Incorporating Rivaldo into Milan's attack
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Incorporating Rivaldo into Milan's attack
Post World Cup, the summer had been astonishingly slow, with the worldwide financial crisis in football resulting in a transfer market quieter than an Amish disco. The TV rights boom was proven to be well and truly over, and as a direct consequence the era of telephone number salaries and fees had come to a crashing halt. Milan had corresponded to the new trend of "sensible" transfer market acquisitions, signing only John Dahl Tomasson on a free from Feyenoord, Sam Dalla Bona, a promising Chelsea reserve and two rejects from our ever friendly city neighbours, Clarence Seedorf and Dario Simic. As is annually the case, Adriano Galliani declared that this was the conclusion of the transfer campaign, and that no more money would be spent.
Then Barcelona released Rivaldo.
It came completely out of the blue, a player who a year previously had been valued at over £30 million now suddenly available on a free. Perhaps it was because of Barcelona's crippling financial problems, perhaps it was because of the animosity between the ridiculously skilful yet enigmatic Brazilian and Louis van Gaal. Almost certainly it was a combination of both. But Milan were quick to act. Although a few Premiership sides expressed their interest, and Luis Figo released a tantalising appeal for Real Madrid to sign him, in the end his common sense (and our bank balance) prevailed and he opted for Milanello.
But his arrival, despite the fanfare, is not without it's difficulties. For a start, Rivaldo is not a good, honest, hard working consumnate professional. Rather, at times he can be a whining, confrontational, petulant cheat prone to fall outs with staff and team-mates. His spell at Barcelona was marked by a number of fall outs with van Gaal, the only coach willing or able to stand up to him. Llorenc Serra Ferrer and Carlos Rexach were both too concerned with preserving their own positions to irritate the superstar. I remember several instances when he openly criticised his coach. In 1999, having scored at Camp Nou, he tore off his "Rivaldo 11" shirt to reveal underneath another Barca strip, this one bearing the number 10 of his close friend Giovanni, whom van Gaal had benched. Now, can you imagine a similar situation arising if Serginho was dropped by Carletto? Such a move could potentially cause chaos in the dressing room. Van Gaal was surrounded by Dutch acolytes whom he personally signed at Barcelona, but I am unsure whether Carletto enjoys similar backing. In his previous jobs at Reggiana, Parma and Juventus, he has had to deal with very few troublemakers along Rivaldo's line. The only examples I can think of are Zola, whom he had sold, and Inzaghi, who took a huff after being dropped but now appears to have mellowed a sizable amount. Can Ancelotti handle a superstar like Rivaldo? As Kent Brockman would say, only time will tell. Let's just hope we don't turn into a Bayern-esque "FC Hollywood" collection of squabbling egos.
But perhaps the most obvious question to be asked is; where will he fit in? At present, Milan's attacking midfield and forward options are Andriy Shevchenko, on of the world's most complete strikers, Pippo Inzaghi, an established Italian international, John Dahl Tomasson, a new signing who had a very good World Cup, Manuel Rui Costa, last summer's big signing and Andrea Pirlo, a young Italian prodigy who was one of the stars of last season. The possibility of him playing on the left wing, where he began his career, is a non-starter, as he has already used the ceremonial occasion of an Footballer Of The Year ceremony to denounce any possibility of him ever playing there again. So some way has to be found to incorporate the £80k a week superstar. I have made several suggestions beneath, taking it for granted that we will either play 4-3 or 3-4 in defence/midfield. Either way, it is irrelevant to this discussion.
This option looks far and away the most likely. Rivaldo could simply move into the slot behind the front two occupied last season by Rui Costa and Pirlo. Carlo has always liked this system, as it maintains a solid forward partnership (Sheva and Pippo were showing encouraging signs of developing a partnership last season) and allows a playmaker room to create. He has used this system in the past at Juventus (although not Parma, where he sold the aforementioned Zola) with Zinedine Zidane supplying a front pairing of Del Piero and Trezuguet/Inzaghi. It's a quite conventional way of using a skilful player in Italian football, and as we are all aware tactical conservatism plays a huge role in Carletto's vision of calcio. However, there are some negatives to this tactic. Firstly, it does not involve using either Rui Costa, whom we forked out £28 million for only last summer, and Pirlo, seen by many as the next Gianni Rivera. Giving up on Rui Costa seems a little premature, as although his first season at Milanello resembled a dog's breakfast, he was affected a great deal by injuries. Pirlo also deserves regular football at the age of 23. In addition, Rivaldo has rarely played in such a constrained role during the course of his career. Those elastic band legs were built for dribbling, not sideways passing. All the best memories of him involve running at defenders, something he isn't supposed to do when Sheva and Pippo are screaming for a killer pass. Also this position highlights his greatest weaknesses; tendencies to be selfish, over-elaborate and to dwell on the ball. The role of a player in this position is to lay the ball on to the strikers, something Rui Costa and Pirlo at their best do superbly. Rivaldo is supreme at beating defenders and scoring, but laying the ball on? Hmmmm.
