Club must make long-term plans to keep up as power in Italy shifts
15 October ~ The days when the city of Milan lorded it over Italian football are becoming a distant memory, as the last round of matches before the international break showed. Despite having played in Warsaw on Thursday, Napoli swept to a 4-0 victory over AC Milan in the Stadio Meazza and thousands of Rossoneri fans walked out long before the end.
Since January 2014, Milan have had four coaches. Massimiliano Allegri, sacked after a 4-3 defeat at Sassuolo. Clarence Seedorf, sacked at the end of 2013-2014 when the team finished eighth and out of Europe. Filippo Inzaghi, sacked at the end of last season which saw a tenth-place finish, so again no Europe. And now Sinisa Mihajlovic is in charge, and after seven games he has five points fewer than Inzaghi at the same stage.
With three wins and four defeats, 13 goals conceded and no clean sheets, Milan now stand tenth in the Serie A table. They have beaten, with great difficulty, Empoli, Udinese and Palermo, all below them, and lost to Fiorentina, Inter, Genoa (below them) and Napoli.
So three new coaches but results have not improved. This suggests that it is the players who are not good enough. What is abundantly clear is that the team lack character at the moment. There are no leaders and their heads go down too easily. They have yet to gain any points after going behind. When you watch today’s Milan it is like watching 11 individuals and not a team.
How different it has been for most of the last 30 years. During that time there was always a nucleus of players who were Milanistithrough and through, from Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta to the last of the breed, Gennaro Gattuso, Filippo Inzaghi and Massimo Ambrosini. They were leaders and very strong characters and they made sure that their team-mates understood what it meant to pull on the Rossonero jersey.
They have gone, to be replaced by overrated, overpriced and overpaid players, most of whom would not even have made the bench 20 years ago. This summer’s recruitment policy illustrates starkly how badly those who work behind the scenes have got it wrong. They have spent €25 million (£18.5m) on 20-year-old defender Alessio Romagnoli from Roma, €20m on 24-year-old midfielder Andrea Bertolacci, also from Roma, though he spent the last three seasons with Genoa, €30m on 29-year-old striker Carlos Bacca from Seville, and €8m on a second striker, the 28-year-old Luiz Adriano from Shakhtar, while Mario Balotelli returned on loan from Liverpool.
Luiz Adriano could be value for money, but the other three are absurdly overpriced. For a comparison, consider that Atalanta paid Heerenveen €1.6m euros for Dutch midfielder Marten de Roon, and he has been a revelation. Balotelli is, we are told, behaving well, but he remains an anarchic player, which is not what Milan need at the moment. So over €80m spent and no noticeable improvement.
Meanwhile other clubs seem to be able to attract better players at lower prices, and to get them to play attractive and cohesive football. Silvio Berlusconi and his trusted sidekick Adriano Galliani have some explaining to do. To say that their judgement is questionable is an understatement.
The city of Milan is being left behind as the pecking order in Italian football is changing. It is no longer the centre of gravity and both of its teams have been in decline for some years now, as is shown by the fact that neither are in Europe this season. Even Inter, though second at the moment, are far from impressive. They cannot be ruled out, but Fiorentina, Napoli, Roma and possibly even Juventus are more likely title contenders.
Milan’s Japanese midfielder Keisuke Honda is quoted as saying in an interview that the club have two choices. Either they must model themselves on Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City, or they must rein in their ambitions, rebuild slowly and maybe wait up to ten years to become great again. It will not go down well within the club, but he is probably right. Richard Mason