Gheorghe Hagi once stated that the way to win was not all about having talent. He claimed that being organised and possessing the will to succeed was just as important as quality. Having a little bit of stardust on top of that obviously helps, but the basics done correctly are essential. Milan have been through a tumultuous time in recent years and tried many innovative ideas to get them out of it. Stefano Pioli has now come in to ‘steady the ship’ and after a stormy start, he perhaps can claim success by going back to the simplest of strategies.
Christmas must have been a dark place for fans of the Rossoneri. On December 22, a short journey to Bergamo had seen them demolished 5-0 by Atalanta. It was a defeat that saw the very worst of this recent Milanese project. Pioli, the man brought in to regain some order and discipline, looked in disarray, 2020 already looked like it would be another ‘annus horribilis’.
The season had looked like it may start with some promise. Ivan Gazidis has spoken in depth about the fact that Milan have a clear strategy. This was to use old heads like Zvonimir Boban and Paolo Maldini to push the values of Milan into the players whilst helping in recruitment and direction. He was clear that the fans would have to manage their expectations, as the financial situation would mean they could not spend at the same rate as they had done in the late 1980s and 1990s.
They would recruit the best of Europe’s young players and infuse them with a mix of experience. The talents would not be sold off, but instead become huge assets and winners as they grew with the club. Marco Giampaolo would be key to this, as the ex-Sampdoria coach would help mould this new and exciting Milan team.
None of that went to plan. Giampaolo was fired and the January window almost seemed to make a mockery of the Rossoneri, as the hype around 38-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic was over the top. Whilst an asset, the Swede returned to a hero’s welcome that, in all honesty, would have been exaggerated if he was 25 years of age. What was the plan now? The new coach Pioli had just supervised over the disaster in Bergamo and the future looked grim.
It is to Pioli’s credit however, that as the end of January comes into light, the Rossoneri can see some green shoots. What Ibrahimovic did contribute was the chance to finally shake off the tactical shackles set by having Suso in the team.
A 2-0 away win against Cagliari and a 3-0 win against SPAL in the Coppa Italia have shown improvement. With Udinese and Brescia up next, the Rossoneri can perhaps look at the rest of the season and hope they can climb up potentially into the Europa League places and attack the Coppa. Pioli has reverted to 4-4-2, utilising the experienced Zlatan to reinvigorate the potential in Rafael Leao and Krzysztof Piatek.
Back to basics it may be, but it also gives Milan a sense of identity. Arrigo Sacchi will always be remembered for his aggressive 4-4-2 that gave the Rossoneri the best moments in their history. It was this team who changed the face of Italian football, never taking their foot off the gas even after going 2-0 up, always attacking and demolishing teams with the added element of Dutch flare. Milan are nowhere near this, but they do stand the chance of having a team who are at least operating as a unit.
There is much more Milan need to do to get back to be anywhere near what their fans expect them to be, but what Pioli is doing is positive. He is making the Rossoneri organised and this will make them harder to beat. Experienced players like Ibrahimovic will give them character and this will allow the young players to grow. Just observe how Zlatan is constantly guiding and advising Leao, passing on the secrets learned over a lifetime.
Hagi was correct, with the right determination and good organisation, a team can be built. Pioli seems to have recognised this, so perhaps Milan can finally start their season in earnest.