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AC Milan Crisis: What next for the Rossoneri?

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While teams like Juventus, Roma, Napoli were racking up points to fight it out for the title, Milan were sliding downhill, drawing and losing to teams they would have annihilated a few years back. Champions in 2010-11, Milan were flirting with the relegation zone as they had slumped to a lowly 13th in the table just 4 points off the dreaded drop zone and a massive 20 points off the table toppers, Juventus.

Things were fairly quiet and subdued at the Via Turati in the summer; somewhat a relief after last seasons mass exodus with Filippo Inzaghi, Gennaro Gattuso, Alessandro Nesta et al putting their keys to their San Siro lockers on the table one by one.

Milan are in stage two of the rebuilding program that began in the summer of 2012, where they have taken small but promising steps in rebuilding the side into the youthful, talented group that Silvio Berlusconi has envisioned for the next few years.

Milan started the season the same way they started the previous one, with a loss against a newly promoted team. That loss triggered the slide that does not appear to be close to halting any time soon. It’s their worst start since the 1981-82 season, when they ended up getting relegated. It is a far cry from the days of Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and manager Fabio Capello when three consecutive Scudettos were won between 1992 and 94. In those three years Milan lost a total of five matches – a number that’s been already matched after 14 games of the 2013-14 season.

Inevitably, there is talk of coach Massimiliano Allegri’s job being on the line and Italy striker Mario Balotelli has been portrayed in the media as the “symbol” of Milan’s “crisis” as he has notched as many yellow cards as goals so far this season.

But the team’s current woes also seem to have opened up a rift that goes even higher, between owner Silvio Berlusconi’s daughter Barbara, a Milan board member, and CEO Adriano Galliani, who has been the ex-premier’s right-hand man in football for 27 years. Barbara is not happy with how things have been run and wants to alter the approach.  The mysterious phone call with her father, Silvio suggests that she has had enough of Uncle Fester. With not only Allegri in the dock, her words seemed to be aimed at Galliani, the man who has overseen AC Milan’s affairs for many years. But Barbara clarified by saying: “I have never asked for the CEO Adriano Galliani to be changed. In the numerous phone conversations with my dad after the Fiorentina defeat I simply called for a change in the business philosophy of AC Milan.”

Many reports suggest that the central point of Barbara and Silvio’s chat was: how come some other Italian clubs, Fiorentina and Roma for example, don’t spend any more than the Rossoneri and yet have better performing and more competitive teams? The proprietor is convinced that the club has not spent smartly in the last two transfer windows. The tension between Barbara and Galliani was evident and things were getting heated up as Milan’s performance deteriorated and were falling into an abysmal black hole.

After numerous meetings between the coaches and board members, things were expected to change post the recent international break, but that was not the case. Gilardino’s penalty cancelled out Kaka’s goal as Milan somehow managed a draw against a 10 man Genoa at the San Siro leaving the fans absolutely furious. This display proved too much for their supporters as during the last few minutes, the notorious Milan Ultras unfolded a banner which translated “Let’s meet by the exit you unworthy lot”. During the game, home supporters maintained a series of chants against their team, singing “Shame on you”, “We’re waiting for you with sticks”.

One fan said afterwards: “These brats don’t know what sacrifice is. Their bank accounts are full while people like us work for them.” The anger was evident.

The Ultras stuck to their word and around 300 of them blocked the players’ exit from the San Siro after the game and refused to leave. Cops immediately lined up outside to prevent any sort of violence.  Kaka and Christian Abbiati emerged to issue an apology for the alarming run of form. The emotions were high as the fans are not used to seeing such mediocrity. They wanted a change. They wanted to voice their opinion. They wanted answers.

The players did respond positively as Milan registered their first away win with a 3-0 victory at Celtic Park.

Even after this vital win, the boardroom drama took another nasty turn as Mr. Galliani decided to call it quits, claiming he would stand down post the Milan derby on 22nd December. The man who was responsible for building the greatest club side of all time, Sacchi’s Milan of the late 80’s, using Silvio Berlusconi’s investment capital, due to some political indifference & power struggle would end his relationship with the club; the one he had led with Silvio Berlusconi for the last 27 years.

A wounded Galliani said, “I will leave the club either with or without compensation. I understand that there comes a moment where it’s time for change, but not like this. My reputation has been damaged. This should have been treated a bit more delicately.”

