Milan face exodus amid Allegri calm

LONDON - AC Milan's scudetto will be greeted with great joy by their long-suffering fans given that title success with an unheralded coach looked so unlikely before a spending spree just ahead of the season.

A tinge of sadness will also be in the jubilant San Siro air with players such as 35-year-old Clarence Seedorf out of contract and set to leave.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's future is unclear despite the Swedish striker's remarkable eighth league title in eight seasons with five clubs, a total which includes two with Juventus which were stripped in the Serie A match-fixing affair.

Conversely for a team who have just won their first scudetto since 2004, a rebuilding job is needed but laid-back coach Massimiliano Allegri has proved this season he has all the attributes to succeed, albeit in a very weak league.

He was a virtual unknown outside Italy when appointed in June after midtable Cagliari sacked him for talking to Milan.

Allegri, who before 2008 was plying his trade in the lower leagues, did well to keep Cagliari up and playing an attractive brand of football which impressed Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi.

After Leonardo became furious with Berlusconi's close attention to his tactics and left following last term's third-place finish, Allegri took what some coaches would see as a poisoned chalice and has acted with dignity and calm ever since.

"He knows how to do the job, he worked his way up from the lower leagues and deserved his chance at a big club," Renzo Ulivieri, head of Italy's league managers' association and a former top-flight coach, told Reuters.

"He has given Milan a lot of balance which the team didn't have before. He has been brave to make the right decisions. He ran the risk of playing with too many attackers but he got the balance just right."

Italian coaches are well-known for histrionics and losing their cool but not quiet and calculating Allegri.

The first day of pre-season training was a case in point.

Italian prime minister Berlusconi helicoptered in and proceeded to conduct the whole of the one-hour news conference himself in the sweltering Milanello press room while Allegri sat there passively alongside a group of uninspiring signings.

Fans had been underwhelmed by another transfer window of belt-tightening and when asked if Milan were lacking flamboyance and needed someone like Ibrahimovic, Berlusconi laughed and said the ex-Inter Milan man would not suit the dressing room.

A few weeks later, the Swede surprisingly left Barcelona for Milan after Berlusconi realised he had to invest to try to avoid Inter running away with a sixth straight scudetto.

ROBINHO FLOURISH

Fears of a backlash from fans about signing a former Inter talisman, who won the 2007, 2008 and 2009 scudettos, were unfounded given Milan supporters knew they needed a player of Ibrahimovic's stature in both physique and Serie A experience.

The August deadline day arrival of inconsistent Brazil forward Robinho also raised eyebrows but a show of faith from a manager without an ego worked wonders for the former Real Madrid and Manchester City player.

The results were instant as Robinho began to flourish while "Ibra" quickly got over his disappointing if title-winning season at Barca and revelled back in his Italian comfort zone, where he had first prospered for Juventus in 2005 and 2006.

Ibrahimovic's form tailed off and disciplinary problems towards the end of the season left Berlusconi asking if he had "wasted money" but, with Inter stumbling, Napoli inexperienced and troubled Juve way behind, Milan had done enough already.

"We improved a lot since January from a defensive point of view and usually the team with the best defence wins the title," Allegri told reporters.

"I'm lucky because I arrived at Milan in the year the club went back to investing in the transfer market."

Even injuries to Brazil striker Alexandre Pato and the arrival of controversial firebrand forward Antonio Cassano from Sampdoria in January failed to upset the apple cart.

The 3-0 derby win over Inter in April was the defining moment and, even if Milan were not brilliant, they took their chances as they did most of the season and defended well thanks to commanding goalkeeper Christian Abbiati.

Rivals Inter, now under by Leonardo, just panicked and there was no Jose Mourinho in the dressing room to give them a boost and unnerve Milan by reminding all of his 2010 treble.

Next season will be tougher for Milan with Inter seething, AS Roma's new American owners splashing the cash and Juve emboldened by opening a new stadium.

Andrea Pirlo is also among the esteemed if past-their-best players who may now quit Milan while the scudetto will make Berlusconi think he has a chance in next term's Champions League, which they last lifted in 2007.

However, shrewd operator Allegri will know that seven-times winners Milan are not back at that level just yet as illustrated by their last 16 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur this season.


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