Milan fans protest against Berlusconi policy

MILAN - AC Milan fans protested against the club's hierarchy at the first day of pre-season training on Monday after owner Silvio Berlusconi said the team remained the strongest in Italy. Around 100 supporters outside the training ground chanted slogans and held up banners criticising the club's transfer policy following the sale of Kaka to Real Madrid and the lack of big name signings during the close season.

Brazil defender Thiago Silva, signed in January but ineligible to play competitive games until the season starts in August, will replace retired centre back Paolo Maldini but otherwise Milan have only recruited promising youngsters.

"No one in Italy from a technical point of view has a squad as strong as ours... not even champions Inter," Berlusconi told Gazzetta dello Sport.

The Rossoneri, third in Serie A last term and without a scudetto since 2004, hope to sign a striker soon with Real's Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Sevilla's Luis Fabiano, Arsenal's Emmanuel Adebayor and VfL Wolfsburg's Edin Dzeko in the frame.

But Berlusconi said Milan would not be pressured into paying overflated prices after Real splashed out 67 million euros on playmaker Kaka and a world record $130 million for Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo.

"Soccer should return to normality," the Italian prime minister said. "We should not buy at any cost."

Foreign players in Spain benefit from advantageous tax laws but rather than signal a change of the rules in Italy, Berlusconi could only congratulate Real.

"If Madrid have these possibilities, good for them. We are fine, because they gave us 67 million so I can't attack them too much," he joked.

Coach Carlo Ancelotti has left Milan for Chelsea and has hinted he would like to take striker Alexandre Pato and midfielder Andrea Pirlo with him.

Berlusconi reiterated he wanted to keep the pair and backed new rookie coach Leonardo as "the man to open a new cycle".

He also again denied he would consider selling the club despite the San Siro outfit losing $100 million a year.

"The truth is Milan remains an affair of the heart, I will not sell for any figure," he said.