AC Milan were humbled by Maurizio Sarri’s boys in blue on Sunday night at the Giuseppe Meazza. As the tired athletes made their way to the dressing room after ninety minutes of sheer humiliation, they glanced at the scoreboard. Napoli had beaten Milan by four goals and had registered a clean sheet. Multitudes of fans watched on in disbelief and horror. Those ninety minutes were not part of the script.
Milan have recorded four losses in seven rounds of football. Sitting uncomfortably in 11th spot, Milan are nine points away from the very top of the table. A haphazard league has saved Milan’s blushes, somewhat. Yet, after shelling close to €90 million in the summer, the team and squad had received more than just a facelift. The management had hired a coach with respectable pedigree and a strong tactical understanding of the game, both of which were alien to Milan’s previous two coaches. This team was built to finish the season in the top 3 spots of Serie A. Currently though, this team is languishing in mid-table.
After last night’s performance, many fans and pundits appeared to have found a scapegoat. His name is Adriano Galliani, and very simply put, he is the man whose KRAs include developing and executing the club’s transfer dealings.
For the first time in many years, this man, who had built dynasties etched in football history, was handed a fat wallet with real bills to dispose off in order to improve the standard of players at the club. He didn’t exercise much restraint, generously disposing of millions of euros to acquire his targets. He brought onboard several players who undeniably improved the team upon arrival. Carlos Bacca, Mario Balotelli and Luiz Adriano are players of international caliber and are proven upgrades over Mattia Destro and Giampolo Pazzini. Andrea Bertolacci and Jose Mauri enjoyed excellent seasons at Genoa and Parma respectively and brought with them immense promise. Juraj Kucka’s arrival is admittedly quite sketchy, as Milan approached him after pulling out of negotiations with Zenit St Petersburg for Alex Witsel. The context does mar the signing, but on its own, Kucka is a very good football player.
Galliani also addressed the defense by splurging on Alessio Romagnoli, increasing AS Roma’s cash-flow by €25 million. Additionally, Luca Antonelli’s signing was made permanent for €4.5 million. In essence, ‘Uncle Fester’ had done his job, albeit he could have done it slightly better.
Fans tend to look at players who have switched clubs over the summer and immediately question why Milan didn’t attempt to sign them. For instance, Allan moved from Udinese to Napoli for €11.5 million. That, on its own, is terrific business by Napoli. But, context is key in this case. Milan never attempted to sign a defensive midfielder. All three acquisitions in midfield were of box-to-box midfielders. Milan’s did try to sign Witsel, (a regista like Allan) and perhaps tried too hard to strong-arm Zenit into selling the Belgian by tabling an unacceptable offer. Galliani tried to use time to his advantage, which has worked wondrously for Milan in the past. However, the ploy backfired and Galliani, ironically, ran out of time to find a suitable replacement.
Mihajlovic was instructed to play with a no.10 and Milan possessed in their ranks a certain Japanese play-maker who has constantly been played out of position ever since he arrived from Russia. Another player quite capable of playing between the lines is Jeremy Menez, an attacker with 16 league goals to his credit last season. Galliani’s reluctance to sign a trequartista, while Honda and Menez remained on the books, seems understandable.
Galliani did well in the mercato. Could he have bargained better? Sure. No reasonable man would sign Bertolacci for €20 million, but lest we forget Silvio Berlusconi’s vision of trying to rebuild Milan with a young, Italian core. Bertolacci fed right into that vision, which might have been the reason behind the management’s approval to acquire the player for such a ludicrous sum of money.
Contrary to people’s accusations, Milan are not struggling because the players are not good enough. Lazio, Torino, Chievo, Sassuolo, Sampdoria and Atalanta are ahead of Milan in the league table, and each of these teams has an inferior squad to that which is available to Mihajlovic.
The problem, with strict reference to on-the-pitch shenanigans, is with the coaching and the tactics deployed. This team is not built for a 4-3-1-2 and Mihajlovic is force-fitting the players into that formation. Bacca and Adriano are penalty box strikers. Expecting two highly similar players to develop a partnership, when both these players are well into their prime, makes little to no sense. Riccardo Montolivo is not a deep-lying play-maker and has repeatedly displayed a torrid disability to shield the backline. Honda has flattered to deceive as a no.10 and should be sold to a club more fitting of his ability and Bonaventura is not a competent deputy.
Mihajlovic and his staff must revisit the drawing board and work on the basics once again. There are ways in which value can be derived from these players. But to do that, Mihajlovic must hit the ‘reset’ button and start over, attempting to build this team differently.