There’s a new man in charge, but are Milan going to make the same old mistakes on and off the field this season? Susy Campanale analyses another troubled summer.
Milan are coming off their worst Serie A season since 1998, which was also the last time they failed to qualify for any European competition. It was undoubtedly a disaster and the situation deteriorated further over the summer, as Clarence Seedorf was sacked amid legal wrangling with President Silvio Berlusconi, who had so proudly unveiled the Dutchman only six months previous.
You’d think having failed so spectacularly with an inexperienced Coach who had been a teammate to many of these players just recently, the Rossoneri hierarchy would’ve gone with a completely different approach. Instead they plucked Pippo Inzaghi from the Primavera youth team just two years into his management career in their academy. More famous for tap-ins and poached goals than any particular grasp of tactics – or the offside rule – SuperPippo was above all chosen for embodying the Milan spirit. He was always the last to give in on the field and notoriously focused off it, so can help shepherd the wayward lambs in the current squad like Mario Balotelli and M’Baye Niang.
Pre-season has certainly not been reassuring for the fans, as Milan were repeatedly hammered on their US tour by Olympiacos (3-0), Manchester City (5-1) and Liverpool (2-0). The team looked sluggish, off the pace and above all utterly terrified. Confidence was bound to be hit hard by last season’s travails, but 10 goals conceded and one scored only added to their worries.
Inzaghi is determined to implement a 4-3-3 system, which the club wants replicated throughout the various youth teams to become a Milan trademark, but doesn’t necessarily have the players to make it work. Jeremy Menez is versatile and Stephan El Shaarawy has perhaps finally put his injury saga behind him, but Keisuke Honda and Balotelli are still looking for their best positions in this line-up. Riccardo Montolivo’s broken leg ruled him out of the World Cup and all action until October.
Above all, the defence remains extremely shaky and the introduction of Alex – past his prime at Paris Saint-Germain – is not enough to shore it up. Diego Lopez arrived practically on a free transfer from Real Madrid and can provide some experience, though not necessarily lightning-quick reactions at 32.
Fans have been frustrated at a transfer strategy that promised much and delivered precious little. Once again Adriano Galliani has focused on bringing in out of contract players or those on loan, haggling to the last cent for every tiny discount possible on those they actually deemed worthy of spending money on. The good news is dead wood like Robinho and Kevin Constant were moved out.
At least he needn’t worry about strength in depth this season, as Milan only have Serie A and the Coppa Italia to consider. That might be their saving grace, as like Juventus and Roma over the years, having a full week to train and prepare is the ideal situation for a team in year zero. It also leaves few excuses if results are yet again disappointing.
SuperPippo had two years in the Milan youth ranks and is thrown in at the deep end as their senior Coach, hoping to survive rather longer than inexperienced predecessor Clarence Seedorf. Few embraced the Rossoneri spirit more than Inzaghi as a player, but as a tactician he’s a complete novelty.
As always, one never quite knows what to expect from Mario. He can lift the team up by himself with stunning goals and physicality or wander around petulantly until the inevitable yellow or red card. The World Cup proved as much and he’s really running out of chances now.
For years Milan have been sorely lacking pace and width, so the ex-Roma and Paris Saint-Germain winger ought to provide both. Menez lost his way somewhat in France, but the versatile 27-year-old hopes his return to Serie A can bring back some of that old spark.
The ‘new Paolo Maldini’ is undoubtedly the best raw defensive talent in the country, but injuries and Milan’s overall problems held up his progress. Still only 21, he can play just as easily on the right or left of defence, plus in more advanced wing-back roles. Can do better on crosses, though.
DIEGO LOPEZ; De Sciglio, ALEX, Rami, ARMERO; Poli, De Jong, Saponara; MENEZ, Balotelli, El Shaarawy
Milan may have no other competitions to distract them, but it’s also true the other teams fighting for Europe have strengthened significantly more.
|Diego Lopez (Real Madrid)||GK||Amelia (released)||GK|
|Agazzi (Chievo)||GK||Coppola (Bologna)||GK|
|Albertazzi (Verona)||D||Constant (Trabzonspor)||D|
|Alex (PSG)||D||Emanuelson (Roma)||D|
|Armero (Udinese)||D||Silvestre (Inter)||D|
|Didac Vila (Betis)||D||Benedicic (Leeds)||M|
|Menez (PSG)||F||Birsa (Chievo)||M|
|Niang (Montpellier)||A||Kaka (Sao Paulo)||M|