The Duomo di Milano sits proudly in the aptly named Piazza del Duomo and is perhaps the ever- present symbol of Milanese patience. The ground was broken to create the structure in 1386 and it was officially completed in 1965. The city’s second cathedral, at San Siro, has also evolved over the years and it is perhaps to these great creations that fans of the Rossoneri should look to when beckoning in change. Their team is also undergoing a vast facelift and, whilst the results are not yet as beautiful as they want right now, there is reason to be patient.
Vincenzo Montella is, as will be in any such situation where a team is struggling for form, the focal point for the anger and is largely held responsible for the current situation. Remember what he walked into back in 2016, what he changed under difficult circumstances and how he was lauded at the end of the last campaign. The world has changed in a summer for the Rossoneri and, like the Duomo and San Siro, a new structure is being built on the old one. This takes time, but the blueprint is there.
When Montella arrived, he had five key objectives to make the rag-tag bunch of players he saw before him operate like a Milan that the fans could associate with again. Firstly, he had to shore up a defence that had shipped 50 goals in 2014-15 and 43 in 2015-16. Secondly, he had to utilise the youth system, as Milan didn’t have cash in abundance to spend at this point, but the Primavera had been praised for its youth development, so the challenge was set. Thirdly, he would have to be able to be tactically and strategically aware. Marcello Lippi once told Gianluca Vialli when he started coaching that you must have a strategy before tactics, especially with players being dropped in and out of the team.
His fourth task was to re-create a Milanese identity, allowing Milan fans to connect with a club that they had struggled to lately. Finally, he had to do this whilst managing expectations, as the takeover hadn’t happened yet and the Rossoneri had to live within their means.
When the dust settled on the 2016-17 season, Montella looked at his checklist and saw five ticks. He had improved the defence, they had qualified for Europe and Gigio Donnarumma had been a revelation. This also proved point two, as Donnarumma and numerous players like Manuel Locatelli had come into the spotlight and were performing. The tactics were attacking and easy on the eye and they were being referred to as ‘Baby Milan’. The fans were happy with the progress and the future was bright. Five ticks.
Much has been said about the new Far Eastern investment, the entirely new team, the results against Juventus, the Derby and all the other defeats. The season that started with such hope is now being touted by many as a failure, but this isn’t so. Recent results against Chievo and arguably in the defeat to ‘The Old Lady’ have shown signs of promise and the team still needs time to gel. Montella is getting the message through, but before the media or fans jump to say it isn’t quick enough, they should ask themselves a question.
Has Montella now got to sort out the same five challenges he had to last season all over again? Despite increased quality, the defence must gel, they will need time and work. This is proven by the fact he has had to adapt a new tactical strategy, a body of work that doesn’t happen overnight. He also has to find a way to integrate the best of last year’s youth policy with the influx of stars, not an easy task when that amount of money has been spent. Whatever happened to Baby Milan? Who are they now? What is the new identity? Worst and perhaps the hardest of all of these, is the fact that he has to manage the fans’ expectations, a task so complex due to the pomp and ceremony of the new money and new arrivals.
With or without Montella, these problems are real in Milan, they will exist for him or the next man. Perhaps the reason Marco Fassone has said ‘Milan are going in the right direction’ is because he knows one thing. Vincenzo has proven in worse circumstances that he can fix these problems and the results are for everyone to see. Now the new ownership is simply letting him do it all over again. Milan as a city has an impressive way of creating great institutions, they just don’t happen overnight.
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