I think sometimes as fans we take for granted the art of squad selection. We constantly sit here and ponder why Leo didn’t choose this player over that player, and probably rarely stop and consider the enormous amount of factors that go into squad choice. Granted some of these factors are imposed, with pressure from management, ownership, media, and possibly even sponsors. Truly good managers, the likes of Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, and even Carletto, can insulate themselves from these factors and focus in on what I believe to be the two keys that it all boils down to in the end.; tactics and training.
Thankfully in my coaching endeavors I do not have to deal with the factors such as media and management, granted I have the evil of parents to contend with on a daily basis, which make Berlusconi and Galliani seem like lambs compared to these lions, but in the end the first and most important has to be training. Training, the real day to day rigors, are the coaches’ intimate way to truly see the character of the players. This view is isolated in a sense because on the training ground it is football in its most primitive state. It has been said that Carletto videotaped each training session so he can show players first hand their lack of effort or mobility, a practice he still employees at Chelsea. It is a training where a player can prove his worth both physically and mentally to the task at hand.
Leo is not blessed with a massive squad at his disposal but in training he can test the value of young players and decide if they have done enough to earn a place on the bench or maybe even a coveted spot in the winning eleven. He can also use youngsters to push the old guard to work harder and raise the level of intensity in training to eradicate the single greatest plague of good session; complacency. Every coach approaches this method differently, there are task masters and player coaches, but it is training where I tend to believe that almost all final decisions are determined. Unfortunately we as fans don’t get the luxury of watching these sessions daily, I had the opportunity once to watch Milan train, and the focus was entirely on fitness. The players ran, did plyometrics, and exercise routines akin to Military training, it was easy spot the players taking it seriously and I also can’t shake the memory of Inzaghi skipping reps and tailing behind time and time again. When the bag of balls was finally introduced the players ran to them like children, excited to be done with the monotony of fitness and ready to play. It was here Pippo was transformed and most likely regained the eye of the Coach again
Once a select group has proved their worth in training, the Coach can then focus on tactics. Leo has religiously employed the 4-3-3 in the rebirth of the Rossoneri, and this requires a balanced group of eleven, which is all the more difficult in such a specialized squad like that of Milan. The squad list is full of CDMs and CAMs making the midfield choices all the more difficult. The squad also lacks players than can operate on both flanks with Zambro being the only real exception. So as Leo prepares to meet Prandelli this Saturday he must consider his own squad as well that of his adversary. Fiorentina are a very capable team but seem to be saving their best football for CL nights, we all know how that goes, but they are still capable of winning games in Serie A and it will only be a matter of time before they find form on both fronts.
If Leo considers the style and play of Fiorentina, specifically the strength of Vargas on the left and the form of Gilardino and Jovetic, the midfield must be strong to absorb pressure, but also be able to counter the Viola defense which has conceded its fair share of goals. using Seedorf as an example, there are times when he looks exhausted or incapable of making a single play, but if you consider his worth to the team he is almost like a metronome. A defender finds Pirlo, he lofts a ball to Borriello, who then leaves for Seedorf. Immediately many of us scream for Seedorf to run forward but he holds the ball, sometimes infinitely to dictate the pace of the attack. Sure it may be slow for my liking, and even yours, but to Leo, and Carletto before him, he is the pace setter. The same can be said for Dinho who at times last season picked up the pace to fast for his teammates and causing the attack to be out-manned. His game has changed now for the better as he to has slowed a bit, and allowed for Milan to possess and attack in numbers. Granted this system doesn’t always work, but credit to Leo for recognizing a tactical strength in the squad, possession, and building the team around it. So while you shout agonizingly for KJH or Flamini to start, it is Leo who knows how those players operate in his predetermined system and how the squad is chosen. There is a reason Flamini is compared to a headless running around aimlessly, surely an analogy Leo does not find flattering enough to make him a starter!
Maybe someday Leo will be given a squad full of versatile players able to slot in to midfield roles or drop into defense. Maybe he will have a legitimate backup to fill in for Dinho, Seedorf, Pirlo, and Pato, but until then the art of squad selection falls to Leo, and as limited as his pool of players may be, the least we can do is appreciate the depth of these decisions on a game by game basis. So as Saturday nears, on the heels of an awful performance, it may make sense that the squad is shaken up a bit, but don’t be surprised if he sticks to a team that yielded points in ten straight matches.