Date: 13th March 2012 at 11:43am
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When trying to choose a signing of the season, Milan’s late capture of Antonio Nocerino in the summer has to be considered a strong candidate. Nocerino, a player easily worth around €10 million, was stolen from Palermo by Adriano Galliani for €500,000 in a case of pure daylight robbery.

Quite why Maurizio Zamparini was willing to let Nocerino go at all, let alone so cheaply is baffling, not least on the final day of the transfer window. “At one in the afternoon of the last day of the transfer window, someone came running into my office saying that Palermo were selling Nocerino,” Galliani explained.

“I found Zamparini as quickly as I could and made an offer. I started low to be honest. He said no but I waited all afternoon and then we called Nocerino who was with the Italian team and we reached an agreement. Then Palermo said yes to the sale. It was a real stroke of luck.”

The industrious Nocerino has cemented himself as one of Italy’s top midfielders and will no doubt be in Cesare Prandelli’s Azzurri side at the Euros this summer. The 26-year-old is often seen as a long-term replacement for teammate Gennaro Gattuso, although this is something Nocerino refutes.

“I am not and I will not be the new Gattuso,” he told Rai Sport. It’s easy to look at their physical similarities – small, combative midfielders (with beards) – and suggest that they are similar. Nocerino is correct; there are differences between the two.

Most notably, their relative goalscoring attributes. It’s been commented that Nocerino is a striker trapped in a midfielder’s body, such is the manner in which he charges forward from midfield to try to get into the box and score. He’s a forward-thinking midfielder, whereas Gattuso is a purely defensively-minded.

This is illustrated no better than by the statistic that Rino has scored nine times since he arrived in Milan in 1999. Nocerino has only scored one less since his debut in September, the highlight undoubtedly being a superb hat-trick in a 4-1 demolishing of Parma. “I hope Nocerino can get 15 goals this season,” coach Max Allegri said. “He already has scored six and is proving to be a [real] Milan footballer.”

That’s not to say that the Neapolitan doesn’t have anything in common with the veteran. Nocerino’s energy on the pitch as well as the passion and determination he shows is similar to that of Gattuso, and something which has endeared him to the initially-sceptical Milan fans. His box-to-box abilities have provided an excellent antidote to an ageing Milan midfield lacking in such a player.

“Who is the symbol of Milan? It’s too easy to say Ibrahimovic or Thiago Silva, so I’ll vote for Nocerino,” Max Allegri commented, demonstrating how well the former-Juventus player has gone down since arriving at the Rossoneri.

Nocerino has described himself as “a normal guy who plays in the middle of many champions”. However, behind the modest comment he must surely realise that he is one of the best Italian midfielders around at the moment. There’s little doubt that at some point, he too will be able to describe himself as a ‘champion’.

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