Young gun for Milan


ROME, July 22- New coach Massimiliano Allegri will give Milan's old guard another chance to return the club to former glories, despite pressure from fans to invest in youth after a season of under-achievement.
Rookie coach Leonardo led Milan to a third-place finish in Serie A last term, but they finished 12 points behind city rivals and champions Inter Milan and were knocked out in the Champions League last 16 by Manchester United.

The average age of the squad has become a source of consternation for supporters and pundits in recent years.

On Wednesday, 34-year-old full-back Massimo Oddo signed a contract extension that will keep him at the club until past his 36th birthday, while Milan will have five defenders in the 33-35 age bracket by the end of the season.

Filippo Inzaghi, already one of the oldest strikers still plying his trade in Europe’s top leagues, will be 37 and former European Footballer of the Year Ronaldinho will be 31.

Milanistas had hoped that Allegri, 42, would oversee a revamp of the squad, but he made his intentions clear in his first press conference since his arrival from Cagliari.

"This team still has a lot to offer, there are players in their 30s but there are also many young players," he said.

"We have all the characteristics and the qualities necessary to do well and achieve important objectives: top three in the league and going as far as possible in the Champions League.

"The squad is more or less the same as last season but no two years are alike."

Additions to the squad have to date been low-key, with the acquisition this week of young Greek international centre-back Sokratis Papastatholopoulos from Genoa the most eye-catching arrival.

The signing of 34-year-old Colombian centre-back Mario Yepes, meanwhile, will not help to bring down the squad’s average age and the club’s fans are unlikely to be inspired by the stated ambition of another top-three finish.

Alexandre Pato, one of the side’s only young stars, is a great talent but the 20-year-old Brazilian forward was bedevilled by injuries last season.

With Pato out of the picture towards the end of the campaign, 23-year-old full-back Ignazio Abate and 26-year-old Brazilian centre-back Thiago Silva were the only players under 30 in the Milan first XI.

The seven-time European champions’ celebrated Milan Lab is renowned for helping players play well into their thirties.

The majority of the current side have heaving trophy cabinets, as most were already at the club when they won the Champions League in 2007 and their last Serie A title in 2004.

His hands may be tied in terms of Milan’s spending power, but Allegri will likely need all his nous and powers of motivation to summon one last triumph from his players’ creaking legs.