My piece for the Boot Room on a resurgent Milan.
AC Milan’s 1-0 win over Juventus last Saturday set them apart as one of the surprise teams so far this season. The Rossoneri followed that up with a loss to Genoa cool any over excitement following the big win. Milan now sit third in the Serie A table but there’s no telling where they’ll be when the season ends despite the promising start, and that’s just the question: how good can this Milan side be?
A resurgent Milan is definitely good for Serie A and football as a whole but cool heads need to prevail. The long talked about takeover by Chinese investors was finalized at the end of this summer transfer window. Before that, the club made what was a shrewd and intelligent decision in recruiting Vincenzo Montella to take charge of the squad. The former Fiorentina manager proved in the past he can create solid and stylish teams in a way that would please Silvio Berlusoni. He’s youthful enough be in charge for a long time to come and had the experience that many of the most recent candidates, bar Sinisa Mihajlovic, lacked.
Montella will get the credit for Milan’s start but the foundation was certainly laid out by his predecessor.
This Milan side has already beaten Juventus, Torino, Sassuolo Lazio and Fiorentina so far this season. A loss to Napoli is the only negative among the big games thus far. Montella’s team has showcased a mental fortitude that Mihajlovic began to forge in his reign and it would’ve been interesting to see how the team would have reacted had Juventus’ goal not been, incorrectly, ruled out. Montella has also continued to show faith in young players with M’Baye Niang, Alessio Romagnoli and, of course, Gianluigi Donnarumma playing key roles. Most eyes are now wandering to the newest of the bunch, 18-year-old Manuel Locatelli, after his second game-winning goal of the season. The future looks good with those talents as well as the likes of Davide Calabria and players in their prime like Giacomo Bonaventura. Make no mistake though, this is not a typical Montella side.
The new owners are expected to provide Montella with funds in the January transfer window. While a complete overhaul is unlikely in the middle of the season, a few changes should be expected. A lack of creativity in midfield beyond Bonaventura should see that area targeted first, and both the attack and defense lack quality depth beyond the starters. The likes of Keisuke Honda and Jose Sosa have been used sparingly in attack while the same goes for Leonel Vangioni in defense. If a quality player becomes available in any position then Milan would do well to look but half a season of good work won’t be enough to tempt the real difference-makers. Montella may just as well stick with what he has come to know, and worked with, so far this season but that may dependent on where the club stands at the winter break.
If Milan remains in the top three heading into the new year then expectations and excitement will rise.
Beating Juventus, however fortuitous, means Milan will be closely watched by their Serie A rivals. Montella will be keen to ensure his charges keep their feet on the ground for all the upcoming challenges. The loss to Genoa showed there is still lots of work to be done and might have solidified any idea Montella had of strengthening in January. Realistically, the best, and most likely, outcome for Milan is a return to Europe preferably the Champions League. Then the real work would begin.
Milan has shown signs of resurgence under Montella this season. The key will be performing well for the rest of the campaign and building on that both in January and the summer. It will take some time for Milan to really become the Milan of old but the Rossoneri have started moving in the right direction after seasons of disappointment. A return to Europe beckons if all goes well.
My piece for the Boot Room on Pellegrini’s rumoured move to AC Milan
The transfer rumour mill is in full effect this summer, and that includes news about various managers.
Manuel Pellegrini is one of a few big-name managers being mentioned this summer following his departure from Manchester City at the end of last season. In one of the more intriguing managerial rumours of the summer, the Mirror reports that the former City boss is a target for AC Milan.
The Italian club has been in transition for the last few summers, and part of that is down to a lack of managerial stability. Sinisa Mihajlovic was hired last summer in a move that was expected to end that trend but he was sacked near the end of the season. Christian Brocchi, then the youth team manager and a former Milan player, took over but has failed to convince as well. Milan hasn’t had a long-term A-list manager since the days of Carlo Ancelotti. Current Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri followed Ancelotti’s reign with for four partially successful seasons, but he did not have the reputation then that he does now.
Milan has disappointed since Allegri’s departure in 2014. Three of the four managers to take charge, Brocchi and Milan legends Clarence Seedorf and Filippo Inzaghi, were first-timers. Mihajlovic was far too pragmatic for president Silvio Berlusconi’s taste. None of these men at the helm provided the requisite results or performances to last long at the San Siro. That is where Pellegrini comes in.
