With Christian Abbiati’s contract set to expire in the summer, Milan have a goalkeeping decision to make. Antonio Labbate looks at their options.
You didn’t need to be an expert lip reader to understand what Adriano Galliani said. Sitting uncomfortably in the stands at the Stadio San Paolo, he was caught on camera screaming a couple of unpleasant obscenities at Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati. “Portiere di m... Portiere del c...”
“I’ve seen that shot again on 100 occasions and every time I don’t know how I wasn’t able to stop it,” Abbiati said of his failure to get behind a soft Gokhan Inler effort in the recent 2-2 draw in Naples. “I was a bit too far to the left, but the ball changed direction. It was like what Andrea Pirlo used to do to me in training a few years ago.”
Vice-President Galliani later apologised to the Rossoneri veteran in public and private, insisting that his inner fan had momentarily overtaken him. But that emotional outburst of frustration is one that some Diavolo supporters can relate to when it comes to a goalkeeper who has far too often mixed the sublime with the ridiculous.
No matter what reserve custodian Marco Amelia may say – “Abbiati and I are the best pair of goalkeepers in Italy” – the club have a serious decision to make at the end of the present campaign when it comes to the gloves. Abbiati’s contract will expire in June. He’ll then turn 36 in July. Do the outfit offer him a new one-year deal, do they replace him with Amelia or even a goalkeeper of the future?
It’s a tricky choice to make and obviously one dependant on two factors – the quality of the net-minder whom they could bring in and the costs of such an operation.
The Italian market has a number of interesting options, but all come with a footnote of doubt. Atalanta’s Andrea Consigli is someone whose career is heading in the right direction, but he lacks experience. He’s the kind of player who would benefit with a stint at a bigger mid-table club before potentially making the leap to San Siro.
It’s a similar scenario for Genoa-owned Mattia Perin, who joined Pescara on loan in the summer. A fine prospect no doubt, but it might be too much to ask him to play in such a responsible position for a club like the Diavolo when he’s not yet even assured of a regular place in the Italian Under-21 side.
Lazio’s Federico Marchetti could be a suitable target as he has the right mix of age, talent and experience, but capital chief Claudio Lotito notoriously sells at inflated asking prices. Marchetti, much like Abbiati and Amelia, can be prone to the odd costly error too.
It’s not going to be an easy decision to make for the Milan hierarchy, one complicated by the fact that signing a replacement for Abbiati should have been a problem posed in the past and subsequently already resolved. One can comprehend the strong bond between the club and a player who joined them in 1998 – he made key saves in the Scudetto success of 1999 and 2011 – but time waits for no man.
Last summer, Inter showed the kind of ruthlessness that is sometimes needed when they unceremoniously told Julio Cesar to find a new club. They replaced him with Udinese’s Samir Handanovic, a player who earns just €0.3m a season more than Abbiati, and an individual who has looked ready for the biggest stage for the last three seasons.
Handanovic was clearly a missed opportunity for the Rossoneri, but they now have the next six months to look around Italy, Europe or even South America if needed, and ponder their next move. If the conditions are right, they have to bring in a new shot-stopper, otherwise they’ll have to swear by Abbiati and accept that errors will be made.