As the woes of the Milanisti continue this season, we look at how manager Filippo Inzaghi has fared and how much of it is to be blamed on him.
With Inzaghi’s debut season rounding off in two months, AC Milan find themselves in eleventh position in Serie A, just one place off city rivals Inter – a combined predicament that underlines the gloom that has descended upon the city of Milan. Inzaghi was supposed to be the saviour for Milan – a symbol of Milan’s most recent successful history – who was going to bring back the attacking ‘Milan way’ in terms of their style of play. So it is rather unfortunate that Milan have managed to score more than one goal only once in their last eight matches in Serie A.
Inzaghi’s appointment was on the back of a regrettable fall from grace of another Milan legend Clarence Seedorf, who as a Botafogo player at the time was persuaded to retire early and put on that managerial black trench coat at AC Milan when his predecessor Massimiliano Allegri was shown the exit by the Milan management in January 2014. Seedorf didna t last long as Milan’s style of play became too defensive. Seedorf won 11 out of the 19 matches he
oversaw – a win percentage of 57.9%, which over the course of the full season would have ensured Milan finish in fourth place and qualify for the Champions League. However, the Milan fans did not approve of Seedorf’s style of play and as Milan finished seventh, eight points shy of fourth place Fiorentina, the Dutch legend was acrimoniously sacked.
Perhaps Inzaghi’s reputation preceded him, but whatever the case, club president Silvio Berlusconi saw in Inzaghi the perfect player that symbolized the Milan way. And why wouldn’t he. Inzaghi had scored 73 goals for Milan in a Rossoneri career that included 10 trophies. Inzaghi was thought to bring the attacking style back to Milan’s play and he did. And it worked to begin with. With 3-1 and 5-4 wins over Lazio and Parma, the goals were back as Milan claimed top spot in Serie A. Even with their hands tied financially, Milan managed to acquire talent, mostly with the help of free agents and loans.
PSG duo Alex and Jeremy Menez arrived on free transfers, as did Real Madrid’s goalkeeper Diego Lopez. Chelsea duo Fernando Torres and Marco van Ginkel arrived on loans, while Adil Rami was bought from Valencia to shore up the defence and midfielder Giacomo Bonaventura arrived from Atalanta. But to balance the cheque books, Milan had to sell last season’s top scorer Mario Balotelli, while Kaka activated a release clause as Milan failed to qualify for Europe. The good results didn’t last too long as Milan only won two of their next 10 matches as Inzaghi settled on his tactics and line-ups. Berlusconi and the fans still patiently waited for one of their favourite legends to get things right in time.
Things Turn Sour
Inzaghi’s team were understandably affected by injuries, a reason he doles out a lot in interviews recently, when he looks back to how Milan were third in Serie A before the injuries struck, but a big club of Milan’s stature surely must prepare for injury contingencies and the manager must take blame for this. Milan won only three of their next eleven games since end of November. Inzaghi tried to resuscitate his team’s campaign by getting unsettled forward Alessio Cerci from Atletico Madrid, as his team’s goals dried up.
Perhaps the one mistake Inzaghi definitely has made is letting M’Baye Niang leave in the winter transfer window on loan to Genoa, a move that looks like a mistake given that Niang recently scored two in his new team’s 5-2 win over Hellas Verona. From a results perspective, this is one of the worst seasons in Milan’s recent history. His 1.3 points per game is the worst average since the 1986-87 season, after which Milan had appointed Fabio Capello as manager.
There is a definite lack of quality and an identity crisis at Milan. The manager, even with his animated touch-line antics and talk about bringing the Milan way back, has not been able to inspire his players. A poor 1-0 loss and elimination at the hands of Lazio in the Coppa Italia seems all the more abject when it is considered that Lazio played with a man less in the second half, following Lorik Cana’s red card. Inzaghi after the result said that the “result tells a lie” and that Milan deserved to win the game, but unfortunately the league table doesn’t and Milan in eleventh position is a reality Inzaghi and the Milanisti must face.
Who is to Blame?
Is it Inzaghi’s over-ambition? Is it unfortunate circumstances with injuries? Or is it the owner trying to pass the buck of his own failings at his managers? Allegri endured a difficult relationship with the owner before being fired in January 2014. He has since then taken over at Juventus, who sit at pole position in Serie A, with a 10 point cushion. Allegri’s win percentage at Juventus is an impressive 66.67%. So he cannot be the problem. Seedorf was then brought in as a replacement, but he too was blamed for Milan’s style of play in spite of a decent 57.9% win percentage.
The problem is that Milan’s heady days of the past were usually the result of a billionaire’s cheque-book. Even before the rise of economic powers like Chelsea, Manchester City and PSG, then prime minister Berlusconi had bankrolled his Milan players at his own or the manager’s whim. Such a luxury cannot be afforded now as Berlusconi is affected by the dwindling Italian financial state and his own personal affairs. Berlusconi and CEO Adriano Galliani are old school administrators whose beliefs in the old ways have seen Milan lose out to other European competitors. A club that has won more European championships than any other – barring Real Madrid – needs to be injected with a fresh lease of life, perhaps at the owner and administrative level more than a tactical or managerial level.
Allegri, Seedorf or Inzaghi are just scapegoats of a bigger problem at the club. With rumours of Berlusconi open to sell the club and a buyer interested, the Milan fans should hope for better things to come and more attendances at the San Siro than the 25,000 supporters in the last three home matches for Milan. For now, Inzaghi remains in the spotlight. He has been afforded more patience by the Milan fans than Seedorf, and Berlusconi also has declared his faith in the manager, but Inzaghi has to show results to prove his theories.
And this weekend will not be any easier as Milan play an in-form, relegation haunted Cesena, determined to stay in Serie A, with recent wins against Lazio and Parma, and a draw against league leaders Juventus to show for their last four weeks’ matches. As Inzaghi lamented “It has been the story of our season. We always seem to play teams when they are in peak form.” The Milan fans wait for the results Pippo – whether you play the in-form teams or not.