Berlusconi knows Milan would be getting a manager with a vast amount of European experience and a generally good track record, should Pellegrini join. The Chilean also managed at Villarreal, Malaga and Real Madrid before his stint at The Etihad. Pellegrini’s teams have always played in the fluid manner Bersculoni prefers and have been successful doing so too.
There might not be too much silverware to show for his efforts, but Pellegrini won the Premier League at the first time of asking and challenged the might of Barcelona and Real Madrid while at Villarreal. The former Malaga manager is also used to constant pressure that inevitably comes while in charge of a big club. His tenure at both Real Madrid and Manchester City made sure of that. Milan fans would certainly have cause to be optimistic upon hearing Pellegrini being linked to their historic club.
Milan has finished in eighth, tenth and seventh in the last three seasons, with a revolving door of players accompanying the managerial carousel. The Rossoneri are heading into a third straight campaign without European football with one big question still to be answered. According to ESPN FC, Berlusconi started new negotiations concerning the sale of the club to Chinese investors. That article states the sale would need to be done by 15th June for normal service,;meaning transfer activity and coaching changes etc, to occur. The sale has been delayed due to Berlusconi’s recent health issues and that further hinders the club’s chances of improving as needed on and of the pitch.
Should everything be resolved; new ownership or not, it is unlikely to be all smooth sailing with Pellegrini in charge. The Chilean manager would be facing arguably his biggest rebuilding task and likely with little help. A new ownership group would need time to make any decisions in the transfer market though that may arguably be better than Berlusconi and his right-hand man, Adriano Galliani, staying on to continue their underwhelming work of the last few seasons.
Manuel Pellegrini himself has been rather hit and miss in the market when provided with money to spend. The arrivals of Santi Cazorla, Isco, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Fernandinho and Kevin De Bruyne during his stints at Malaga, Real Madrid and Manchester City were effectively neutralized by the signings of Kaka, Raul Albiol, Wilfried Bony and Eliaquim Mangala, among others. It is fair to say that at Real Madrid in particular, some of the decisions may not have been Pellegrini’s and rather worryingly, he would face a similar situation should he join Milan.
The drop-off in talent would also be a big task for a manager who is in the same category as Carlo Ancelotti at this stage of his career – more caretaker than builder. One could argue that the talent Pellegrini had at Villarreal and Malaga was better than this current Milan crop and more balanced as well. Questions about his lack of tactical adroitness defensively came up during the latter part of his City reign and will surely pop up again in Serie A. He would have a young defence to work with and a midfield that lacks the inventiveness he would prefer. The shining light would be the solid Carlos Bacca spearheading the attack.
Pellegrini certainly wouldn’t flop at Milan if given the chance, but would find the task harder than expected given all the variables. The other big question that arose at the end of his City reign surrounded his motivational abilities. The Citizens’ performances during the two Champions League semi-finals spoke of a squad no longer listening to the manager though the situation was quite unique. Milan’s hierarchy would be wise to be wary about tasking Pellegrini with galvanizing a chopped and changed squad that has failed to live up to the very shirt they represented in the last few seasons.
As rumours go, Pellegrini to AC Milan is one that gets eyebrows raising. Anyone harbouring thoughts of a quick return to glory should be cautious as Pellegrini is by no means a sure thing.
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.
Agreed. If change doesn’t come to Milan soon then this current poor period will continue. There’s been plenty of talk of interested buyers etc but nothing has come of it. Bersculoni wants to do whats best for Milan. That would mean giving up the club he loves.
As the author himself said. European football can survive without AC Milan but it has been strange not seeing the black and red for the past few seasons. I don’t see a win over Juventus coming either so there’s at least one more season in the wilderness. If Bersculoni and co. don’t get their act together it could easily be more.
If only. Milan need to get it together this summer or else they’ll continue to fall behind clubs like Sassuolo and, more importantly, Inter Milan.
Silvio Berlusconi’s sale of AC Milan would be the right move – ESPN FC
Yes, please sell Bersculoni. For all the good times are getting further and further away. I think new ownership would help Milan greatly, if only for a new perspective and ideas. The only worry would be any new owner leading the club into a worse situation on and off the pitch. Hopefully that doesn’t happen. Bersculoni has done a lot for the club but he’s become too stubborn like a certain French manager.
