Another Year Zero? 2018-2019 Thoughts
Milan is in a historical crisis. The gap between Milan and the so called big teams – of which Milan supposedly is one – looks set to increase. The years of mismanagement and inability to build teams, the years of spending money on signing and extending old and/or mediocre players were always going to catch up to a Serie A team. An English team may be, just may be, can spend their way out of problems, but not most other teams. Not Milan. Not in a Financial Fair Play era. Berlusconi left the team in a decidedly not safe hand and the eventual take over by a hedge fund may not guarantee much, even though it promised to at first.
Whether it be due to the aforementioned FFP or any other reason, Elliott Management seems to be embarking on a cost cutting, young team building mode. Instead of the initial promise of increasing the value of the team in order to sell high later.
On the footballing side various unproven or unsuitable coaches have come and gone since the day Allegri left Milan. Three management teams have insisted on relying on former players as coaches and all have been a miss. Coaches were confirmed on shaky ground only to be fired or resign not long after. The latest, a true Milanista, left graciously and left money behind but on the pitch he proved not good enough. Gattuso insisted on a 4-3-3 too predictably often, made late or perplexing subs often and remained loyal to out of form players for too long. A defensive mode – highlighted in a 1-0 win! – adapted after 1 goal or even zero goal game and a collapse like the one vs Olympiakos – a 3-1 loss when anything better could have sufficed – last fall had provided plenty of evidence that Milan has long needed a proven and veteran coach, at least. Milan, stuck with Gattuso and rode a hot player in Piatek for a month before it all went down hill and a Champions League spot was lost.
This brings us to the management team. Maldini who had ran away when the Chinese ownership of Li offered him a role came back to the fold as sporting strategy and development director when Elliott seemed to promise much more. Even though his role was ambiguous and not fully defined. Leonardo returned as sporting director and although bound by FFP they set out on positive changes. Piatek and Paqueta (at a whopping €70 million total) provided youth and new life, for a few weeks. The insistence of playing Calhanoglu as a left winger or left attacking midfielder was a failure. That combined with a predictable and off form Suso on the other side chocked the offense and left the once hot Piatek on his own up front. The three in the middle had ups and downs and Bonaventura’s long term injury didn’t help. Caldara’s injury riddled season added a depth problem at the back. The full backs were mostly mediocre and Conti’s long expected return from injury was like an interrupted anticlimax.
The season has now ended. Austerity and frugality seems to be the order of the day with Gazidis seemingly set to fulfill his money man reputation by starting anew. Leonardo and Gattuso have left, Maldini may accept a more defined role but most bets are off without cash to spend. A high profile coach would normally be a big statement and step up but without Champions League or any money that seems off the table too. In a summer when all of Antonio Conte, Maurizio Sarri, Max Allegri (and more) are possible none will arrive. The team might settle for Simone Inzaghi or March Giampaolo for the start of another year zero.