One of the world’s most successful football clubs are in crisis. Seven time European Champions AC Milan suffered their worst league defeat in 21 years on Sunday in a 5-0 drubbing at local rivals Atalanta. It sent the 18 time Scudetto winners into the bottom half of Serie A. Many are calling this the worst Milan side in history, with club legend and current Chief Football Officer Zvonimir Boban labelling the team as ’embarrassing.’
Tough Times for the Rossoneri
Since Massimilliano Allegri’s departure in 2014, chaos has reigned in Milan with nine different managers hired and fired and Sporting Director’s arriving and departing at a similar rate. The club’s protracted change of ownership saw Silvio Berlusconi sell to Li Long Hong whose enormous borrowing then saw Elliott Management assume control of the club. This season saw Milan banned from Europe for breaching financial fair play rules whilst the club prepares for life in a proposed new stadium.
On the pitch results have depreciated faster than the San Siro with Milan 21 points behind bitter rivals Inter, 14 points off the Champions League places and just 7 points above relegation.
In October Milan appointed the much traveled Stefano Pioli as manager, after a dreadful run of results had the Rossoneri teetering above the relegation zone. Pioli steadied the ship with back to back away wins over Parma and Bologna, but defeats to Juventus, Roma and Lazio underlined how far Milan have fallen. The 5-0 drubbing from Atalanta proved any new manager bounce Pioli brought has now evaporated.
If you’d have asked anyone a decade ago to name the world’s greatest football clubs, one of the first names on their lips would be seven time European Champions AC Milan. The Rossoneri won their first European crown in 1963 and by the turn of the 1980’s had won ten Serie A titles. The appointment of Arrigo Sacchi in 1987 moved Milan onto a new level of excellence. Lead by the Dutch masters Gullit, Van Basten and Rijkaard, as well as the imperious defensive duo of Maldini and Baresi, Milan claimed back to back European Cup’s in 1989 and 1990.
When Fabio Capello took over in 1991, Milan went unbeaten in Serie A for the entire season, the first of three successive league championships. In 1994 Capello’s new look side featuring the likes of Desailly, Boban, Savicevic, Albertini and of course Maldini trounced the great Barcelona side of Romario, Stoichkov, Koeman 4-0 in the Champions League Final.
Sacchi’s former player Carlo Ancelotti took over in 2001 and guided the club to three Champions League finals in five years, culminating in the 2-1 revenge win over Liverpool with Filippo Inzaghi’s brace enough to ensure a seventh European title. Ancelotti left for Chelsea in 2009 and the club won their most recent Scudetto under Allegri in 2011.
Zlatan to the Rescue?
Milan have been in negotiations with their former nemesis turned hero Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Zlatan is a free agent after leaving LA Galaxy this autumn, where he smashed 52 goals in just 58 games, however a deal has thus far proved elusive. His signing by Milan from Barcelona in 2010 saw Ibrahimovic form a formidable frontline alongside Robinho and Alexandre Pato, the three of whom scored 42 goals that season as Milan won Serie A. In his second season with the club, Zlatan hit an incredible 28 goals as Milan narrowly lost the title to Juventus. Seven and a half years later Milan are in very different circumstances.
Signing a veteran star to paper over the cracks is an all too familiar ploy from Milan. However this time the squad is much younger than in years gone by. Milan went for youth in the summer window paying big fees for Theo Hernandez (21), Rafael Leao (20) and Ismael Bennacer (20). Added to that Milan have two of Italy’s brightest young talents in goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma and defender Alessio Romagnoli.
Meanwhile only three players in the squad over the age of 30, midfielder duo Lucas Biglia and Giacomo Bonaventura and back up ‘keeper Pepe Reina. With the influx of youth it’s clear Milan need some experience and leadership to balance the squad and the 38 year old Swede by Piloi’s own admission would add character to the team.
Another problem for Milan this season has been a lack of firepower, scoring just 16 goals in 17 games, with their top scorers Hernandez and Krzysztof Piatek netting just four times each. Polish international Piatek looked to have solved Milan’s goalscoring issues when he joined last January from Genoa, netting 9 goals in 18 games in half a season. Piatek and Leao could yet be the long term answer for Milan, but they need an instant impact player to push them back up Serie A towards European competition. It all makes a move for Ibrahimovic enticing, but worryingly with a deal not close Milan appear to have no plan b.
Farewell to the San Siro?
Milan’s problems off the pitch stem from a lack of revenue, making a move alongside Inter away from the San Siro to a new stadium a must. Some fans are coming around to the idea of moving, but the famous old ground tugs at the heartstrings and the move isn’t yet a done deal.
On the pitch, signing Zlatan would only be a short term fix but if it gets Milan back in the Champions League over the next 18 months it will be deemed a success. Pioli can’t be blamed for Milan’s systemic problems but it’s difficult to see him as the long term answer. Inevitably Atalanta’s Gian Piero Gasperini is being whispered as a possible manager. Gasperini’s current side will be the only team playing knockout Champions League football at the San Siro this season.
Most of all Milan need to start buying the right players, whilst going for younger players is a solid strategy there is a need to bring a leadership group to the pitch that Maldini and Baresi so memorably embodied. Europe’s leagues are littered with stories of once great clubs fallen on difficult days from SV Hamburg to Leeds United, Marseille and Parma. AC Milan have yet to fall that far but these are troubling days for the Rossoneri.
Featured Image: Getty