My piece for the Boot Room on AC Milan and Inter Milan.
AC Milan ended another disappointing season with a 1-0 loss to Juventus in the Coppa Italia.
The result was expected but how we eventually got there certainly wasn’t. Milan were the aggressors and generally the better side throughout but their overall lack of quality showed. Juventus held on and found a way to win, just as they’ve done during their current period of dominance in Italian football. Long gone are the days when Milan could produce something similar.
The Rossoneri have not won a trophy since the 2010/11 season and have missed out on Europe for a third consecutive season. Unlike their eternal rivals and neighbors, Inter Milan, there is no sign of imminent change. In every aspect in their recent rebuild, the Nerazzurri have made the correct decisions, or the better gambles if one prefers, when compared to Milan.
Indeed, one need only look at their performances against Juventus in the Coppa to see some evidence of that difference. Inter were knocked out in the semi-final but staged a brilliant second-leg comeback to drag the tie to penalties. Milan; for all their supposed dominance in the final, were still not favourites to win.
While Milan’s scatter-gun approach under long-time owner Silvio Berlusconi has played its part in this barren period, Inter’s more focused ownership has resulted in a steady climb. Unlike his counterpart who has held unto his beloved club far longer than he should, former Inter owner, Massimo Moratti, found new ownership for his club in the shape of Indonesian businessman, Erick Thohir.
Thohir’s first major act came almost a year after his arrival when he replaced Walter Mazzarri with Inter favourite, Roberto Mancini, midway through the 2014/15 season. Mancini may not have been the exciting change fans wanted but his knowledge of the club, the league and his experience has been vital in Inter’s steady resurgence. AC Milan however, are on their third coach since Mancini’s arrival and it could well be four before the beginning of the next season.
Both Milan and Inter entered the 2015/16 campaign without European football and expected a strong domestic season as a result. That was partly due to the duo’s surprising expenditure during the summer transfer window. Inter had the better summer of the two, as evidenced by the saga involving French midfield powerhouse, Geoffrey Kondogbia. Courted all summer by Milan, and almost a done deal according to Football Italia, it was a big surprise when Inter announced their capture of the former Monaco man. Kondogbia was one of many big-money arrivals for either side but, unlike Milan, Inter recouped a decent amount of fees with major departures of their own. Aside from Carlos Bacca and to a lesser extent Juraj Kucka, all of Inter’s new arrivals outperformed their Milan counterparts.
The departure of talents such as Mateo Kovacic and Fredy Guarin could have halted the progress of Mancini’s Inter. That hasn’t been the case. He has key, young, building blocks in the likes of Jefferson Murillo, Kondogbia and Mauro Icardi. There is the possibility that these players, especially Icardi, could leave but if they see further progress each season then the chances of keeping them improve. Milan still have young talents such as goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma and youthful defenders Davide Calabria and Alessio Romagnoli, but the sale of other potential first-team players such as Riccardo Saponara and Bryan Cristante highlight the haphazard decision-making in Milan’s boardroom.
Inter’s moves in the summer window meant Mancini now had a side closer to his preference and that showed as the Nerazzurri got off to a good start before succumbing to inconsistency from November on. Milan’s best stretch came in early January to late February and saw them get within touching distance of their rivals then falter. Sinisa Mihaljovic was relieved of his duties when results in the league dipped again even though he guided the club to the cup final. That highlights the major factor holding Milan again – Berlusconi.
Having overseen periods of major success with Milan during his major stint in charge, the former Italian prime minister feels he knows what’s best for side.
One could argue that his recent hiring of a number of less experienced managers – Mihajlovic aside – was as much down to a lack of interest from big-name managers as it was Bersculoni’s preference to assert his influence on whoever was in charge. The effect has been there for all to see. Mihajlovic was seen as a solid appointment but Berlusconi tired of his tactics even more so than results despite the improvements in organization that enabled Milan’s period of good form. It never seemed that Mancini was in such a position at any point during the season and both he and his team benefited from that.
With fourth place in the bag, Inter achieved the first target on the road back to recovery. The return to Europe’s elite will have to wait one more year but, as shown by this season’s knock-out rounds especially, the Europa League is special itself. Winning that tournament would be two victories in one for Inter but next season will have to be approached with caution due to the difficult schedule. Milan may not have European football to contend with, but the struggles this season show that means little.
Both clubs will look to continue their path back to the top of the Serie A this summer. Inter are further along in the process and can continue without major overhauls. Milan however, should stop and take note. Throwing money at new arrivals will not fix Milan’s issues as long as Bersculoni is in charge. The coach; for now at least, is the still untested Cristian Brocchi. The team is unbalanced and lacking real quality.
Milan share a stadium with Inter every season and it’s time they start taking some more notes from their rivals if they want to get back to the top.