfer window, leaving Italian champions Inter for their cousins Milan on Monday. He had been flaunted on the market throughout the winter with Marseille even agreeing a deal to take him on loan until the end of the season. But Mancini didn’t give his consent. He only had eyes for Milan.

So when the fax confirming his transfer to the Rossoneri finally arrived, Mancini was understandably ecstatic. “I threw away six months,” Mancini said. “I was about to leave last summer, but then Mourinho called me, telling me that he was going to focus on me… Patience, I told myself, now I’ll turn the corner… I would erase my last year. Now I have turned the page, a new adventure is beginning.”

Mancini then jumped in his car and went for his first training session at Milanello. He had passed his medical, but yet more tests were awaiting him at MilanLab. Mancini was told he was about 3kg overweight, but nothing could possibly dampen his spirits – nothing, that is, unless you exclude the disapproval of Silvio Berlusconi, the Milan patron and Italian Prime Minister.

“I really didn’t understand this move,” Berlusconi said while on a state visit to Israel. “He is another trequartista, whereas what we need is someone who finishes things off by scoring goals. What’s more he has barely played in two years. I did not agree with this signature and I said so to Galliani.” And the criticism didn’t stop there. Berlusconi then took aim at Milan’s recent slump in form. “On Sunday, I go to the San Siro and I see the people around me crying. Imagine how I feel, as I also have to pay the team,” he joked.

But Berlusconi’s disappointment was palpable. Milan now haven’t won since January 24 when Inter beat them in the derby. Sunday’s stalemate in Bologna merely confirms what became apparent against Udinese and Livorno towards the end of last month. Milan are running on empty just when they need to be putting their foot on the gas. They were in touching distance of Inter just two weeks ago, but now the gap separating them from their cousins is a staggering 10 points.

After cutting a cool and refined figure for much of the season, Leonardo appeared to lose it during Saturday’s pre-match Press Conference, so much so that one columnist mused whether he was actually Jose Mourinho in disguise. The Brazilian accused the Press of fabricating stories about Ronaldinho, who had allegedly spent the week leading up to the derby partying in a Milan hotel.

“This week in my view you journalists showed a lack of respect for Ronaldinho. I think the team will emerge stronger because of it,” Leo ranted. “When you publish a story, the pressure is on you to prove it. I saw no footage of this party, so I believe what my player tells me. I don’t need to be a detective in my spare time, I see him train every day and know what shape he’s in. We know if he’s been drinking. We do tests every day and he tells me what he gets up to, so I believe him.”

Ronaldinho came closest to scoring against Bologna, striking a volley against the woodwork. But the former World Player of the Year clearly isn’t what’s stopping Milan from firing again. “The team doesn’t seem to believe in the message anymore. It’s as if Milan have lost the illusion of being immortal,” Mario Sconcerti wrote in Il Corriere della Sera. Arguably the most important component of that illusion is Alessandro Nesta.

Milan have lost just once this season when the 33-year-old has partnered Thiago Silva in defence. Nesta has been absent in each of the Rossoneri’s last three games with a hamstring injury. Alexandre Pato has been missing for longer. The sensation is that both will have to be fit if Milan are to have a chance of beating Manchester United later this month. What’s more, with just one goal in four games, it appears Berlusconi is right. The Rossoneri need a finisher and fast.

Talking points

  • It will take some time for Napoli to get over their 3-1 defeat to Udinese on Sunday. Not only did the Partenopei’s 15-game unbeaten streak in Serie A come to an abrupt end, but Walter Mazzarri also missed out on the chance to equal a club record of eight matches unbeaten on the road, which was set in 1989. Morgan De Sanctis was also left devastated. The Napoli goalkeeper went into the game needing to last just nine minutes to break Dino Zoff’s club record of 590 minutes without conceding a goal. Udinese striker Antonio Di Natale scored the first goal of his hat-trick after just seven minutes. He then found the net twice in stoppage time to give the Zebrette a vital win.
  • Roma moved into second place with what can only be described as a smash and grab victory over Fiorentina. The Viola dominated their opponents from start to finish, but an 82nd minute goal from Mirko Vucinic extended Roma’s unbeaten run to a staggering 19 games. They have now won their last eight in all competitions.
  • Juventus haven’t won for a month, let alone under new boss Alberto Zaccheroni. The Bianconeri had to come back from behind to grab a 1-1 draw against lowly Livorno. All the talk before the match surrounded Juventus’s switch to a three-man defence, but Zaccheroni insisted that it’s not the system but the interpretation that counts. He did take one positive from the performance, though. “We managed to come back. I believe it is the first time. The fact is that going forward we aren’t dangerous because if the action starts badly, the ball arrives in attack in a predictable way. But we would have lost this game 15 days ago.”
  • Jose Mourinho got his revenge over Massimiliano Allegri. The Cagliari boss beat Mourinho to the 2009 Coach of the Year award last week, but Inter demolished his side on Sunday, winning 3-0 at the San Siro. “This is an important victory, especially as it takes us 10 points clear of second place. The results from January gave us so much self-belief and today you could see that we stepped on to the pitch right from the start with a very confident and attacking approach.” Incidentally, Roma’s victory over Fiorentina on Sunday evening closed the gap at the top to eight points.
  • Brazilian midfielder Fabio Simplicio broke down in tears after scoring Palermo’s winner against former club Parma. “It was an incredible feeling to score the winning goal. It was even more intense because I scored against the team that opened up the doors to the world for me. It is a disappointment too, as Parma still have a place in my heart.” The match was also an emotional one for Parma boss Francesco Guidolin, who – having been in charge of Palermo on four separate occasions – returned to the Renzo Barbera for the first time since he left the club in 2008.
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