When the unsurprising news filtered through of Ricky Kaka’s retirement from football, his former club Milan were fresh off the back of another embarrassing defeat, this time a 3-0 humbling at the hands of lowly Hellas Verona which saw the Milan club’s campaign hit a new low.
The retirement of legend Kaka offered Rossoneri fans a brief escape from their current nightmare, an opportunity to indulge and reminisce about the days when they ruled the football world. It was only a decade ago that the Milanese giants were again carrying the tag of the reigning European champions, with star man Kaka playing an instrumental role in a team that would later be recognised as one of the greatest of the last 20 years.
Up until recently Milan were known as one of the world’s greatest football clubs. Over the last 30 years they have wowed football fans across the globe on more than one occasion. From the legendary Arrigo Sacchi side that became the first to retain the European cup in the late 80s, to Carlo Ancelotti’s team of the noughties that appeared in three finals, winning the showpiece on two occasions. Those sides oozed class and contained copious amounts of talent, football royalty such as Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit followed by the likes of Paolo Maldini, Andrea Pirlo and Brazilian legend Cafu. The present day club could not be further from what made Milan one of the greatest; only the instantly recognisable colours and iconic San Siro stadium keep the Rossoneri at the forefront of football though.
So while Milanisti are well within their rights to remember the good times it seems somewhat symbolic that a player like Fabio Borini has become an accepted and applauded member of their current squad. Amongst all the talent purchased during a big summer spending spree, the loan signing with obligatory purchase of Borini, a player previously capped internationally, was mocked by many.
Still only 26 Borini must have been in dreamland, after coming into the current campaign off the back of a disastrous 2016-2017 season at relegated Premier League side Sunderland, he now found himself at the mighty Milan. What would this bold new Rossoneri need a player like Borini for? After all they had better attacking quality to call upon and fellow new signings such as André Silva, Nikola Kalinić and Hakan Çalhanoğlu. Fast forward a few short months and with the season nearly at the half way point we have seen Borini become a mainstay in the Diavolo’s starting XI. Starting 13 of their 17 Serie A fixtures so far, clocking up 1080 minutes Borini has occupied nearly every position the football pitch as to offer; meanwhile those more celebrated signings struggle for form and a place in the starting line up.
The former Chelsea youth has become the ultimate utility man for the squad, used in a variety of roles under former Coach Vincenzo Montella, and we have already seen the recently appointed Rino Gattuso shuffle him around the pitch. The Italian player’s contribution has been admirable, never once has he shirked away from the responsibility put up on him; any role, any task, no questions asked. Any Coach can guarantee that when he sends Borini over the white line his player will fight every second he spends on the pitch. For Borini this his is chance to prove himself, rescue a reputation; his commitment to the cause, work ethic and attitude is second to none, matched by few if any of his team mates.
During a season that is becoming increasingly desperate for the Rossoneri, providing more questions than the answers they were hoping for it is those kind of performances from Borini that has seen him earn the respect of fans. This was no more evident than when his name was recently chanted by the Curva as he entered the pitch, but this says as much about the current state of Milan as it does Borini. The fact that the likes of a Borini can be applauded in this way shows how unsatisfactory Milan have been. Take nothing away from the unselfish nature of the player but shouldn’t that be the minimum requirement for one of the world’s biggest clubs?
The new owners have brought more doubt than stability, the concern around their finances has been well documented. The expectation was a return to the Champions League, but instead that reliance for success on the pitch is failing and the uncertainty is evident throughout the club. While Milan remain a hugely historic football club, their credibility is diminishing by the season and while they can always reminisce about the Van Basten era, the Kaka era; they a currently nowhere near meeting those lofty heights.
Mediocrity is reining supreme, the Borini era is in full flow.