On October 9th Stefano Pioli became Milan’s eighth head coach since Massimiliano Allegri was fired back in January 2014. Pioli, 53 with 16 years’ coaching experience, thus became Milan’s most experienced coach since Ancelotti a decade ago. Can the experience make a difference? Can adapting to players, as Pioli claimed in his introduction, be more than just empty words and a positive?
The failure that was Marco Giampaolo was seen in stark detail in the opening matches where Milan managed a poor three wins and four losses. His very short tenure started with some promise with good games in the US preseason tour but it had seemingly evaporated in the last preseason 0-0 tie at Cesena. That game would prove a foreboding. Very soon after the season began the coach seemed to abandon his favoured 4-3-1-2 and admit defeat. The over use of underperforming players such as Calhanoglu and Suso seemed to confirm the defeatist attitude and the promising coach left after a win, versus Genoa, but overall a whimper. Certainly Giampaolo wasn’t first choice but finances and/or financial fair play pressures and of course missing the Champions League limited Milan’s options in the summer.
Boban and Maldini talked of doing big things fast but have so far been unable and then by firing Giampaolo admitted failures. Whether Boban and Maldini will last longer than Leonardo is a very good question. It seems that these former legends and players still dream of the glory sky is the limit age they were part of and expect Elliott or any owner to provide the means back to the top quickly.
Whether fans and others agree or not this team will remain a young and relatively low budget one for the time being. Whether this relative low budget and young era is an excuse for being midtable or worse is the true question here. It rests on Pioli’s shoulders to make true changes to the team and whether he truly favors a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 the bigger question is will he build a team around the best performers or not? Suso has been hailed as a “champion” by many in and around Milan but has shown very little for too long. In a 4-3-3 where he has been the key creator for the lone center forward he has failed the team and himself more often than otherwise. Calhanoglu has been used as a de facto attacking midfielder and has failed even more often. His ball winning and possession has been atrocious at best and this is not counting the creative aspect that would be needed to provide an alternative to Suso in the attacking third. Others, particularly the full backs, have disappointed more often than not and the likes of Conti who arrived with much promise is barely used, when available.
Pioli has to change more than just formations, he has to reshape the starting 11 and the team’s morale. He has apparently already made changes to foster team bonding with schedule changes for breakfast and team get togethers. On the pitch he has to prove himself flexible and fearless. Dropping Calhanoglu and Suso would be only first steps in the process of changing how the team creates and moves on the pitch.