After a season of under-achievement, Milan hope their new signing from Alaves, adventurous Romanian right-back Cosmin Contra, will be one of the men to spearhead a revival.

Contra, one of the leading lights of an Alaves side that came from nowhere to become a major force in Spain and Europe last season, is certainly worth the œ7million forked out by Milan. His competitiveness and strong tackling should stiffen Milan’s rearguard, while his attacking play has improved out of all recognition in recent years.

During Contra’s early career, with Politehnica Timisoara and Dinamo Bucharest, it was widely felt that his distribution and crossing were not accurate enough. Such criticism is no longer valid. Since arriving at Alaves from Dinamoin summer 1999, the Romanian has developed into arguably the best attacking right-back in Spain.

This spring, as Alaves were en route to the UEFA Cup Final and a creditable mid-table finish at home, it seemed that everyone was a Contra fan. The likes of Juventus, Roma, Internazionale and Valencia were all said to be preparing bids, but what really excited him was the news that Real Madrid and Barcelona were in the hunt too.

“For a while I hoped to stay in Spain and play for Real Madrid or Barcelona,” admits Contra. “But they didn’t act fast enough. When Milan came in for me, I didn’t need any convincing. My old Alaves team-mate Javi Moreno had just signed for them and he told me of their incredible training facilities at Milanello and that the people there were very welcoming. I’ve really grown up as a player in the last two years and I’m not at all apprehensive about playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world.”

Contra does have a tendency to court unnecessary controversy, however. No doubt Inter fans will remember his recent dismissive comments about their club (“Inter have a lot of money but nothing else”), while in January he railed against what he perceives as refereeing bias in Spain.

After a bad tackle by Real Madrid’s Roberto Carlos on Alaves team-mate Antonio Karmona went unpunished, Contra stated: “It was one of the most brutal challenges I’ve seen in Spain. If I made a tackle like that I’d get a 10-match ban, but I’m Romanian and he’s Roberto Carlos and plays for Real Madrid. They clamp down more on the smaller clubs, but it’s like that in the world of football. The big teams have an advantage.”

The Italian press will love him.

Club Milan (Ita)
Country Romania
Born December 15, 1975, in Timisoara
Previous clubs Politehnica Timisoara, Dinamo Bucharest, Alaves (Spa)
International debut April 1996, v Georgia
International caps 25 (1 goal)