Gennaro Gattuso is the latest man charged with returning the great AC Milan to the height of their once so dominant powers.
Since Massimiliano Allegri, who led Milan to their last league title in 2010-11, was sacked in January 2014, five coaches have been permanently appointed and tasked with the challenge, and none have succeeded.
Clarence Seedorf, Filippo Inzaghi, Sinisa Mihajlovic, Cristian Brocchi (who in fairness only had a seven-game league spell), and now Vincenzo Montella have all bitten the dust as Milan coach.
Montella was heavily backed by new Chinese owners in the last transfer market, but not even that has been enough, yet, to start a resurgence, and just 20 points from 14 matches, 18 fewer than leaders Napoli, meant the writing was on the wall.
Here, we analyse what happened under Montella so far this season, the things Gattuso must do to turn around Milan’s form, and the likely candidates to step in should the Rossoneri great fail.
Where it went wrong for Montella
If you sign off on hefty cheques to sign the likes of Ricardo Rodriguez, Hakan Calhanoglu, Andre Silva and Leonardo Bonucci then it is not unfair to expect a return. But, put simply, Montella has been unable to mould these individual talents into a league-winning unit. There were signs of early promise as Milan lost just once in their opening five league matches, but just two wins in the following nine spelled danger for the former Italy international. Milan’s failure against Serie A’s biggest hitters has been particularly noticeable, with Roma, Inter, Juventus and Napoli all beating the Rossoneri this season.
Time to hit the ground running
Milan may be a side in turmoil, but Gattuso could hardly have wished for a better run of matches to start his tenure. First up is a trip to rock-bottom Benevento who, quite frankly, are not good enough for the top flight. With no points and just six goals to their name, victory is a must for Gattuso on his debut. A visit from Bologna, who are just one place below Milan, follows and a win would provide momentum ahead of another trip to a side struggling in the form of 19th-place Verona. If Milan take a healthy haul from those fixtures, then tricky contests – at least on paper – against Atalanta, who have struggled to match the form that saw them finish fourth last term, and Fiorentina – a disappointing 12th thus far – can be approached with new-found confidence.
Get the most from under-performing stars
Milan’s expensively assembled squad must start performing under Gattuso. Bonucci has looked a shell of the player that saw him become known as arguably the best centre-back in the world during seven trophy-laden seasons at Juventus. Some have suggested that the burden of captaincy is laying heavy on Bonucci’s shoulders, but that seems a lame excuse for such a brilliant talent. He is not the only one struggling, though.
Andre Silva arrived at San Siro with the honour of being named Cristiano Ronaldo’s heir, by the Real Madrid legend himself. However, the Portugal striker has not netted in eight league appearances, and Gattuso must help the 22-year-old replicate his European form – where he has eight goals in nine Europa League matches – on the domestic front. Gattuso has already discussed getting the most out of Franck Kessie, who would surely relish a more advanced role he enjoyed for Atalanta last season, while the former Italy international spoke of his desire to explore the best position for Milan’s jewel in the crown Suso.
Ancelotti and Conte waiting in the wings?
The biggest surprise at San Siro this week was not Montella’s sacking, but rather the fact that Gattuso – the latest in a line from Milan’s great side of the previous decade to take charge – was given the job until the end of the season. Carlo Ancelotti, a huge San Siro favourite having led the Rossoneri to Champions League glory in 2003 and 2007, and a Serie A triumph in 2004, had been heavily tipped with a return. Perhaps the job has come too soon after his Bayern Munich adventure ended in dismissal in September, but the veteran Italian’s availability will cast a huge shadow over Gattuso’s reign if Milan’s fortunes do not improve.
Or perhaps Gattuso is a mere stop-gap for Milan, who are reportedly desperate to entice Antonio Conte back to Italy. Conte led Juventus to three straight league titles before leaving to take Italy’s national team job, and guided Chelsea to Premier League glory in his first campaign in charge. There have been constant rumblings that Conte yearns for a return to Italy, though, with Milan’s city rivals Inter having also been credited with an interest before Luciano Spalletti stepped into that particular breach. If Gattuso fails, the lure of San Siro and restoring the Rossoneri to former glories may prove too strong for Conte.