Jun 292019

On Friday June 28th Milan were officially excluded from the 2019-2020 edition of the Europa League due to the breach of “break-even obligations during the 2015/2016/2017 and the 2016/2017/2018 monitoring periods”. Last season Milan lost their case at the UEFA Club Financial Control Body Adjudicatory Chamber but appealed to the Court Of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and won the rights to participate in the 2018-2019 edition of the club tournament. This year however Milan have ‘accepted’ or perhaps better put negotiated an exclusion. Elliott have maintained that the mismanagement of the past ownerships of Berlusconi and Li was not their fault. A sort of clean slate is now available but one where extreme caution is required because Milan may end up in the same place in three seasons. Transfer activity and spending may get some breathing space but obviously the team can not go on a crazy spending spree.

Gazidis will now attempt to strengthen the team but maintain a balance and as tough as it may seem Inter – recently satisfying FFP regulations – may point the way to one possible path forward. The cross town rivals have managed to escape UEFA’s wrath by selling youth players to create gains on the balance sheet. Names like 18 year old Davide Bettella and 19 year old Federico Valietti sold to Atalanta and Genoa respectively last season for a combined €13 million generate positive numbers, so does the recent sale of Zinho Vanheusden to Standard Liege for over €12 million. But to do that Milan’s management needs to rebuild the recently relegated primavera team too.

The mercato or silly season has, as usual, conjured up a variety of names and now that the UEFA verdict is in it provides an opening for wilder rumours, most of which still remain unrealistic. At the outset names like Stefano Sensi were daily mentions but he has drifted away towards Inter or elsewhere. A meeting with Florentino Perez,  Real Madrid’s president, in Madrid provided excitement when the possibility of Dani Ceballos was brought up. The talented 22 year old midfielder could be available on a loan with or without obligation and would provide much needed skill to Milan’s bare midfield. However that meeting may have yielded a left back first. Theo Hernandez, Lucas’ brother. The indications are that the French player is more than willing to fly to Milan and Real are open to some form of transfer.   Whether or not a LB (costing around €20 million) is a priority is up for debate. The search for much needed midfield enforcement has revolved and focused on Arsenal’s Lucas Torriera. News of the payer wanting to return to Italy after one season in London circulated, were denied and then recycled. Arsenal’s (un)willingness to let him go has changed on a daily basis as well. At this point it seems that Uruguayan is either too expensive (€40 million plus) or unmovable.

One often neglected aspect of Milan’s transfer activity is selling players for good money! A lot of words have been written about Milan possibly ‘sacrificing’ Donnarumma for pure profit. Numbers north of €50 million have been whispered and PSG is likely the prime destination. Whether or not the now Buffon-less Parisians are willing to pay that amount remains to be seen. Super agent Mino Raiola may have his part to play and so does Leonardo, now PSG’s sporting director. PSG’s initial offer included goalkeeper Alphonse Areola and anywhere between €20 and €30 million cash but Milan have three other goalkeepers in Reina, Plizarri and Antonio (Gigio’s brother) on the squad and do not need a goalkeeper in return. If Hernandez does arrive for amounts mentioned then Milan can (or plan to) cash in on Rodriguez. Suso is another name said to be unfit for Giampaolo’s 4-3-1-2 but the coach may ask him to stay and try to integrate him into the attacking midfield role. That looks unlikely to be a success and perhaps the Spanish winger can generate some much needed profit this summer as well.

Midfield requires a lot of work and one hopes a lot of talent can be found within realism. Other spots such as central defense need bodies too and while players like Ozan Kabak seem to have rejected Milan’s offer as unsatisfactory there is still time to find the right player for what should be a back up spot, left vacant by Zapata’s departure. Midfield is in dire shape and needs to be an absolute priority.

Jun 202019

Marco Giampaolo’s 4-3-1-2 is new for Milan

After being an open secret and not being officially announced for what seems like eons Marco Giampaolo has finally been confirmed as Milan’s newest coach. The management office has now taken shape following Leonardo’s departure, and eventual return to PSG. Maldini is the new technical director, taking a step up from his previous mostly undefined strategic role. Boban returns to Milan as chief football officer and in the process leaves the deputy secretary general post at FIFA.

