As he waits to see whether or not he will start ahead of Filippo Inzaghi in the UEFA Champions League final against Liverpool FC, Alberto Gilardino has revealed that the "healthy competition" that exists between himself and his AC Milan team-mate is one of the secrets of his side's success this season.
Gilardino was not a Milan player when the Rossoneri suffered their penalty shoot-out defeat against Liverpool in the 2005 final - although he was already saying his final farewells to former club Parma FC, with his €24m transfer to San Siro just a month away. However, after enduring a trying second term that began with a Serie A points deduction, Gilardino's determination to win his first European Champions Clubs' Cup is just as great as that of his team-mates who were directly involved in Istanbul.
To claim European honours, though, the 24-year-old will want to improve on a modest UEFA Champions League goal return. "I've made a lot of Champions League appearances and it's true I haven't scored as many goals as I'd have liked," he told uefa.com. "However, I've played an important role in the side in other ways and believe I will be a decisive factor in the final." Gilardino's two UEFA Champions League goals to date are dwarfed by Inzaghi's return of 36 from 65 appearances.
Indeed, if the words of Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti ahead of the semi-final against Manchester United FC are anything to go by it is the veteran marksman who is the most likely to be given the nod in Athens. "There's more pressure in the Champions League and Gilardino doesn't have the experience yet to control that pressure," the Milan coach said. For his part, Inzaghi is certainly ready. "Off course I'd like to play from the start because I feel in great shape," he told uefa.com. "However, it's Ancelotti who decides the starting line-up and lifting the trophy is the only thing that counts."
Like Gilardino, Inzaghi was not on the pitch in Istanbul in 2005 but he is nonetheless eager to cancel the memories of that night. "I wasn't fit for that match and I had to watch the final from the stands," he continued. "It was painful because we had already won that cup but they took it out of our grasp. Liverpool are good but it won't happen again." If Gilardino is on the bench in Athens he will be hoping to have a similar impact as substitute as when he scored in the 3-0 semi-final second-leg win against Manchester United.
Ancelotti intends to adopt 'la staffetta' - an Italian phrase referring to passing the baton, or giving the players a half each - and Gilardino is ready for the relay. "The coach has said we'll adopt 'la staffetta' and that's fine, there is healthy competition between myself and Pippo [Inzaghi]. At a club like Milan there is always competition for places and we're ready to help out however we can. This has been our strength this year and hopefully it will be in Athens."
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