AC Milan have the legendary Pippo Inzaghi at the helm now, he has the tough task of recovering a declining side. But there are problem to be dealt with. Andy Woods asks, can Inzaghi avoind an implosion at Milan?
The deafening roar inside the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on the 2nd of March 2014 encapsulated AC Milan’s disastrous season; the Milanese faithful expressed their dismay through furious sounds of frustration from the packed stands. It was Argentine live wire Carlos Tevez who in emphatic fashion delivered the final blow to an exposed and demoralised side, with a spectacular strike from 25 yards that hit the underside of the crossbar. His jubilant team mates rushed to join in the celebrations and in the face of their dejected rivals- the gulf between the two sides couldn’t have been more evident.
An inexplicable campaign for the Rossoneri resulted in a humiliating 8th place finish and the prospect of European football cruelly ripped from the hands of another Milan giant. The team’s volatile owner, Silvio Berlusconi, responded promptly by dismissing Clarence Seedorf after only four months in charge and replaced him with primavera coach Filippo Inzaghi as the move went on to receive a mixed reaction from the fans and the media. Impetuous decisions from an impatient and overly-expectant board are severely disrupting the moral fragility of the club, when what is vitally needed more so than anything else is stability and continuity.
The tumult that has had a reverberating impact across the landscape of AC Milan and the precarious financial situation has only added further woes to the strenuous rebuilding efforts. The problematic monetary issues have forced the sales of foundational pieces in the spine of the squad, most notably Zlatan Ibrahimovic and defensive staple Thiago Silva. Long gone are the days of the side fruitlessly and perhaps luxuriously spending €43.5 million on Rui Costa and €31 million on Alessandro Nesta. Over time this aggressive market approach became unsustainable given the plummeting decline of the Serie A as a league and the abandonment of developing the outdated Italian infrastructure.
These troubles have led to a plethora of problems in the senior side, with a lack of team cohesion and defensive consistency. Milan conceded 49 goals during the 2013/2014 Scudetto season with an average rate of 1.29 goals per game scored against them. The statistics also tell a harrowing story of the team’s proficiency in front of goal, scoring 57 time with Mario Balotelli ranking as their top goal scorer at just 14.
One of the bleakest moments of the year was the loss against Sassuolo at the Stadio Citta Tricolore on the 12th January. After taking an early 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Robinho and Balotelli, they went on to give up the comfortable lead in shocking circumstances when I Neroverdi’s 19 year-old striker Domenico Berardi scored a hat-trick before the conclusion of the first half, and netted a fourth two minutes into the second half to become the youngest scorer of four goals since the early part of the 20th century. Keisuke Honda’s debut goal on the 86th minute proved nothing more than a consolation. This was the first time AC Milan had given up a 2-0 lead in over a decade when they were beaten 3-2 by Udinese in 2002.
The internal appointment of former centre forward Filippo Inzaghi should help install a more positive aura surrounding the squad after last year’s underwhelming finish. The new coach will try and implement his own fresh tactical approach on the squad as he begins his first year of an agreed two year contract in the ambitious Rossoneri project. The club have been active in the summer transfer window thus far as they have looked to bring in some fresh faces, already having secured the signatures of Jeremy Menez, Pablo Armero, Alex, and Diego Lopez.
Despite these changes there remains a troubling uncertainty surrounding the immediate future of their forward line following the sale of Mario Balotelli. Berlusconi had revealed that the club had received a bid for the forward prior to the World Cup, but his disappointing form at the tournament in Brazil had forced the club to reevaluate their offer, until the closing stages of the window when Liverpool turned up with a bid.
“Other than Italy, I’m the one who lost the World Cup,” the politician is reported to have said according to Italian newspaper Gazzetta Dello Sport. “I was selling Balotelli to an English team for several millions, but after this World Cup, who will buy him now? I was going to sell him to a top English club for €35 million, now the deal has stalled.”
Arguably the best solution would be to reinvest the money in other areas of the team; however that scenario seems increasingly worrying; while Stephan El Shaaraway is only returning from an extended spell on the sidelines due to a foot injury, Robinho has returned to his homeland with Santos on a loan deal with the option of a permanent transfer. Options up front are extremely bleak.
An inauspicious tour of the United States hasn’t aided any optimism, but Inzaghi has moved to quickly dismiss qualms about AC Milan’s capabilities, stating that the pre-season is primarily about the improvement of players fitness and not about results.
“There is no sense looking at the results in the early matches because the fitness is not there and then we came up against really strong sides,” the manager told the press. “Overall, I am happy enough with the way things went and the team is getting fitter. A lot of players put in a lot of running in the matches and I could see that they were really giving it their all so I am positive.”
The resignation of Juventus manager Antonio Conte potentially opens up the division and various teams will be looking to usurp the Old Lady and exploit the managerial alteration. Title aspirations for AC Milan would appear to be unrealistic this season with the dramatic resurgence of Roma under Rudi Garcia, the ever threatening attacking talents of Napoli and the reemergence of city rivals Inter, but hopes of European qualification will be very much attainable with the absence of continental competition.
One of the players possible of provoking a caprice in the fans this season will be 16 year-old primavera sensation Hachim Mastour who made his highly anticipated debut this summer against Manchester City in a pre-season friendly. There has been unparalleled excitement surrounding the trequarista ever since he was signed for a fee of €400,000 two years ago. His precocious talent has earned him many admirers, and he has been hailed as a phenomenon by those fortunate enough to have seen him play. Milan will need to think very carefully about the possibility of prematurely over-exposing him to the senior side by introducing him too soon, because that decision could have drastic consequences in the development of Mastour. They shouldn’t attempt to force his progression, a mistake Barcelona hastily made with Bojan Krkic after the success of Messi.
As the season steadily approaches, this Milan team is full of intrigue, potential and excitement. There are still some visible problems within the team, but this reenergised and motivated side will be looking to reclaim what is theirs and return Champions League football to one of the most illustrious clubs in world football.
Written by Andy Woods
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