“If we win, we could do better. If we draw or lose, we’re in trouble.”
It’s hard to disagree with Sinisa Mihajlovic’s frustrated statement, and even harder to evaluate the Coach without analysing the hot mess that is Milan's front office at the moment.
In the crazy world that is Italian football, the Rossoneri have got that tiny detail we call P.R. back to front: whilst the media was arguably giving them a pass and criticizing Inter (who were, you know, actually winning games) early on, President Silvio Berlusconi has done almost everything possible to antagonize and belittle its Coach in public.
Whether it’s insisting that the team play with two strikers – something Il Cavaliere also asked of Carlo Ancelotti after he’d already won the Champions League– or visiting the opposition’s dressing room to congratulate the visiting manager, it’s hard to argue that Mihajlovic was being given the benefit of the doubt as little as two months into the job, what with all this supposedly in-house chatter somehow finding its way to the papers ("Adriano, when are you going to fire Miha?").
Though the Serbian has begun to fight back both off the pitch (half-jokingly telling Berlusconi “not to walk into the wrong dressing room next time”) and on it, reports are that the club’s President will opt for someone else next season, with Antonio Conte leading the shortlist. Mihajlovic could be sent packing as early as January if the next few results don’t conform to expectations.
But conform to what, exactly? Remember when Milan were embarrassed at home by Napoli to the tune of four goals and Lorenzo Insigne dancing like his boots were crawling with red ants? That was a whole 11 games ago, and Milan have only lost once in that time, to a resurgent Juventus.
Spending around €86m on transfers doesn’t mean the team will be spectacular (at least not immediately) or even top the league. And how can one wave that sum in Miha’s face without considering that Vice-President Adriano Galliani arguably overpaid for Andrea Bertolacci, and that the squad was in a pretty poor state before he did? Though promising, injuries have prevented Bertolacci from emulating Alessio Romagnoli, another roundly mocked transfer.
Anyway, €25m (€30m with bonuses) of that went on Carlos Bacca. What, the same Bacca who was one of Europe's best strikers at Sevilla and has netted seven Serie A goals despite only taking 1.2 shots per game? Hey, maybe that Galliani guy isn't the complete idiot we all think he is!
For those who haven’t noticed, this league has improved recently since Milan finished in 10th place last year. Inter (who finished in 8th) are leading the table, Fiorentina (4th) and Napoli (5th) are competing, and Roma are still in the mix. Sassuolo have somehow sneaked into sixth place, and Juve are back in the title race. There is no shame to not qualifying for Champions League football, Mihajlovic's stated objective.
It's just as hard to point the finger at the Coach when the club has been such a total mess in recent years. After the Clarence Seedorf and Pippo Inzaghi fiascos, trailing fourth place by five points - and with a decent squad on which to build on - is a picnic by comparison.
This is not to say that Sinisa is a great manager, or even the club's Coach of the future. The attack has looked listless, the midfield has yet to really kick into gear and the team often hikes long balls forward. I wasn't sure about bringing in a manager who was coming off just one good season at Sampdoria, but had failed at Fiorentina and has not shown much else.
But what's the point of bringing a Coach in if he isn't going to be given a fair shake?
It's bad enough that Milan are in negotiations with Bee Taechaubol, a man who tried to run the club's transfer window despite not having bought the club or even proved that he has the funds to bid for it.
Now it’s torpedoing a man who has at least helped reorganise the defence. From last year’s 50-goal shipwreck to conceding just seven in 11 games, Mihajlovic has made progress with an ageing Alex, the sloppy Ignazio Abate and Mattia De Sciglio.
The midfield can count on Giacomo Bonaventura - who has played superbly – and the returning M’Baye Niang, who provides width and an attacking threat. Juraj Kucka actually played decently after moving from Genoa, as has Alessio Cerci. With Mario Balotelli and Jeremy Menez hopefully starting regularly in 2016, this team could finally make that step forward fans are looking for.
If Silvio Berlusconi lets it, that is.