Coppa Italia: Quarter-finals / Team rating: 4 / Top scorer: Balotelli (14)
Europe: Champions League Round of 16
A campaign of mismanagement, confusion, more injury problems and two Coaches left Milan out of Europe for the first time since 1997, writes Susy Campanale.
This season started badly, hit rock bottom at the midway point and then, after a brief revival, went back down the tubes. The worst part is few lessons have been learned and Milan will have to rebuild all over again.
Massimiliano Allegri clearly wasn’t wanted after finishing third last term and President Silvio Berlusconi could barely stand to be in the same room as his Coach, who, let’s not forget, had won the Scudetto at his first attempt. There was one year left to run on the contract, yet Allegri turned down an offer from Roma and Berlusconi was convinced to give him one more season at San Siro. Ultimately, they both should’ve called it a day back in July and regret extending this doomed relationship for another six months, like a couple staying together for the children who had already moved out anyway.
The problems were evident from Week 1, when Luca Toni’s newly-promoted Hellas Verona came back from a goal down to win 2-1. High-scoring draws at Torino and Bologna, a home defeat to Napoli in which Mario Balotelli failed to convert a penalty for the first time in his professional career, and stuttering stalemates with Lazio, Chievo, Genoa and Livorno saw Milan never really trouble the top spots in Serie A. Defeat to Inter was a heavy blow, but a 4-3 pummelling at top flight virgins Sassuolo in January proved the final straw, especially as the Rossoneri had been 2-0 up. Marking the midway point in the season, this was the club’s worst start in over a decade and the end of Allegri’s tenure.
Allegri was caught in a power play between Silvio Berlusconi, his daughter Barbara and CEO Adriano Galliani. It was Galliani who had always supported Allegri’s candidacy and Barbara Berlusconi announced on television that Milan ‘would no longer tolerate’ these results or performances after the 4-3 defeat to Sassuolo. The day after, Allegri had to be sacked, as she had drawn a very public line under the sand. Barbara was also appointed joint-CEO with Galliani, supposedly with the focus only on marketing and sponsorship deals, but often putting her opinion across with regards to transfers and coaching strategy. Galliani felt undermined after 25 years at the club and the below-par squad selection also led to calls for the ‘transfer guru’ to retire gracefully.
This utter confusion within the club made life difficult for the team and fans, as it became obvious there was no plan for what would happen after losing stars like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso, Massimo Ambrosini and Pippo Inzaghi. What should’ve been a transitional period turned into one of improvisation, leaping from one idea to the next with no consistency at all. They either spent €10m on Juventus benchwarmer Alessandro Matri or went for thoroughly past-it cheap swoops like Michael Essien.
Once Allegri was sacked, President Berlusconi insisted on bringing in Clarence Seedorf, who had to interrupt his playing career at Brazilian club Botafogo to take the job with no management experience whatsoever. Greeted with a mixture of perplexity and scepticism, the Dutchman won his first game in charge, a late Balotelli penalty sinking Hellas Verona on January 19.
The change of tactician inspired some fight in the players, who scraped a win at Cagliari with two goals in stoppages and a home stalemate with Torino. It didn’t last, though, as they plunged into a series of three consecutive Serie A defeats, plus the Champions League exit to Atletico Madrid. The Dutchman did benefit from some January signings, above all Adil Rami from Valencia in defence, Adel Taarabt and Keisuke Honda to bring more creativity in attack.
Seedorf did inspire a run of six victories from seven rounds, including the Derby della Madonnina, but Europa League ambitions evaporated in the penultimate weekend with a last kick of the game loss to Atalanta. Again, it was a game in which the Rossoneri had taken the lead and thrown points away. It seems almost certain that for the second time this season, Sassuolo will prove to be the final opponent of a Milan Coach. Seedorf won 11 of his 19 Serie A games as Coach, drawing two and losing six, so in his own words a ‘dignified’ tally.
In a way, failing to qualify for Europe for the first time since 1997 can be a positive for the Rossoneri. First of all, it will give Berlusconi an excuse to fire Seedorf, as giving him the boot after a remarkable comeback to achieve the seemingly impossible would’ve made that an embarrassing situation. More importantly, they can take heart from the recent examples of Juventus and Roma. Both clubs hit rock bottom, started under a new Coach in a campaign with no commitments other than Serie A and were able to build solid teams from the ground up. Starting Europa League qualifiers in July would’ve caused more trouble than it was worth for a club in dire need of focus.
There are two intriguing facts about Milan’s 2013-14 season - against the top four clubs they earned just one win, one draw and six defeats. They struggled badly with prestigious sides and even lost home and away to Parma. More disconcerting than that, under Allegri they failed to beat any of the newly-promoted teams, managing one draw with Livorno and defeats at both Verona and Sassuolo. Weak against the big boys and no longer feared by minnows, the Diavolo has lost its way.
Allegri was a lame duck Coach from the summer and eventually scrapped six months early to begin Seedorf’s new career. The Dutchman also struggled to find a system that suited his players, particularly an isolated Balotelli, and fell afoul of the internal power struggle at the club.
It’s tough to pick a best player, as Balotelli was top scorer and yet frustratingly inconsistent. Kaka is not the same man he was when he left for Real Madrid, but at least his passion, commitment and focus were never in doubt. Kaka can still deliver the goods, albeit a little slower.
- Milan had not lost the first game of the season for two years running since 1945 and 1946 against Genoa and Vicenza.
- The last time both Milan and Manchester United failed to qualify for Europe was 28 years ago.
- With 13 points by Week 12, this was their worst start since 1981-82, when on nine points they were eventually relegated.
|2||D||Mattia De Sciglio||16||-||-|
|34||M||Nigel De Jong||33||2||3|
|92||F||Stephan El Shaarawy||6||-||-|