Marco Giampaolo is 51 and has coached Sampdoria for the last three seasons. The year before that he coached Empoli for one season where he replaced Maurizio Sarri. Milan is the 10th team he has coached in his 15 years as head coach. His combined record at the two aforementioned teams is 61 wins, 36 draws and 55 losses. Empoli finished 10th in 2015-2016. In his first two seasons in charge Sampdoria replicated that 10th spot. The following season Sampdoria finished 9th.

Giampaolo is known for a 4-3-1-2 formation, a relatively uncommon set up in these 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 days. He often prefers that the full backs stay back, defend and provide a base for the buildup, again unusual for the times. The midfield three will be crucial to this Milan restart. Fortunately or unfortunately Milan are almost forced to start from scratch in midfield. With Bertolacci, Montolivo, Mauri and Bakayoko all gone the midfield is bare and can be picked to suit the new coach. Financial fair play and general monetary problems will restrict what can be given to Giampaolo but at least he has a blank slate. Will he use Paqueta in the attacking or advanced midfield position behind the two strikers or will he try Suso there. A lot will also depend on who is sold. Suso might be one to leave, to raise some much needed cash. Also the 4-3-1-2 does not rely on wingers so may be Suso is expendable regardless of monetary considerations.

As mentioned Milan needs to buy midfielders as the team only has Biglia and Kessie as true midfielders. Bonaventura, Calhanoglu and the aforementioned Paqueta slot in in variable forms but at least three new players are needed. Rumours have mentioned many names. Too few of which are expensive or world class owing to the limited flexibility afforded the team. One of the available spots is already filled with another name familiar to the coach. Rade Krunic, Empoli’s 25 year old Bosnian midfielder, has already completed his medical and looks set to be the first signing at €8 million. Sassuolo’s Stefano Sensi, Fiorentina’s Jordan Veretout are two other rather underwhelming but more realistic choices. Two players coached by Giampaolo are on the wish list as well. Lucas Torreira – coached by Giampaolo in all of his three years at Sampdoria –  may be interested in returning to Italy after one season at Arsenal but the Uruguayan is likely unaffordable even if Arsenal do negotiate at all. Dennis Praet’s name has been mentioned as well but the Sampdoria midfielder may head elsewhere.

The two forwards required for the 4-3-1-2 are a departure for the formations used at Milan in recent seasons. Piatek and Cutrone (plus Borini) will need help and Andre Silva may be the solution. The Portuguese has returned from a disappointing loan spell and may initially have the coach’s confidence. Recent reports seem to indicate that Milan will try to buy Andrej Kramaric from Hoffenheim to complement the available strikers.

The defense is unlikely to change much but Zapata’s departure opens a spot to fill. Dejan Lovren from Liverpool is one name in the mix, Stuttgart’s Ozan Kabak is another. The latter is 19 years old and is a former Galatasaray prospect, he may fit well in the renewal and rebuild era.

Donnarumma will only leave Milan to raise funds. PSG need a goalkeeper following Buffon’s departure and may be willing to pay upwards of €60 million for Gigio. At that price Milan may well take the deal and throw Reina and 19 year old Alessandro Plizzari between the posts.

A lot is unknown, including Milan’s fate visa vi UEFA . Can Milan forfeit 2019-2020 Europa League participation in return for more time to balance the books? Can Milan spend enough to grab a top 4 spot next season?

Giampaolo was no one’s first choice but lack of Champions League football and very deep losses (reported to be around €500 million over the last five years!) has handcuffed the team. Milan will suffer the Berlusconi (and Li) legacy for a while longer.

May 312019

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.


May 262019

The sometimes dreadful and frustrating 2018-2019 season is coming to an end with a must win game, if a Champions League spot is to be gained. Much has been said about how the season derailed in February and how the rivals matched the incompetence to allow Milan to stay inside the top 4 and drop out of the spot only after weeks of poor losses. Gattuso is likely to pay the price for it all, he of defensive and stubborn tactics. It may even transpire that there are more management casualties. Leonardo could leave too and set the stage for a Gazidis mini austerity revolution. More will be known, said and written very soon after this week 38 match.

