Published on Wednesday, 22 January 2014 18:11 | Written by Sean Molina | Hits: 1529
User Rating: / 2
It was over. Finally. Massimiliano Allegri had been relieved of his position as manager. As one, every Rossonero around the world heaved a sigh of utmost relief. Fresh off a devastating 4-3 loss to 18th placed (at the time) Sassuolo, in which Milan’s defence were put to shame by the fresh-faced 19 year old, Domenico Berardi, the worldwide contingent of Milan tifosi could see light at the end of the horribly long dark tunnel they have been forced to endure this season.
Stability. That was what Milan needed. After struggling through numerous bizarre line-ups and tactical decisions, among them the transformation of Kevin Constant from a central midfielder to a left back, Milan were in desperate need of a refreshing presence, one which could provide stability and a much needed injection of confidence amongst players. After all, this was a club that was still reeling from the sale of their two best players, Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, even 18 months after their departure. Thus assistant coach, Mauro Tassotti was billed as the ideal replacement for Allegri in the short term as an interim coach. He simply needed to steady the ship, helped by the arrival of centre back Adil Rami and attacking midfielder Keisuke Honda, letting the quality of the squad carry Milan up the table past the likes of Hellas Verona, Torino and Parma. A place in the Europa League was not necessary, as it has proven to be a hindrance more often than not, due to its ability to clog up a fixture list while not providing the resounding monetary benefits of its big brother, the Champions League (the difference in qualifying for the group stage is €7,300,000). No, Tassotti’s main priority was giving the two CEOs, Adriano Galliani and Barbara Berlusconi, time to find the right manager in the long term, the supposed key to Milan’s next great era.
But while this talk of Tassotti ran rampant across Twitter timelines, football forums and the gatherings of Milanistas worldwide, behind the scenes, a greater storm was brewing. Tassotti, it turned out, was not even in the picture, and would be out in a week (after taking charge during Milan’s Coppa Italia clash with Spezia). It was merely a two horse race, that of the inexperienced Filippo Inzaghi against the even more inexperienced Clarence Seedorf, two Milan legends in their own right. Not only had Tassotti been shoved to the side, but managers with proven European pedigree in Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto di Matteo had been ignored. Italian manager Luciano Spalletti, boasting a win percentage of 60.91% with Zenit St. Petersburg, hadn’t been given a thought. Cesare Prandelli, coach of the Italian national team, long thought to be Allegri’s eventual successor, was passed on by the Milan hierarchy.
Instead, they focussed on two great players, previous senatori, whose coaching resumes were noticeably blank. Inzaghi was raw, despite his success in managing the Milan U17 and U19 teams over the last two seasons, evident by the performance of the U19s in the Primavera, in which they are tied 2nd in their group. Seedorf was rawer, yet to start his managerial career, but instead, still putting on the boots and shirt for Botafogo in Brazil. From this two horse race, Milan chose Seedorf, bereft of any coaching experience, as the man to guide Milan to a new era, from their current squalor, languishing a mere six points from the relegation zone.
Questions beckoned. Outrage from the fans seemed imminent. The club was throwing a Hail Mary in a final heave of desperation, hoping Seedorf’s tactical acumen on the field would translate to the dugout. But to the watchful observer, it became clear that tactical brilliance was not on the top of Milan’s priority list. No, Milan’s problems ran far deeper than that. Allegri and his bizarre tactical decisions were merely the cover for these problems, as Allegri fulfilled the role of scapegoat that had been thrust upon him by the Milan hierarchy for the last 18 months, or rather, the time after Thiago Silva and Ibrahimovic; the time of financial cuts.
