Gattuso and Huntelaar frustrated with lack of chances

Milan's fringe players are restless through the lack of chances ahead of a crucial stage of their season.

"Milanello," a former Milan player once wrote of the club's headquarters, "is like something out of a Francis Ford Coppola movie. Once you have been part of the family, there they will always treat you as family, however long you might have been away." The phrase comes from the ex-France midfielder Vikash Dhorasoo, who spent a season with Milan, reached a Champions League final with them, and on retiring two years later, authored a wry book called Substitute, based on his very marginal international career. Dhorasoo spent quite a lot of his Milan time on the subs' bench, too, but evidently found the Italian club hospitable, even when he was surplus to first team demands. The image of a Milan as scripted by Coppola ? the Hollywood director of The Godfather films ? suddenly seems apt again, as the club approach a crucial five days in their season, beginning against Roma, in Rome, tonight. Just ask Kakhaber Kaladze, the club's long-serving Georgian defender. Last week, Kaladze, who has not made a first-team start in Serie A since November, accused his employers of "dirty tricks" in their dealings with him while he expressed his many frustrations to an interviewer from Sky Italia, the TV channel. The Milan Godfathers quickly closed ranks, and a day later Kaladze was back in the Milan family, issuing a statement apologising for his remarks. Kaladze still feels angry at being out of the reckoning under Leonardo, having been a regular in the team for much of the eight years that Carlo Ancelotti, Leonardo's predecessor, spent in charge of Milan, and although his marginalised situation is the most pronounced of several internationals on the club's roster, the Georgian, who turned 32 last Sunday, is not alone for his anxiety about his future. Leonardo's relationship with Gennaro Gattuso, the rugged midfielder who for so long took it on himself to play the part of Milan's chief warrior, has become strained. Leonardo's willingness to start David Beckham in all the games for which the Englishman has been available is also less than that of Ancelotti. Nor is Klaas Jan Huntelaar, the Dutch striker, satisfied with the number of opportunities he has been granted by Leonardo since joining from Real Madrid last summer. This being a World Cup year, some of these agitations are inevitable. Beckham came to Milan to get games to prove himself still worthy, at 35, of a squad place with England and is worried Fabio Capello, the England manager, has noted that Beckham has started only one of the last three Serie A matches for Milan. Huntelaar wants to lead Holland's front line in South Africa and has less chance of doing so while he understudies Marco Boriello for his club. Gattuso, now well behind Massimo Ambrossini in the Milan pecking order, wishes for a role with Italy as he had with the world champions of 2006. But most of all, the seasoned Milan players, like Gattuso and Kaladze, want a challenge until May. If Milan, for whom Alexandre Pato is injured, lose today and do not win by two goals next Wednesday at Old Trafford in the second leg of their Champions League tie against Manchester United, their season drifts into a battle for consolation prizes. In short, the victor in Rome tonight will proclaim themselves the best and perhaps only team capable of denying Inter Milan the 2010 scudetto. Milan, in second place in the table, trail the champions and league leaders by four points, Roma by five, and while both sides will feel comfortable about qualifying for the Champions League next season, it is six years since Milan won Serie A and nine since Roma did. There is impatience at both places. The curiosity is that symptoms of that restlessness are more apparent at sophisticated, worldly and urbane Milan. At traditionally explosive Roma, they are quietly enjoying incidents such as Kaladze's outburst. As Roma coach, Claudio Ranieri, said, with an eye on Milan, "When I came here, I expected a far more problematic dressing-room to deal with, but all I needed to do was give them reassurance. I knew Roma were a great squad, we just had to understand whether their era was over or we could still achieve important things with this side." Ranieri's implication was that Milan should worry more that some of their individuals really are at the end of an era.