Milan remain without Paqeuta through suspension and Calabria through injury. The way the squad is built and the way the coach insists on a 4-3-3 that leaves very little doubt as to what the starting line up is going to be. Piatek, Suso and Borini will form the front three. Bakayoko, Kessie, and Calhanoglu will be in the middle. Abate, playing his last ever Milan match, will be at right back alongside Musacchio, Romagnoli and Rodriguez. Donnarumma, of course, starts in goal.

Three points will be enough for a top 4 spot if one of Atalanta or Inter drop points. Both are playing home matches, versus Sassuolo and Empoli respectively. Empoli have relegation – one solitary point ahead of Genoa for the final relegation place – fears and may give it all but other than that Milan’s chances of playing in Europe’s money generator are low to even lower.

SPAL may lose their highly rated and long time coach after the season. The Emilia-Romagna team have over achieved under the guidance of Leonardo Semplici.

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May 192019

The season collapse started earlier in the year and has now almost certainly cost the team a spot in next season’s Champions League. Two last wins over Bologna and Fiorentina have followed a stretch of one win in Seven Serie A matches – and an elimination in the Coppa semi finals. Milan kept ownership of fourth spot until very recently as the main rivals for the 4th spot – with the notable exception of Atalanta – almost matched Milan’s woeful form. So now Milan sit in 5th spot – at the start of week 37 – and need two wins from this Frosinone match and next week’s finale versus SPAL to stand any chance of catching up to Inter or Atalanta.

Milan will again be without Paqueta because of the ref contact red card in the Fiorentina match. The subsequent three match ban for the Brazilian has put a creative dent in Milan’s last three matches but if this team can not find six more points against the aforementioned 19th and 11th placed teams then European exclusion would not have been deserved.

The 4-3-3 remains for this match and so does Borini. Gattuso is now the subject of daily exit rumours but will a good or superior coach come to Milan to replace the former midfielder? Piatek needs service and Suso needs form. The midfield needs creativity and there isn’t enough of it in Bakayoko, Calhanoglu and Kessie. The defense has lacked a bit consistency and quality but despite scattered rumours linking Milan to full backs and central defenders the team’s main issues are very much further up the pitch. Musacchio, Romagnoli and Caldara (if healthy) can remain and so can Zapata if UEFA austerity regulations force Milan’s hands. Abate gets a start at right back mainly due to the absence through injury of Calabria and Conti’s rather uncertain form.

Frosinone were officially relegated weeks ago and haven’t won for over a month.

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Apr 282019

Coppa semi home elimination by Lazio, dropping points at Parma and the late season nose dive continues unabated. The near miracle of hanging on to 4th place and the final Champions League spot is about to come crashing down.

Despite 1 win in 6 Milan somehow remained in 4th place at the start of week 34. This is about to end unless Torino – 1 loss since January – can be beaten away. Milan’s mediocre form and Gattuso’s continued insistence on using the likes of Suso and Borini are putting the coach’s position under more scrutiny and the much talked about “Finish 4th and he stays” is now under threat as well. Maurizio Sarri or another coach could be on his way no matter how the season ends.

Racist trouble hit Italian football, again. Bakayoko was the subject of chants via the famous right wing elements at Lazio. After the Serie A win vs Lazio on April 13 the aforementioned and Kessie created their own pseudo controversy by holding up an Francesco Acerbi jersey jokingly (or mockingly) at the end of the game, but this half silly half bad judgement gesture paled in comparison to the fascism that is part of Lazio lore.

Torino themselves could catch Milan as they lie only 3 points behind the rossoneri. This makes the game even more important. Gattuso’s baffling and stubborn choices are set for more head scratchers as Cutrone is set to start ahead of Piatek while the short lived 3-4-3 used in the coppa game will be dumped for a return to the predictable 4-3-3. Conti could be getting a start as Calabria injured himself midweek and will miss the rest of the season. The team is otherwise healthy and Paqueta makes a return to the starting lineup. The Brazilian will line up with Bakayoko and Kessie behind Suso, Calhanoglu and Cutrone. The aforementioned Bakayoko may sour on Italian football after the racist abuse and lower the chances of a Milan stay. Whether Milan have the cash to make his loan permanent may become irrelevant.