This option involves playing Rivaldo as a second striker in a sort of Del Piero role, with Rui Costa or Pirlo acting as the playmaker behind him and Shevchenko. Before anyone sniggers about Rivaldo's suitability for such a role, it's worth recalling that this was one of his most effective positions for Barcelona. It also gives him the freedom to drop off the attack and move into space, creating more room for Shevchenko to work his magic. Plus, he would be in a better position to score regularly, and there are few better ways of justifying such a sizeable financial outlay to the management than knocking in loads of goals. The formation also allows Rui Costa to play in the position we bought him for, and which he is undoubtedly most effective in. The best season he had at Fiorentina, 2000/01 under the lamented Fatih Terim, involved him supplying a front line of Nuno Gomes and Enrico Chiesa. That form needs to be rediscovered if his career at Milanello isn't going to be a washout. Also, the formation could benefit Sheva. Defenders traditrionally focus on the attacking player they see as most likely to hurt them, something which has severly constricted the Ukranian in the past. However, most teams will look to double mark Rivaldo, allowing Sheva more space and freedom to score. But this plan is not without it's negatives. For a start, Rivaldo is a scorer of great goals rather than a great goalscorer. He scored plenty of goals in Spain, but they were against weak defences in a side constructed so that every match would finish 5-3 win or lose. Camp Nou's wide, manicured lawn is also much more conducive to dribbling than the San Siro mudhole. So the question needs to be asked; will Sheva-Rivaldo be a better partnership than Sheva-Pippo. As mentioned earlier, our strikers looked to have developed a reasonable understanding last season, and will the usually conservative Carletto wish to change that. Remember, it took him more than half a season to realise that David Trezuguet would score more often than Pippo, something that cost Juventus a Scudetto and arguably Carlo his job. Inzaghi is a different sort of player to Rivaldo, apart from a shared ability to roll around on the ground infuriating opposing supporters. He is a proven goalscorer in Serie A no matter what anyone's opinion is on him. Personally, I don't like him, but I can see that he has a more than useful record. He would benefit more from Rui Costa's service than Rivaldo, who would be more akin to go and search for the ball himself. The Sheva-Pippo partnership guarantees at least 35 Serie A goals every season if they stay fit. Would a Sheva-Rivaldo duo be guaranteed to beat that. Factor the newly arrived Tomasson, a specialist in that position, into the equation and you are left with a dilemma.
This is the role Rivaldo played during the World Cup, as part of the now feted "3 R's" triumvirate alongside Ronaldo and Ronaldinho. This position gave him plenty of freedom to both create and score, which he did with aplomb on several occasions. That trio dragged an otherwise relatively mediocre Brazil side to glory, and the formation made full use of their talents. Shevchenko is probably the player closest to Ronaldo in terms of technique in the world, and if the Brazilian was able to score eight times in seven games at the head of this formation, then what could our Ukranian do over the course of a season. Two creative midfielders would force an opposing four man defence to adjust dramatically, as they would have only one orthodox striker to mark. A similar event resulted in the shattering of English football's illusions at Wembley in 1953, when the deep lying centre forward Hidegkuti destroyed the hosts. This system allows attacking midfielders freedom to go further forward and support the attack. Remember Rivaldo's goal against England in Shizuoka? He was able to act as a second striker when Ronaldinho had the ball, get into position for the pass and score. The system could also play to Shevchenko's greatest strength, namely his pace in getting behind defences, which Ronaldo exemplified several times. Again, this system is not without it's flaws. For a start, Rui Costa is not Ronaldinho. Whereas the PSG star possesses searing pace and dribbling ability, Rui is more subtle. He is normally more deep lying, and more likely to play the ball sideays in search of an opening than the direct Brazilian. He could possibly fit into this role, but with some difficulty and it would be a struggle to bring out the best in him. The other major difficulty would involve Shevchenko. Throughout his career he has played with a partner up front, firstly with Rebrov in that marvellous Dynamo Kiev side of the late 1990's and then Bierhoff and Inzaghi at Milanello. How quickly could he adapt to playing the role of a lone forward, and would he be successful? His style of play suggests he could do so, but would Carletto be willing to try? Perhaps an alternative to these problems is at hand; play Shevchenko in the Ronaldinho role with Inzaghi as the lone forward. This isn't as ridiculous as it sounds, as Inzaghi's greatest asset is his movement off the ball, something of primary importance in this role. Sheva has the pace and skill to act as an attacking midfielder. Coming from deep, he would have more oppurtunities to score than the man-marked straitjacket which he finds himself in up front.
These are the options which I think are valid, but Carlo will surely make up his own mind without my help. He is embedded in Italian tactical conservatism; I'm merely giving an insight into the possibilities offered by Rivaldo's signing. Please give me some replies with your own ideas.
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