Clint Dempsey to AC Milan – Snap Judgment
Well, for the second time in two weeks, Clint Dempsey is being linked to a big Italian club. Previously tipped to have caught the eyes of Napoli, it’s now being reported that AC Milan has set its sights on the American midfielder. Would such a deal make sense? Let’s have a look…
Milan’s Age Problems
As a new season dawns in Italy, the three traditional Serie A powers—Juventus, Internazionale, and Milan—all find themselves navigating through various periods of transition, with each having turned to a new manager in the past six weeks. For their part, Milan face critical decisions about the club’s long-term future, fighting the same affliction that plagued the Italian national team in South Africa—a lack of youth in the squad.
Of the seven midfielders and forwards seemingly in contention to start for the Rossoneri, only Alexandre Pato is younger than 28. In fact, the four preferred midfielders remain Andrea Pirlo (age 31), Genarro Gattuso (32), Massimo Ambrosini (33) and Clarence Seedorf (34). Thankfully for Milan, the defense is a bit younger, with the likes of Ignazio Abate (24), Thiago Silva (25), Luca Antonini (27), and—potentially—Oguchi Onyewu (28) taking over for legends Alessandro Nesta and Gianluca Zambrotta in the back.
Still, this is hardly a team built for the future, particularly when the players most frequently tipped as targets to move away from the club are Pato (still just 20) and Klass-Jan Huntelaar (26). Complicating the issue is that a club of Milan’s stature cannot afford to sit mid-table for a year or two while younger players are allowed to prove themselves. Missing the Champions League would be akin to disaster—for the club’s pride, its fiscal health, and Berlusconi’s ego—so a full-out youth movement is unlikely. Instead, a seemingly more sound strategy would be to invest in young players with high potential, while complementing them with players coming into their prime like Dempsey, who is both affordable and proven at the highest level.
Tactical Outlook—Would Dempsey Play, and Where?
Throughout 2009-2010, former boss Leonardo preferred to play some variation of a 4-3-3, with the most common wrinkle involving Andrea Pirlo or Clarence Seedorf stepping into a central attacking midfield role to form a 4-2-1-3. If Pirlo remained as part of the two-man shield ahead of the defense, he was joined by one of Massimo Ambrosini or Gennaro Gattuso. When Pirlo moved into the advanced attacking role, Ambrosini and Gattuso dropped back as the defensive cover.
The wing positions remained fluid. Playing from a 4-3-3, Ambrosini and Gattuso tended to line up as the wide midfielders, providing cover for Pirlo’s forays ahead. On the forward line, Ronaldinho, Pato, Seedorf, and Marco Borriello—who had 14 strikes in league play—rotated between the three spots, with Borriello typically lining up in the middle. With rumors continuing to circulate about possible departures for Ronaldinho, Pato and Huntelaar, along with concerns about Seedorf’s ability to remain injury-free for another season, there are clearly opportunities to be had for a hybrid midfielder/winger.
Tactically, it remains to be seen how Milan will line up for the coming season. New manager Massimiliano Allegri utilized the 4-3-1-2 almost exclusively at Cagliari over the past year. If that holds, one would presume that Milan would continue to use a combination of Pirlo and Seedorf in the playmaking role (with a possible cameo from Ronaldinho), with Pato and Borriello as the forwards. Still, there is a clear lack of cover—for injury or loss of form—throughout the attacking lines, so opportunities are there.
As usual, the Rossoneri have been linked with a number of sought-after players, with recent rumors involving moves for Keisuke Honda, the young Japanese midfielder who impressed in South Africa, and Luis Fabiano, the Brazilian striker who is reportedly keen to join Milan or Manchester United. Yet Honda would not come cheap, with CSKA Moscow likely looking to double or triple the €6 million transfer fee they paid for him a year ago, while Fabiano will be 30 by the winter break (and won’t be given away by Sevilla).
From the Milan perspective, Dempsey would seem to make a great deal of sense. They would get a battle-hardened veteran who has a penchant for scoring big goals, while he’s versatile enough to play in the midfield or provide cover up top, if needed. They wouldn’t be relying on an unproven commodity, and he could be theirs for a reasonable price (£12 being the rumor). Finally, with both Dempsey and Oguchi Onyewu on the roster, Milan could continue building their foothold in the United States, a market they’ve long coveted.
From Dempsey’s perspective, there would be little downside. Milan wouldn’t make the buy if they didn’t believe he could contribute significantly for the next 2-3 years. There would be nothing in the way of a guaranteed starting spot, but depending on Allegri’s preferred formation, he would certainly be in contention for sustained playing time on one of the wings, with the aforementioned versatility also likely to earn some burn. With Milan looking to launch a sustained Champions League campaign, there will be no shortage of opportunities, particularly on this aging roster. With Milan looking to offload Huntelaar and—possibly—Ronaldinho, Dempsey would have an opportunity to play for one of the biggest clubs in the world in the prime of his career, and could get 20-30 starts a year in Serie A and the Champions League.
While I was initially skeptical, this is a deal that could make great deal of sense for both sides.