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Apr 132019

Week 31 was yet again eventful. Losing 2-1 at Juventus was not the biggest surprise but the manner of the loss was. For a good number of minutes Milan did well against the defending champions and took the lead via Piatek late in the first. However, VAR and its lack of usefulness were put on view when Alex Sandro’s arm made contact with the ball inside the box after a Milan cross. A long deliberation called it a no penalty despite replays – showing a hand ball by current standards and interpretation – on view for all to see including Michael Fabbri, the main referee. Once again Juventus got away with it. Later there were whispers of an apology being offered to Milan by Nicola Rizzoli, Serie A’s chief referee. That may not have been the case since Rizzoli did not publicly acknowledge anything and in fact defended Fabbri against the threat of not being assigned games for a few weeks.

The second half was not as good. Problems crept in and one such mistake was Musacchio misjudging a Dybala run and instead of perhaps letting the ball run put a leg in and brought down the Argentinian. The same player converted the penalty to tie the game. Later Juve sub – and alleged Milan fan – Moise Kean scored from the top of the box after a nice play and individual move. Milan lost to a Ronaldo-less Juventus but retained 4th spot for another week due to the lackluster chasing pack.

Week 32 has been offered up as another “final”. To stay in Champions League places after going without a win in four match days is lucky in itself but losing any more games is likely to end that.  Atalanta, Roma, Lazio and Torino are within 3 points of Milan and so ninth place is not far away. Borini got the start at Juventus and he is in line to get another, whether that’s the best way to approach to a so called final is questionable. As mentioned Musacchio was to blame for the Juventus goal and was generally below par. This had led to calls for Caldara getting a first Serie A start but it doesn’t looks like it will be happening. Gattuso’s now famous loyalty is likely to strike again as everybody including Rodriguez, Suso and Kessie are set to be starters. Paqueta is still out of course, the Brazilian midfielder will be out until early May. So is Donnarumma, although the young goalie is much closer to a return. Therefore Reina will start in goal and the 4-3-3 is here to stay.

Lazio are three points behind but have a game in hand. The 3-5-2 team are of course led by Ciro Immobile’s 14 Serie A goals.

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Apr 062019

Milan dropped points once again. The tie versus Udinese was a blow in the standings and the stated aim of reaching and staying in the Champions League spots. As it unfolded the rest of the pack are not in much better shape either with all of Lazio, Roma and Sampdoria dropping points. So Milan is still fourth. Piatek, opportunistic and with good reflexes, nodded the ball in just before half time to rescue a lackluster first 44 minutes. The first half had turned into a worrying debacle with both Donnarumma and Paqueta having to be subbed off due to thigh and ankle issues respectively. The 4-3-1-2 that was only practiced for a short time following the loss at Sampdoria three days earlier fell apart with Paqueta’s departure. The second half didn’t produce enough and right after a good chance to double the lead Udinese executed a near perfect counter that ended with Kevin Lasagna beating Reina in goal. The replay had made some fans wonder why the whole Milan 11 were playing so high on the pitch.

The injuries to Donnarumma and Paqueta will likely keep them out for a period measured in weeks. Donnarumma looks to be one who is out for a shorter time, perhaps only two weeks and the Brazilian four or five. The 4-3-1-2 is probably back in the archives and a 4-3-3 back on the pitch. Suso and Kessie whose poor form and minor knocks had kept them out of the Udinese game should be back for this game versus the reigning champions. Juventus are very close to clinching another title but have the additional burden of Champions League matches to come midweek. Will they be fully focused for Milan? The answer is likely yes. Gattuso, who has come under pressure again, may for unknown reasons use Borini on LW and push back Calhanoglu to the left midfield again. Suso and Piatek will join Borini up top and Kessie and Bakayoko will join the Turkish international in midfield. The back four versus Udinese featured Abate. The veteran failed to shine but his replacements haven’t done much better in the last two match days. Calabria, Musacchio, Romagnoli and Rodriguez are to be the starters.

