Whether you agree or disagree with Stefano Pioli’s extension as Milan coach until 2022, you would have to say this is a victory for the establishment. Paolo Maldini is also set to stay on and it seems he has certainly used his influence to the full in this political struggle. Whilst time will tell if this is a large dose of short termism or not, the process has been a confused one and it confirms Milan were not willing to take a leap of faith and embark on a new project that could have seen Ralf Rangnick revolutionise the club.
Feel free to pull this article out from the archives and throw it into my face when Pioli lifts the Coppa Italia whilst establishing Milan back in the Champions League on a permanent basis, as I for one would be happy to see it, but the decision will split the fan base. Milan went to great lengths with the intention of embarking on a journey into a completely new world. They made commitments, sold it well, and there were casualties along the way.
“This is not a decision based on recent victories, but one based on how Stefano has built team spirit and unity of purpose,” a statement from CEO Ivan Gazidis said, adding that Pioli ‘understands the values of the club’ and can deliver football that is ‘exciting, progressive and passionate.’ It is true that Milan have been excellent since the break but the purpose of bringing Rangnick to the club was to change the way Milan thought and acted. Forgetting the club’s values was never the intention, and for all the talk about being progressive, the question must be asked: Would they have said that about Pioli six months ago?
Rangnick was supposed to come into revolutionise Milan, to create a modern football club that played expansive football and developed stars of the future. Whether the fan base would appreciate a ‘new Salzburg,’ with a substantial scouting network focusing on low cost young talent who fit into Rangnick’s quick passing and slick style of football is up for debate, but the prospect of it was at least exciting to some.
More than one player has spoken highly of working under Rangnick. “I’ve met a lot of people in football, but I’ve never come across someone who is as mad about the game. It’s a joy to work under someone like that,” said Leipzig midfielder Kevin Kampl. We’ll never know if Rangnick would have come away with similar endorsements from the Milan players but the possibility of a new approach was appealing, not just for the Rossoneri but for Italian football. The prospect of Milan, playing in a new stadium with a team made up of young talent, taught by Rangnick, certainly feels progressive. Milan are also a big enough club to not to have had to sell these players.
It’s true that Rangnick would have had almost dictatorial control, from the coaching to the transfers to the medical department, but his supporters would argue this would have helped him realise his dream much faster. With Arrigo Sacchi one of his inspirations, it did feel as if Milan were about to begin a period of discovery that would fuse the grand old name of the club with a modern twist. Juventus took on a different but equally brave overhaul, and that turned out well.
Gazidis and Rangnick have known each other for some time and the vision from the CEO seemed unmovable, as he had twice tried to bring him to San Siro. Zvonimir Boban was one of the casualties in the process when he took umbrage with Gazidis’ approach for Rangnick, calling it ‘disrespectful and inelegant’ and accusing Gazidis over going behind his back; he was sacked from his post as a director soon afterwards. There was push-back too from Maldini, who didn’t want Rangnick to arrive with so much control.
Now Rangnick isn’t arriving at all, and Milan are sticking by Pioli with Maldini watching over. The players appear to be playing for Pioli, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in particular looks born-again – the post-break tactics and results can barely be faulted. One does wonder, however, if this is more a power play from the establishment to keep the situation as it is and maintain their influence. It will be interesting to see how long Pioli lasts if results turn again, and how different Milan look next season.
Amidst all of this, Milan won again, beating Sassuolo on Tuesday night, but that’s not so much the result that matters. Considering the way events looked to be heading, it’s Maldini 1-0 Gazidis.
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