I would substitute bolder style of play for better administrative decision. Or better yet, a change in the decision-makers at the club. The transfer policy and managerial mess are down to the lack of direction etc. at the top. Silvio Berlusconi and Adriano Gallaini have had success in the past but it looks like everything is passing them by now.
Of course, Bersculoni would sack Mihajlovic. If anyone’s the problem at the club he is. Hoping for the best for Cristian Brocchi but another managerial next season wouldn’t be a surprised. Why sack Mihajlovic now when there’s a slight, very slight, chance of moving up one spot in the league and the possibility of silverware. At least say if he loses the Coppa then sack him. So strange. There won’t be any real big name talent, managerial or playing, at Milan again until he administrative side of things improve.
AC Milan and Inter Milan faced off in an early-season version of the Milan Derby.
Inter, hosts on the night, came out on top 1-0 courtesy of a Fredy Guarin strike. It was well deserved. Inter were the better team from start to finish and now have three wins out of three. Milan suffered their second loss of the season and have plenty to ponder.
A summer of upheaval in both camps generated some much-needed excitement before the season began. Rather than rebuild from the ground up, both Milan and Inter waded into the transfer market to speed up their recovery. The fact that neither team will take part in European competition didn’t dissuade the likes of Carlos Bacca, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Stevan Jovetic from joining.
While both sides made some solid moves, it remained to be seen just how well they would work out. Inter, it seems, are ahead of their rivals.
The home side were better in all thirds of the pitch. The match was generally controlled by an Inter midfield fielding three new signings in Felipe Melo, Ivan Perisic and the aforementioned Kondogbia. Elsewhere on the pitch, Jeison Muirillo stood tall for Inter in defense and Stevan Jovetic was again a menace in attack. The same couldn’t be said for most of their opponents. For the third game running, Milan’s midfield were second best, and the attack and defense suffered as a result.
A mixture of questionable selections, substitutions and under-performances from new signings played a part in all that. With the two sides playing a similar formation, the battle for control in midfield was even more important. That makes some of the personnel decisions even more baffling for Milan.
An injury to new midfielder Andrea Bertolacci meant one change was necessary, but Nigel De Jong stayed on the bench for Milan when his physicality and defensive nous was needed. Instead, Sinisa Mihajlovic chose the trio of Riccardo Montolivo, Juraj Kucka, another new signing, and Gaicomo Bonaventura. That group didn’t have the requisite power to match Inter’s midfield, and the fact that Inter’s Melo controlled the game says it all. Kucka and Bonaventura both tried to make things happen, but both came up short in their individual duels, or failed with their end product.
Montolivo spent more time trying to track the movements of Jovetic and Perisic than being the creative force Milan needed from deep. That problem was exacerbated by the fact that Keisuke Honda was almost non-existent in the attacking midfield role. The lack of defensive protection Montolivo provided was evident as Guarin was sent on his way to score the eventual winner. Montolivo didn’t put himself in a good position to intercept the pass to Guarin and failed to catch up to the Colombian before he unleashed his shot.
With the lack of service from midfield, newly signed forwards Luiz Adriano and Carlos Bacca were left to fend for themselves. Bacca, surprisingly, took on the role of creator with two great passes for his partner. Adriano then contrived to miss those chances and was otherwise anonymous minus some tireless running. Those things considered, it was strange to see Adriano last the full 90 minutes while Bacca was substituted.
All these issues meant an easier time for an Inter side also adjusting to new players. There was one positive for Mijhalovic, though.
Mario Balotelli‘s introduction midway through the second half almost turned the game for Milan. The enigmatic forward immediately became Milan’s biggest threat. A couple of skillful dribbles and a few rasping shots to test Samir Handanovic led to increased interest from Inter’s defense. Balotelli showed in his cameo that he could be the man to play behind the two forwards, even hustling defensively a few times. If this is the Balotelli that Milan are getting, then he will be key to their hopes of success.
With no Europe to contend with, and added time to prepare in between games, the midfield issues should be rectified. According to WhoScored, Milan has an average of 47.6 percent possession each game. That needs to be fixed. Mihajlovic may continue to experiment, but some decisions will be easier than others. What to do with Balotelli will be one of those tough questions. If he can keep him engaged, then it’s possible he has the man he needs to spark the attack. It won’t make a difference if the midfield doesn’t work though.