On the subject of coaching a new name started circulating as a possible summer change. Mauricio Pochettino, the Tottenham manager, often linked to Real Madrid and Manchester United, is now linked to Milan as the two mentioned teams have decided to move ahead with Zinedine Zidane (again) and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Is he a realistic target? Never say never but it is unlikely.

Juan Cuadrado, Andrea Barzagli, Douglas Costa and Ronaldo remain out for Juventus. The latter’s absence is likely the only reason for optimism about this match.

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Apr 022019

Week 29 produced a howler and an abysmal performance. The game got off to a disastrous start when, within the first minute, Donnarumma gifted a goal to Gregoire Defrel. The goalie simply returned a back pass to the French footballer who rebounded the ball back into goal. Milan never recovered.

The rest of the game and once again especially the first half were at best poor and at worst painful to watch. Sampdoria’s midfield dominated and Milan players were unable to connect passes. Fabio Quagliarella didn’t make it easy for the defense. The veteran and his team threatened more goals. The tactic of playing from the back and using square passes were very much ineffective and Piatek remained disconnected and isolated. Suso and Calhanoglu offered little and Rodriguez missed cross after cross. The Swiss international was replaced at half time but Conti wasn’t to be a solution. The introduction of Paqueta, presumably rested after returning from a scoring performance for the selecao, in the second somewhat connected the midfield to attack to create some positive vertical movement but it was not good enough.

The second loss in a row has apparently become a catalyst for Gattuso to try something different. This midweek match comes very soon after the defeat in Genoa but the 4-3-3 may be modified to a 4-3-1-2 with Paqueta playing further up and behind two center forwards. Cutrone hasn’t impressed in sub roles this season but looks to get a start along side Piatek. Indications are that the massively underperforming Suso will sit this one out and a Kessie, Bakayoko, Calhanoglu middle three will start. The defense and goalkeeper starters are likely to remain unchanged.

Udinese sit at a lowly 16th and are lead by Rodrigo De Paul and Kevin Lasagna.

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Mar 302019

The international break following the 2-3 derby loss was dominated by stadium talk and the Kessie – Biglia incident on the bench during the derby. The two players had to be held apart for something that is not fully explained. Gattuso talked of it as a second defeat – besides the derby loss itself of course.  Squad unity and discipline is highly regarded by Gattuso, perhaps even too much, and he has since talked to the players and the team has fined Kessie for the incident. The team needs to move forward, improve and fight the “10 finals” to the end of the season.

The stadium issue seems to have shifted focus to a shared solution, a new shared stadium and not the San Siro itself. A fully and solely owned stadium is likely beyond the financial means of most owners but it is surely a better solution if the team is to maximize its value and revenue. Elliott and future owners must attempt to build and not share. However, there are still many (municipal) hurdles to jump over before a final decision.

The derby itself was disappointing. Inter broke out of their recent woes and were far more dynamic and quick in possession. Perisic and co still without Icardi attacked Milan on numerous occasions, Matias Vecino attacked between the lines while Paqueta, Kessie and the whole defense looked on and soon Milan buckled. Bakayoko scored his first Milan goal and gave hope in the second half. Later a handful of close chances were missed and near the final whistle an unlikely tie was one or two yards away.

Sampdoria, five places behind Milan, host this week 29 encounter. The Liguria team has scored and conceded many goals this season. Fabio Quagliarella is leading the Serie A top scorers list and at 36 earned a return to the Azzurri line up.

Milan are expected to use a somewhat predictable starting 11 but Kessie is likely to give way to Biglia. Bakayoko’s much improved form has made the calls for a permanent transfer from Chelsea louder and lining up with Biglia and Paqueta has the makings of a more solid middle three. The latter scored his debut selecao goal during the international break, vs Panama and may be rested for this match. Suso will need to break out of his slump as he is retaining his up front spot alongside Piatek and either of Calhanoglu or Castillejo despite a very poor run of form, but then again Gattuso is a loyal to a fault kind of coach.

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