For most of the season, current Milan boss Vincenzo Montella has been heavily scrutinized for the results he has earned, or not earned, after a summer spending spree that saw nearly a dozen fresh faces arrive to San Siro in a €200m squad overhaul.
The ex-Fiorentina Coach should be credited for his efforts during his first season at the club last year, leading the team to an Italian Super Cup victory over Juventus and a return to European competition with a sixth-place finish.
Now Montella hosts Sinisa Mihajlovic’s Torino and the last few months have seen the Serbian’s reign re-evaluated.
Mihajlovic arrived in Milan in the summer of 2015 after managing Sampdoria the year prior, and jumped into a very difficult role at the club, as President Silvio Berlusconi and Thai businessman Bee Taechaubol worked to reach a deal on the sale of the club – to no avail.
Supporters were expecting a massive summer market with the likes of Jackson Martinez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Geoffrey Kondogbia all heavily linked – none of which materialised. Still, the Serbian boss welcomed nearly €100m in new players - both for the present and future - including Alessio Romagnoli, who was specifically requested by Mihajlovic, Carlos Bacca, Luiz Adriano, Juraj Kucka and eventual €20m flop Andrea Bertolacci.
Star ‘keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, 16 at the time, launched his career under Mihajlovic, replacing veteran Diego Lopez at the end of October. Since taking over in between the sticks, the imposing shot-stopper has quickly become the future heir to Gianluigi Buffon’s throne with Azzurri.
With the exception of a few, Mihajlovic managed to get the best from his team throughout the campaign, including Kucka, a €3m consolation prize in the midfield who eventually became a fan favorite over his two-year stay with the Rossoneri. He was gritty, hard-working and a player who embodied everything Mihajlovic demanded from his players.
M’Baye Niang also took massive strides forward, becoming a regular starter and showing why he was ready to be a mainstay in the starting line-up. Together with Bacca up front, the two formed a steady offensive tandem that buried their share of goals.
Over a nine-game stretch from early January 2016 through February, Mihajlovic had Milan in sixth place and just a few points off a dream goal of finishing in the Champions League positions. During this period, the club picked up impressive results against the best Serie A had to offer, including draws away to Roma and Napoli, a 2-0 victory over Fiorentina, and a blowout of city rivals Inter 3-0. Although Mihajlovic’s men also booked their spot in the Coppa Italia Final against Juventus, Berlusconi sacked the Serbian in April and replaced him with Cristian Brocchi, who fell to ‘the Old Lady’ in Rome 1-0.
Aside from the decline in performances from March, and the pushback he gave Berlusconi with regards to managing his players and tactics, Mihajlovic did a fairly decent job all things considered. Sure, perhaps maybe he could have allowed Stephan El Shaarawy a chance to play his way back into the picture after a bad spell with Monaco before he was sold to Roma, but hindsight is 20/20. Now that he’s performing well under Eusebio Di Francesco, it’s almost impossible to predict he would’ve regained his form under the pressures of playing at Milan.
Long-term, Mihajlovic was certainly not going to be Milan’s answer at the post, nor would he have been able to win over a demanding fan-base like the Rossoneri’s. Most felt he should have, at the very least, been given the opportunity to manage the team in the Coppa Italia Final and finish out the season. Given the circumstances, Sinisa seemed to project a bit of hope that perhaps a shift was coming at the club and better days were ahead – something that cannot be overlooked.