FootballSerie A

New Milan, same malaise: It will get worse before it gets better for the Rossoneri

October 16, 2019

IT wasn’t supposed to be like this. At the start of the current international break, Marco Giampaolo became the first coach to be fired in Serie A, losing his job after just seven rounds of the 2019/20 campaign.

For most clubs, going into the international break having snapped a three-game losing streak would be cause for positivity and hope that the tide was beginning to turn, but AC Milan are not most clubs. Indeed, for the past few seasons, the Rossoneri have continually lurched from one manager to the next, always believing that things were about to get better but repeatedly seeing that faith go unfulfilled.

Giampaolo has been replaced by Stefano Pioli, the former Inter and Fiorentina boss becoming the ninth different man to sit in Italian football’s hottest seat since Max Allegri was fired in January 2014.

Even putting aside Mauro Tassotti’s caretaker stint and the temporary appointment of Cristian Brocchi, that is a number bordering on the ridiculous and the situation only gets worse when looking at the names involved. First came former Milan midfielder Clarence Seedorf who was still playing football when the club appointed him, ending his career at Brazilian side Botafogo to return to San Siro.

He oversaw the club's first five-match winning run in almost four years, their first win in the Milan Derby since 2011 and claimed 35 out of a possible 57 points, but would lose his job after just four months. The Rossoneri had finished eighth, but things would not improve under Seedorf’s replacement – former team-mate Pippo Inzaghi – as they slipped to a tenth place finish in 2014/15, missing out on European football for a second straight season.

In came Sinisa Mihajlovic, a man with plenty of coaching experience and no ties to Milan. He instantly changed the whole vibe around the club, got everyone pulling in the same direction and steered a young team to a seventh-place finish and a place in the Coppa Italia final. He too was given his marching orders, Vincenzo Montella taking over as it appeared the club finally had a plan to rebuild.

Under the newest boss, a vibrant, young, attacking side emerged, one led by a plethora of homegrown talent that thrived thanks to Montella’s excellent man-management. They finished sixth and won the Supercoppa Italiana (the first and, to date, only trophy Milan have lifted since Allegri’s departure), yet when the club was taken over by Yonghong Li, things would change dramatically once again.

That youth-driven project was shelved as the Rossoneri spent more money than any club in Europe, assembling an ill-fitting, haphazard squad that made very little sense on paper and  looked even worse out on the pitch. Montella was sacked by November in favour of yet another club legend, Gennaro Gattuso arriving with Milan in seventh place and steering them to finish one place higher, and reaching the Coppa Italia final.

All of that brings us to last season when Gattuso continued to help the team improve, ending the campaign with a four-game winning run that saw them just one point away from Champions League qualification. Yet they would once again make a change, but not before their former midfielder had once last chance to prove his undying loyalty.

Gattuso refused to accept the €5.5 million severance package he was owed, telling La Repubblica that he did so “because my story with Milan can never be a question of money.” In came Marco Giampaolo who had impressed with his work at Empoli and Sampdoria. Yet those eye-catching tenures were ones built upon a 4-3-1-2 formation and, even as the Rossoneri once again invested heavily on the transfer market, they failed to sign a player who could fill the trequartista role effectively.

Giampaolo kept trying to use former Liverpool man Suso there to no avail, the Spanish winger simply not able to make the adjustments needed to make the system work. The coach tried to change back to 4-3-3, but the team have consistently failed to create good attacking opportunities and have scored just two goals from open play so far this term. Perhaps winning just three of their opening seven games was worse than even their staunchest critics expected, but this was not just a failure by Giampaolo, it was a complete and total fiasco from everyone involved.

The players must carry their share of blame, but perhaps nobody is more culpable than new directors Paolo Maldini and Zvonimir Boban. The latter in particular – after spending the past decade criticising almost every decision Milan made – has yet to show he is any better at running a team than the men he was insulting for the best part of ten years.

That duo have now installed Stefano Pioli as coach, a truly underwhelming appointment by almost any measure. Sacked last season by Fiorentina after bringing the Viola to the brink of relegation, he was only given the job after a very public courting of Luciano Spalletti failed, he used his introductory press conference to say that he would “adapt to the players” rather than the other way round.

Clearly that is the right approach, but Pioli arrives as a former Inter manager and has admitted he supported the Nerazzurri as a child. Both factors hardly endear him to supporters of his new club, and his past failures mean he will start life at Milan with much to prove, and the Milan ultras made their feelings clear in a statement following the announcement.

“The thing that leaves us disconcerted is that the club, who had chosen a different coach for our bench, without even telling the old tactician that he had been fired, then moved on to a second choice,” read a note from representatives of the Curva Sud. “That highlighted the weakness of this club in failing yet again to achieve the target it really wanted.”

Pioli insists he is spurred on by the criticism. “I have respect for the fans and they have the right to criticise me, but for me it’s an extra stimulus,” the 53-year-old said at last week’s press conference. “I’ll get to work on both the players’ heads and how we will set up on the field. These will be 10 important days and I’ll try to make the most of every opportunity.”

He will need to, the problems with the current Rossoneri side perhaps outnumbering the amount of coaching changes those long-suffering fans have had to endure. It will be interesting to see how he sets the team up in his first game in charge, and if he can get last season’s leading scorer Krzysztof Piatek – who has netted just twice this term, both from the penalty spot – firing once again.

One quality Pioli has shown in the past is the ability to identify players who are simply not good enough to play for him and push them out of the team, notably hauling off Nenad Tomovic at half-time of his first game with Fiorentina then shipping him off to Chievo two days later. He will have no shortage of candidates for similar treatment in the current Milan squad, leaving Messrs Boban and Maldini with arguably more work to do than the coach himself.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this for AC Milan, but it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better.