Rudderless Milan drifting further off course

Mon Nov 4, 2013 10:10am EST
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(Reuters) - Nineteen points adrift of Serie A leaders AS Roma and only three clear of the relegation zone, AC Milan head for their Champions League match against Barcelona on Wednesday in crisis mode.

The floundering giants have been left standing by domestic rivals who appear to have better youth programs, better scouting and clearer philosophies of how to run their club.

The last 18 months have seen constant changes in direction by a rudderless outfit with phlegmatic coach Massimiliano Allegri invariably left to pick up the pieces.

Milan's difficulties began at the end of the 2011/12 season when they decided it was time to balance the books and sold talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and key defender Thiago Silva to Paris St Germain.

Other long-time servants also left including defender Alessandro Nesta and tough-tackling midfielder Gennaro Gattuso.

The club hailed a new philosophy based on finding and developing talented young players although they forgot to tell the supporters, causing expectations to remain unrealistically high.

"We can raise great champions at home," said Barbara Berlusconi, director and daughter of club president Silvio Berlusconi, last December, pointing to forward Stephan El Shaarawy as one example.

Milan managed to muddle through last season with a combination of some late goals, fortunate refereeing decisions and the opportunist signing of Mario Balotelli and his short-lived resurgence.

After they scrambled to a third-place finish and the Champions League playoff spot, it seemed the worst was over.   Continued...

AC Milan's coach Massimiliano Allegri smiles as he walks during a training session at the Milanello training center in Carnago, northern Italy October 21, 2013. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo