Three straight trophyless seasons for Italy’s most glorious club AC Milan stirred up a hornet’s nest in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s office. The squad that bagged two European titles, in a span of five years, was not getting any younger and in scrutiny one may feel, was not properly reinforced by the then manager Carlo Ancelotti, who parted ways with the club at the end of a forgettable 2008-09 season, during which the team could not even feature in the Champions League. The season that followed saw Milan’s long time faithful Leonardo assume the managerial cloak from Ancelotti. The one-year stint, that the Brazilian enjoyed at the Rossoneri bench, did not bear any fruits; much assumably both Milan and Leonardo chose to move on and tread different paths.
Given the stature the club beholds and the honours at stake, the appointment of Massimiliano Allegri aroused an instantaneous bewilderment amongst the whole football fraternity. The ex-Cagliari manager had had an illustrious two years with his former club but even the fairest of his assessment would deem him the man for the pedestrian teams in the peninsula. The managerial propositions take a whole new turn when it comes to handle the dressing rooms of the big names of Europe as it involves much more than implementing your footballing acumen. The think-tank at Milan mainly made up of Berlusconi, ably allied by the discerning custodian Adriano Galliani, chose to zero in on a man unbeknownst to the brouhaha a big club usually is surrounded by, believing that the uncontaminated profile may allow the man to ride on his instincts, disregarding the clamour the media and fans alike may unleash upon.
And thus began the Allegri-era in the already prosperous history of Milan on a highly promising note. Unlike his predecessor, Allegri’s cause was duly upheld by Berlusconi’s purse. Galliani’s world famous one-upmanship in winning the shrewdest of bargains bolstered the squad with giant reinforcements. Barring an odd result or two in the very beginning of the season, the team began to look increasingly well-composed and pretty soon the league table too shared the opinion. However, a large chunk of fans attributed Allegri’s instant success to the much anticipated fall of the city rivals Internazionale, who were left, stumbled into the Benitez School of thoughts. While this was initially discarded as unnecessary cynicism, it has now emerged as a pretty nearly immaculate analysis, when Inter appear to have resurrected their fortunes and have caused a potential threat down Allegri’s spine, to run away with the league title for a straight sixth time.
After a string of listless performances against Bari and Palermo, Milan have invited Inter to close in the gap to a mere two points. This may easily be overturned in the derby, which is scheduled in two week’s time. Given the current form, squad strength and winning habit of both the teams and the added hindrance of star forward Ibrahimovic’s absence from the contest, Inter could not have asked for a better time to play the derby. Now that the pressure to lose the top spot to the bitter rivals looms over the Rossoneri, one wonders if this squad marshalled by a novice manager is really good enough to remain persistent over a period of one season and bring home the elusive ‘Scudetto’ after an apparent aridity of seven years.
A league tournament is stretched over a whole season and basically tests the toughness in the character and the core values of a team. Unlike a cup competition, where a positive vibe of fortunes may define moments and win the team accolades, the format of a league competition principally eliminates any role that luck may play and determines only the strongest outfit of the lot. To emerge the ultimate winners, a team needs to surpass the others on multiple credentials – few of them being physical fitness of the squad to survive one full season, mental fitness to instill and persevere over a winning mentality, durability of the bench players to rise to important occasions and most importantly a manager with a peculiar ability to repeatedly outwit his counterparts with the variety in his tricks and trade. Time and again it has been observed that usually the one-dimensional managers are at most found out midway in the season, fall short of ideas and eventually fail to live to the promise.
As much as the fanatical crop of Milan supporters would hate to admit this, they keep knocking on wood with the hope that their manager has not hit the stagnancy limit and does still have few more cards to unfold. Assessing Allegri’s performance, solely into the league matches, one may conclude that he has been a little too generous, even with the teams he should have gone all guns blazing against – especially with one of the most envious attacking triumvirate at his disposal. The potency and the flair that the Milan attack boasts of on paper has never been potentially translated on pitch and Allegri’s customarily cautious approach could not have been more apparent. Even against the likes of Catania, Lecce, Cesena and Bari, it took Allegri’s men an average good sixty minutes of football before breaking the deadlock. While there have been instances of screamers from Ibrahimovic and Robinho to have been denied by the wooden cross-piece, the overall scarcity of demolition intent in team’s passing and fluidity is alarming.
Scrutinizing the Rossoneri’s performance chart of the season, one of the concealed facts that unearths, leaves one heavily unconvinced over the team’s prowess, as being reckoned prominent title contenders. As idiosyncratic as it may appear to be, Milan have not ended up being on the winning side even on a single occasion, where the oppositions have managed to put them behind. Max Allegri’s men have never been able to overturn a lead conceded and upstage a comeback to claim all three points. Out of the twelve instances in all competitions of being put on the back-foot, Milan have been comprehensively beaten seven times while five games ended on parity. The impeccable knack of scoring goals on crucial junctures of the veteran legs of club legend Filippo Inzaghi allowed the team to overturn a 1-0 lead imposed by Real Madrid only to concede a late equaliser in the dying moments to let the game eventually end on 2-2.
The table below drafts Milan’s performance in all the twelve matches after being put behind by the rival team:
|Sr. No||Competition||Opposition||Lead conceded at||Final score|
|3.||Champions League||Ajax Amsterdam|
|4.||Champions League||Real Madrid|
|6.||Champions League||Real Madrid|
|7.||Champions League||Ajax Amsterdam|
|8.||Serie A||AS Roma|
|10.||Champions League||Tottenham Hotspur|
The prime reason that one may document for the story the table shares, is the absence of a certain Andrea Pirlo, who has for some years now remained the galvanising force for the Milan midfield and the chief architect to take the game to the opposition. In the absence of the maestro, Allegri weighed the reputation of few of the famous names in ‘Curva Sud’ over the likes of Merkel and Strasser, who could have potentially revivify the lacklustre Milan midfield. It is difficult to conclude in retrospect over how pronouncing their presence would have been in a highly demanding league, but it was definitely a gamble worth for the taking. In the limited opportunities being presented, both have demonstrated intent and probably a little more time to spend on the pitch, may provide them with the right platform to exhibit their true billing.
What Allegri must remember is that he is nomore managing Cagliari, where preserving a hard earned lead is all a good manager is expected to do. He is at the helm of one of the biggest clubs in Europe, where a mere three-point takeaway from every game may not serve the entire purpose. Milan are a club with an immediate agenda to reannounce their sovereignty in European footballing circuit and to take the project in the right direction, Allegri has to be audacious enough to choose the valorous path. The ruthless show that the Milan offence is capable of running must receive the nod from the manager and the structure and the plan that Allegri designs must cater to the goal of re-establishing the club, as an apocalyptic powerhouse; winning the league is merely an accomplishment in the process.
Given the current status quo of the league table, the Derby Della Madonnina that is beckoning could not have been more decisive. The winners would virtually run away with the title leaving a pretty narrow room for their rivals to turn the tide. Allegri must not forget that the “Glorified Scout” plying his trade in ‘Curva Nord’ currently has got a bigger point to prove to Berlusconi for which shall he leave no stone unturned. One may probably not recall when was the last time the most intensified derby in Europe was potential of determining a league title to tilt in the favour of the winners. Allegri must rise to the occasion and assert he is a big club material. It’s time to pull up the socks.
– Parth Pandya