During these 18 months, Milan dropped further and further from the dizzying heights they once graced. This disastrous fall however, was disguised by the meteoric rise of Stephan El Shaarawy, and the arrival of the enigmatic Mario Balotelli to the club he loved, as the Italian pair carried a maligned Milan to third place in Serie A. This small success, in which the club snatched Champions League football and its lucrative cash bonuses at the death, failed to instigate a change in the mentality of Silvio Berlusconi and his cash-filled pockets. Again, the club’s faithful supporters were forced to endure another transfer window of false hopes, as summer transfers for Keisuke Honda and Adem Ljajic fell through, while the inept defensive partnership of Cristian Zapata and Philippe Mexes remained untouched. Again, Allegri was retained as coach, or more accurately, as scapegoat, with Galliani proclaiming to every media outlet available that Milan had attained the most points in Serie A in 2013. And again, like a stab into rossoneri hearts, Milan began the season in horrendous fashion, even bringing back memories of their 1981-82 season, in which they were relegated. Yet despite this, Berlusconi and co. avoided the brunt of the blame, which fell to Allegri, as they had masterfully orchestrated.
“Fix the tactics!” they screamed. “Where is Poli!” they yelled. But while evident issues, these paled in comparison to the disaster that had encompassed the club. The pain of the fans was similarly etched on the faces of the places. Shoulders drooped. Eyes turned to the ground amidst the jeers of the Curva Sud. These physical signs further distressed the tifosi, used to the Milan of old, the seven-time conquerors of Europe. But these signs were evidence of a club in disarray, whose players had lost heart, painstakingly clear in the lack of effort and defensive pressing each game. Tactics were irrelevant if the players didn’t believe. And despite what the players said to media, they truly did not believe; in Allegri, in the club’s direction, and worst of all, in their ability to win.
Then, in the aftermath of yet another gut-wrenching loss to Sassuolo, Allegri was removed from the picture and Seedorf brought in to pick up the pieces. Yes, Seedorf had always been known as a player with a great tactical mind, groomed in the acclaimed Ajax academy renowned for drilling its players with the most intricate of football tactics at the home of Total Football. But that was not what beckoned his call.
Seedorf is famously known as the first player to have won the Champions League four times. Such an achievement commands respect amongst his peers, and is bound to garner respect amongst every member of the Milan squad. Seedorf was also known as a ‘chatterbox’, someone who had the astute ability to resolve disagreements and issues, which Simon Kuper has previously focussed on. No doubt, the combination of his penchant for motivating and the respect he commands, marks him as the perfect person to instil much needed confidence in this squad. It could even be argued that the fact that he is only recently removed from his playing days makes him more relatable to players, thus ensuring an easier path to developing positive player-coach relationships.
It is for this main reason that Seedorf and Inzaghi were the sole competitors for Milan’s vacant managerial position. Not tactics, not experience, but confidence and belief; the two things that this squad needed most. But still, a much larger change-up looms. Allegri, after all, was not initially the scapegoat for a lack of belief amongst the players. That was, in fact, partly a symptom of his incompetence and failure to strike a motivating figure. Allegri was instead a decoy for the litany of problems that existed off the field, which pose a far greater long term problem for the future of Milan than the absence of belief amongst the players. Behind the scenes, two factions have begun to emerge in the management hierarchy; of Galliani and the Berlusconis (Barbara and Silvio). While this has not garnered great amounts of public attention, these two factions have clashed regularly in recent times, with Galliani staunchly supporting Allegri over his tenure and convincing Silvio to retain him over the past summer. These disagreements were most evident as Milan chose a new manager, as Galliani supported Inzaghi while the Berlusconi clan stood behind Seedorf. It was even thought that Galliani had been replaced by Barbara earlier this season, before Silvio convinced his long-time friend to weather the storm with him. This internal bickering, which has seen the club lose any sort of clear direction, as it strayed from the youth movement it advertised over the last few transfer windows, should be the real concern for Milan fans. This lack of direction has seen Silvio unwilling to open his pockets, leaving Galliani to scratch the bottom of the barrel with signings like Valter Birsa and Cristian Zapata.
However, hope looms on the horizon. Milan’s decision to sack Allegri mid-season, something Silvio hasn’t done since 2001 with Fatih Terim, may be a sign of changing times. With the hire of Seedorf til 2016, Milan have seemingly locked in a long term plan. One piece of the puzzle may be in place. What remains to be seen is if the backroom can brush aside their differences and embrace a unified direction. What is certain is that firing Allegri has not magically fixed the club’s many problems. In fact, the loss of the club’s scapegoat may simply make its problems clear for the world to see.