Things were quite clear. Barbara and Galliani cannot function together. A change was needed but was it the right one? Galliani is known for his shrewdness and his bargaining skills, tempting clubs to sell their valuable assets for an unfathomable price but of late, the man with the Midas touch had somehow become the bad boy at Milan. With the team desperately requiring a defender, Galliani captured another striker in the form of Matri, a player who has never really dazzled the crowd.

The biggest question was why was the money not spent on bolstering a weak back-line?

With Constant being a liability for some time now, Philippe Mexes can be seen either being reprimanded or losing his man. Better quality is expected from a side that gave us Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi. Milan have been stressing on the importance of youth but the truth is that this has been nothing but a hoax. With players like Saponara, Niang, Cristante rotting on the bench while Matri, Nocerino stroll on the pitch, it is a clear indication that Milan has no sense of direction.

Milan bought a 29 year old striker, Matri as a cover for an injured Pazzini and sent their youth prospect, Petagna on loan to Sampdoria. With Saponara considered as one of the best young talents in Italy, Milan ended up buying a 32 year old playmaker and a crowd favorite, Kaka and to top it off, they bought another player, Birsa as a possible Kaka back up. That pushed Saponara further down the pecking order. Though Kaka has been the only shining light for the Rossoneri and his guidance will certainly help young players to flourish they need their chances too. With Niang “accidently” left out of the Champions league squad it makes you think where Milan are going? With the summer dealings, Galliani has fallen back on his clubs policy and bought veterans which has infuriated the fans. With the club changing its strategy just one season after installing it, it shows how much faith they have in their own players and system.

The relentless support Galliani has showered on a coach who has been unable to add anything both tactically and technically has been one of the reasons why the fans want Galliani out. Robinho has been in decent form but has failed to win Allegri’s heart as he has constantly been snubbed for Birsa or Matri. Allegri’s over reliance and faith in Matri has infuriated the Milanisti. Its no surprise that Milan’s 2 away wins came when he finally benched Matri for a 4-3-2-1, with Balotelli upfront and Kaka and Birsa playing behind him. Cristante, who has been dubbed as the future star, has hardly seen the pitch and there are talks of loaning him out in January.

With no clear direction, an inability to identify and deal with the glaring issues at the back and in goal, and the continued insistence that Allegri is the right man for the job, Galliani seems to be losing his touch and him leaving the club might just be the way forward. The fans have shown mixed reactions but even his most ardent supporter will agree that over the last few seasons, Milan have suffered quite a bit in the transfer season. Although, he did have his hands tied up with the financial restrictions that still doesn’t change the fact that many deals could have been avoided. The Matri deal might cost Milan over 30 million considering the wages, fees and taxes. They have spent a total of around 28 million Euros on players like Matri, Constant, Acerbi and Salamon. A huge sum on players who don’t really reassure the fans and players you don’t want to see on the pitch against big opponents.

Barbara might be right when she questions her father about the club’s ambition and direction. It was rumored that Barbara’s first appointment would be Maldini. She would form her new team and she wants someone who can adapt to the modern style of football administration.

But things changed on Saturday as president Silvio Berlusconi, who had remained silent up till now, held a meeting with Galliani and confirmed that Galliani is going nowhere and that Milan will have 2 CEOs – Adriano Galliani will be responsible for the sporting sector, and Barbara Berlusconi with responsibility for other sectors relating to the club’s social activity.

This means that Galliani has retained control of the club’s footballing operations, while Barbara had been charged with strengthening its commercial and marketing efforts. How satisfied she will be with that arrangement is unclear; her greatest criticisms of the incumbent had been that he was spending the club’s money poorly by relying too heavily on certain agents (Mino Raiola and Ernesto Bronzetti) and failing to construct a good enough scouting network to unearth cheap, young talents abroad.

These two will have to find a way to work together. Barbara has been questioning Milan’s business policy and indirectly pointing a finger at Galliani for this team’s mediocrity. With Galliani going nowhere, it’s pretty certain that Maldini will be sidelined even more. Maldini and Galliani have had some issues since his retirement and since then Maldini has been left out in the cold and locked out of the place he calls home but that discussion is for some other day.

As things stand Milan will have 2 heads. The biggest question is can they work together? Will they put their ego aside and pull the club out of this quick sand?

With Berlusconi using his power to squash Barbara’s party, she has no option but to work with Galliani. With Berlusconi it has always been about him and not football. It was his presidential gifts that helped Milan reach the skies and now he has used his powers and convinced Galliani to stay.

With these two egotistic heads at the helm, there are going to be some differences but let’s hope it does not affect the club adversely.

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