As Serie A rushes hastily towards its conclusion many players are gathering plaudits and being touted for big-money transfers this coming summer. They are spoken of in reverential terms, tipped to be the next global superstar, from the incredible speed and skill of Udinese’s Alexis Sánchez or the sublime ability of Javier Pastore at Palermo. Other players are lauded for the impact they have had on their current clubs; the goal scoring talents of Marco Di Vaio, Antonio Di Natale and Edinson Cavani or the fantastic creativity shown by Roma’s Jérémy Menez or Hernanes of Lazio.
When discussing the best deals of last summer one name, while not garnering the headlines of those already mentioned, has arguably had an even greater impact on his sides season. Yet even at his own club his name is lost among a plethora of new arrivals. Zlatan Ibrahimovich and Robinho were viewed as the major coups of the Milan summer mercato whilst Antonio Cassano, Marc van Bommel and Urby Emanuelsen were all viewed as essential acquisitions that filled glaring voids in the Rossoneri squad.
Of course the impact of Ibra cannot be down-played, his goals – and ability to create them from almost nothing – have been the catalyst for the Scudetto push witnessed from the Milanello outfit this season. However there is far more to Massimiliano Allegri’s side than their much heralded attack. The defence, despite being much criticised – and much changed due to a huge number of injuries – has been superb. Allowing just 22 goals in 30 Serie A games has been at least of equal importance as the productivity at the other end of the field.
Between these two units is a midfield which has often been disparagingly dismissed as aged and creaking but one that in reality has been revitalised under the former Cagliari tactician. Two men who’s careers teetered between being over or at least seriously stalled have had their most impressive seasons in recent memory – Gennaro Gattuso and Mathieu Flamini have been in fantastic form, creating a filter to protect Milan’s notoriously weak full backs whilst also providing a platform from which the star-studded attack can build its play.
Rounding out the whole team is the man who’s arrival has been perhaps the most impactful of any on the peninsula, dynamic Ghanaian Kevin-Prince Boateng. Without him in the team Milan’s defence looks infinitely more porous while their attacking play becomes far less dangerous and, even following the arrival of the wonderfully gifted FantAntonio, much more Zlatan-dependant.
The most surprising aspect in all of this is the position in which Allegri has chosen to deploy the former Tottenham man in. After searching for a trequartista– and experimenting with Robinho, Clarence Seedorf, Andrea Pirlo and even Ronaldinho in the role – the two-time coach of the year turned to Boateng and it is quickly proving to be a masterstroke.
His time in the Premier League may have seen him feature as a destroyer of play in a much more defensive role, but after finally breaking into the Ghana team he has always been seen as a more advanced player for the National side. For Milan he has added a much needed injection of youth, vibrancy and determination whilst also providing a steely grit not often associated with anyone other than the snarling Gattuso at San Siro.
The midfielder excelled at the World Cup in South Africa, scoring a memorable goal against the United States to propel the Black Stars into the Quarter Finals. His reward was the transfer to the Rossoneri, via Genoa who co-own the player. Boateng’s performances have drawn praise from another African star who became a Milan Legend, former World Player of the Year George Weah;
“I am happy for him. As an Analyst during the World Cup I said that Prince Boateng is one of the best Ghanaian players, and his attributes are what got him into AC Milan. I watched his first and second games and I think he is a very hard-working player and is very good for Milan. The work that he puts in for Milan is great, I hope he continues to shine the flag of Africa.”
High praise indeed and it has been echoed in similar comments from many observers across the globe, stunned that this is the same player who struggled to show his true qualities in both England and Germany. It seems he has found a home in Milan and indeed Italy, the permanent move to Milan surely nothing more than a formality given his importance to the side. Ten years may have passed since the King stepped out on this grandest of stages, but San Siro certainly seems to have found its Prince.