14th April 2016. By Greg Lea.
It has not been a vintage season for Milan, but the biggest backwards step the club have taken in 2015/16 came off, rather than on, the pitch; in sacking manager Sinisa Mihajlovic on Tuesday, the Rossoneri forced themselves to restart a process they have already begun multiple times in the last few years.
Although Milan remain one of the biggest and most successful clubs in European football, they have struggled immensely since finishing as runners-up in Serie A in 2012. The following season, then boss Max Allegri inspired a remarkable turnaround in the second half of the campaign to secure a top-three finish and Champions League football, but such lofty placings proved unsustainable as Milan ended the next two campaigns 2013/14 and 2014/15 in eighth and 10th respectively.
In some respects, the drop-off was understandable. Owner and president Silvio Berlusconi decided to cut costs in 2012, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva sold to Paris Saint-Germain for a combined €63 million and long-serving, high-earning stars such as Pippo Inzaghi, Rino Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf and Alessandro Nesta also moving on or retiring. It was always going to be difficult for Milan to challenge for league championships with such a policy in place, particularly when unproven youngsters or lesser-quality players were the ones generally tasked with filling the shoes of those who had departed.
In other ways, though, Milan have not done themselves any favours. The dismissal of Allegri after a 4-3 defeat to Sassuolo that left the club 11th in January 2014 made sense at the time despite his subsequent success at Juventus, but the decision to install Seedorf who had no coaching experience and was still playing professionally for Botafogo in Brazil as his successor was an extremely odd one. The former midfielder oversaw a slight upturn in fortunes but was himself let go at the end of the season, only to be replaced by Inzaghi, another man who was embarking on his first foray into senior management. Unsurprisingly, that experiment failed miserably, with Milan finishing in their lowest position since 1996/97 last term.
The situation Mihajlovic inherited after taking over last summer was therefore not the brightest; while Champions League qualification was the stated ambition, that was always going to be difficult to achieve in the Serb's first year at the helm. Milan's football under Mihajlovic was perhaps not the most easy on the eye, but there were clear signs of progress compared to the disorganised and poorly-coached side that the Rossoneri were for much of 2014/15. Regardless, Mihajlovic was fired this week in favour of Cristian Brocchi, another former Milan player with no experience of leading a team at the highest level.
"Like every coach in the world, I'm judged on results," the former Sampdoria manager said prior to Saturday's 2-1 defeat to Juventus, Milan's fifth match without a win that ultimately cost him his job. "If the team does not perform in the next few games then it's right that I be sacked, even before the end of the season.
"As long as I'm here I'll give my all, I'll cross that bridge [being sacked] if it comes to it. I have a clear conscience and I try to transmit what I have inside of me. When things aren't going well it's right that people talk about the coach, and he faces up to his responsibilities. It's a normal thing, I've always done it and it's just my way of being.
"I don't have any problem holding my hands up, if there isn't the right spirit then I'm the first to take the blame and I have to transmit certain things. If I can't do that, then I've failed."
Despite such comments, Mihajlovic will probably be disappointed that he was not given longer to try and lift Milan back into the upper echelons of Serie A. If the current short-termism continues, the 18-time champions will be waiting a good while longer for their next league title.
Continuing Struggles at AC Milan
14th April 2016. By Greg Lea.