International Soccer
Spend your money wisely, Milan

Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - He is regarded as one of the best players in the world. An attacking midfielder capable of scoring goals as well as setting them up.

He has already been named World and European Player of the Year, captured a Serie A title and also a Champions League crown.

In short, he is an ideal player to build a team around.

He is 27-year-old Kaka, the former AC Milan star who was sold on Monday to Spanish giants Real Madrid for a world record transfer fee of $95 million.

And he represents everything that is wrong with AC Milan at the moment.

"I wanted to stay on at Milan but the world [financial] crisis affected a lot of clubs, especially those like Milan which are businesses," Kaka said following his transfer. "So then I spoke with the Milan directors and we reached the conclusion that the best thing for everybody would be to sell."

Kaka was sold on Monday to Spanish giants Real Madrid.
To be fair, it would be hard for any club to turn down that amount of money for one player in the current economic times, but for a club like Milan, the move represents a bit of a reality check.

Milan is among the most tradition-rich clubs in all of Europe, boasting seven European championships, which is second only to Real Madrid, as well as 17 league titles.

The club has been one of the most powerful in the world for years, and it is used to being on the other end of deals like this.

However, the current state of the global economy has hit the Rossoneri hard, and instead of being able to retain and build around key players like Kaka, Milan has been left to fill a huge void on an aging team.

Part of the problem is that Milan's extra money has not been spent wisely, with recent additions like Ronaldinho, David Beckham and Andriy Shevchenko offering little bang for the buck.

Ronaldinho alone cost the club $33 million when he transferred from Barcelona, and while he may have sold quite a few jerseys at the San Siro, he failed to hold down a regular place in the starting lineup and contributed just eight goals and five assists in 29 league appearances.

Beckham and Shevchenko both arrived on loan, but they still set the team back an additional $10 million.

Like Ronaldinho, both likely helped to sell a few extra T-shirts, but they also combined for just two goals and five assists in 36 league appearances.

So for over $40 million, Milan got 10 goals and 10 assists in 65 combined appearances from that trio.

Not exactly good value for your dollar.

The other problem with those three signings is that Beckham (34) and Shevchenko (32) are both on the down side of their careers, while Ronaldinho, despite being just 29, is years removed from his best.

Manager Carlo Ancelotti won a Serie A title and two Champions League trophies with Milan in his seven-plus seasons at the helm, but he has left for Chelsea and has been replaced by the inexperienced Leonardo, a former Brazil international with no head coaching experience who has spent the last two seasons as part of the backroom staff at the San Siro.

Paolo Maldini has also played his final game for Milan after anchoring the defense for the better part of two decades, leaving the club with a big hole not only in attack with Kaka's departure but also in the back.

The other problem is that this is an old team, one that is in desperate need of an infusion of young talent.

There were 11 players on Milan last season that made 20 or more starts, and of those 11, only three were under 30 years of age.

One was Kaka, who not only led the team in scoring with 16 goals, but also recorded a team-high nine assists, while the other two were Pato and Mathieu Flamini.

The 19-year-old Pato has to be considered one of the top young strikers in the world, as he scored 15 goals in 36 appearances. However, the departure of Kaka has prompted the young Brazilian to talk about a transfer to Chelsea to follow former boss Ancelotti.

So instead of having the dangerous duo of Kaka and Pato to build its attack around, Milan might be left with 35-year-old striker Filippo Inzaghi and Ronaldinho.

Inzaghi did enjoy a bit of a career rival with 11 goals in his final 12 games, but he will turn 36 before the start of next season and it would be a big reach to expect him to repeat that kind of production next year.

Add to that the fact that four of the team's top midfielders, Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf, Massimo Ambrosini and Gennaro Gattuso have an average age of almost 32.

Clearly, how well Milan spends the money that it received for Kaka will determine whether or not the team can return to being one of Europe's best.

So, how can Milan get the most for its money?

For starters, the team needs to bring in younger players who are in their prime and who can step in and contribute right away.

Should Pato leave, a huge void must be filled up top, and Arsenal frontman Emmanuel Adebayor, with whom the club have been heavily linked, would be a good place to start.

Adebayor is just 25 and has provided the Gunners with 44 goals in all competitions over the past two seasons.

He would bring a physical presence to the team, is good in the air, and has more than enough quality to score some spectacular goals.

Wolfsburg striker Edin Dzeko has emerged as a hot commodity throughout Europe, following a breakout season this past year that saw the Bosnia international score 26 goals in helping to lead his team to its first-ever Bundesliga title.

He is only 23, and with Milan reportedly leading the chase, it would seem to be a good fit. However, the German side seems intent on keeping him, and Milan would probably have to overpay to sign him.

Roma's Alberto Aquilani would look nice in red and black stripes if Milan could pry him away from the capital, especially since he is just 24 and appears to be heading towards the prime of his career.

Aquilani has been rumored to be a target of Serie A rivals Juventus, but with the little chunk of change that Milan has just acquired, it may be enough to top any offer coming from Turin.

Who better to fill the hole left by Maldini than one of the world's best central defenders, Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic.

The 27-year-old will not come cheap, as he carries an estimated worth of between $35-40 million, but he would be able to immediately step in and team with capable veterans Gianluca Zambrotta and Marek Jankulovski to form a sturdy back line.

The club will not be able to secure the services of all four players, but adding one or two, and maybe some other parts around them, would be a big step in the right direction.

Milan cannot afford to get mediocre production from its summer signings, even if they did just make a $95 million deposit at the local bank.

So spend your money well Milan, the future of your club depends on it.

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