Vincenzo Montella can have few complaints after being fired by Milan yesterday.
After taking Fiorentina to three fourth-place finishes in a row and an admirable rescue job at Sampdoria, his first season as Rossoneri Coach was a qualified success.
With a serious lack of investment in the squad in the latter years of Silvio Berlusconi, and an on-and-off takeover hanging over the club, l’Aeroplanino moulded a team of young, exciting players like Gianluigi Donnarumma and Manuel Locatelli into a side which challenged at the top of the table in the first half of the campaign, and lifted the Supercoppa against Juventus in Doha.
Hindsight may offer warning signs in the second half of the Diavolo’s season, where they limped into the final Europa League place after one win in seven, but most Milanisti understood that their Coach was doing his best with kids and cloggers.
This season though, after a €200m transfer campaign financed by the new Chinese owners, Montella has looked utterly lost.
Where last term the 43-year-old made the best of what he had, this year he has looked spoiled for choice, unsure how to accommodate his expensive new players into a cohesive system.
In his 23 matches in 2017-18, Montella picked 23 different starting XIs, using - among others - 3-5-2 to suit Leonardo Bonucci, 3-4-3 to get the best out of Suso and finally 4-4-2 in this weekend’s draw with Torino.
Despite winning just six of 14 games, the former striker continued to insist his side were playing well, even in a run of four winless games across September and October.
Given that the Rossoneri’s minimum aim this season is the Champions League, Montella’s declaration today that he “didn’t suspect anything” about his imminent fate drew snorts of derision from Milanisti across the world.
Despite Montella’s failings - of which there have been many this season - though, his sacking appears to expose a strange lack of proper planning in the red and black half of Milan.
Why now, with three winnable games against Benevento, Bologna and Atalanta to come? Why replace him with Gennaro Gattuso, a man whose coaching record thus far is patchier than Gabriel Paletta’s hair?
CEO Marco Fassone was at pains to stress last night that all team decisions are taken by the sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli. Yet Montella believes the decision to sack him came from China, and Fassone admitted the owners had been complaining about the Coach.
For his part, Mirabelli insisted the decision was a collective one, while adding Montella was still “a great Coach”. Of course he did that, in part, to defend his own summer transfer policy, which again seems a tad scattershot.
One could argue that if you have the chance to sign Bonucci, you damn well sign Bonucci, but was he the player Milan needed, with Mateo Musacchio and Alessio Romagnoli already on the books? The former Juventus man’s arrival prompted a switch to a back-three, limiting the impact of Suso, who was arguably the standout performer last season in a 4-3-3.
Gattuso’s appointment also seems a strange decision. Fassone and Mirabelli have been at pains to stress that he’s not a caretaker. Ringhio is the Coach, but he’s not guaranteed a job beyond the end of the season. So… a caretaker then?
At his presentation today, Gattuso admitted he hasn’t even spoken with Yonghong Li, as the owner doesn’t speak Italian or English. Those who have watched the new Coach’s infamous rant while at OFI Crete may question his own command of English, although to be fair to Rino, he did learn to speak it in Glasgow.
One person Gattuso has spoken to though, is previous owner Silvio Berlusconi, with whom he discussed the importance of two strikers. There is even talk Il Cavaliere may once again visit the team at Milanello, like some perma-tanned version of Banquo’s ghost. If Banquo’s ghost had a helicopter and a facelift.
So what are we left with?
Today Fassone was forced to affirm his confidence in Mirabelli, who were both at pains to stress their faith in Gattuso, who hasn’t spoken with the man who owns the club, but has talked tactics with the previous President. Clear as mud then.
Milan were right to sack Vincenzo Montella, but he’s far from the only one at the club who has looked confused this season.