Assessing Massimiliano Mirabelli’s First Season As AC Milan’s Sporting Director

The 2017-18 Serie A campaign came with high expectations for not only a thrilling title race and battle for top four honors, but also the revival of a fallen giant – AC Milan.

Entering the season, the Rossoneri underwent wholesale changes amidst a massive summer spending spree. Under new owner Li Yonghong and his ambitious Chinese investment group, CEO Marco Fassone and sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli were the braintrust of a €200 million squad overhaul, trekking all over to secure the signatures of players who could bring Milan back to relevancy in not on Italy, but Europe.

Names like Leonardo Bonucci, Lucas Biglia, Franck Kessie, Andrea Conti, Hakan Calhanoglu and André Silva were among the dozen or so players to secure moves to the San Siro. With their arrivals came immediate expectations for a rapid rise back to the top of Italy in the form of a top four finish good for a dream UEFA Champions League return. However, after a few early victories domestically, and in the Europa League against provincial sides, the honeymoon phase came to an abrupt halt. Since then, the 2017-18 version of Milan has been a mixed bags, with several players underperforming, former manager Vincenzo Montella proving unfit for the pressure in year one of the project and the collective sum just failing to get the job done when it matters most.

Despite a respectable run to the Round of 16 in the Europa League and a Coppa Italia Final berth, there is no denying this has been a disastrous season for Milan – Mirabelli has come under fire throughout for the crop of players he signed have failed to meet the overall expectations of the supporters.

Firstly, Montella‘s incompetence clearly showed with an inability to get a grasp on a consistent tactical shape and position the players to render positive results on the pitch. Under his watch, few of the new signings performed to standards, with several like Bonucci and Biglia looking like shadows of their former selves.

Eventually, the former Fiorentina coach was sacked and replaced with Gennaro Gattuso who has managed to bring Milan back into somewhat respectable waters when you consider the circumstances in which he arrived. However, despite having gone on an encouraging run to flirt with a top four finish since the pivot of the calendar year, Milan has come back down to earth – and appears to be running out of gas here during the final stretch of the season.

Of the eleven names to enter the fray last summer, it’s fair to say that only a select few have succeeded in meeting expectations and making good on their transfer fee. This list includes, but isn’t limited to, the following based on personal perception of overall performance: Leonardo Bonucci, Hakan Calhanoglu, Lucas Biglia, and Franck Kessie.

These individuals have each endured their spells of difficult form, but overall, have been more or less steady over the entire season. Yet, the same cannot be said for strikers Nikola Kalinic and André Silva who combined scored 7 goals and really have not been able to deliver up front like Milan desperately needed this season. You could make a case that Ricardo Rodriguez and Mateo Musacchio have been good enough for the money spent, while Andrea Conti has yet to see enough of the pitch to properly grade his transfer due to injuries, but overall, this group of names have undoubtedly underwhelmed.

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In fairness to Mirabelli, perhaps Milan supporters expected too much too soon, as this climb back to the top was always a 2-3 year process. Nonetheless, this season has not gone according to plan, so it’s only natural for the individual in charge of signing talent to receive his share of the criticism. Mirabelli, along with Fassone, worked diligently to assemble a competitive squad for Montella that could enjoy the luxury of ample time to build much needed chemistry early on in the summer. That obviously was not enough for Montella to pick up positive results, putting Milan in a massive hole early on that Gattuso just could not find a way out of despite doing a stellar job to secure a contract until 2021.

As things stand, Milan currently sit seventh in the table, 13 points off their fourth place objective and still clinging to hopes of another Europa League qualification. The red and black still have the opportunity to collect silverware this season despite their shortcomings when they clash with Juventus in just a few weeks time at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome for the Coppa Italia Final. Whether or not they can best the Bianconeri is neither here nor there. The fact remains Mirabelli’s efforts will likely be seen as unsatisfactory, just like Milan’s as whole this season.

Surely, a more advanced winger than Fabio Borini, or a star hitman like Pierre- Emerick Aubameyang probably would have moved the needle for Milan, and increased their odds of meeting season objectives. However, when you take into account the many moving parts, widespread change of the squad and the pressure for immediate success, Mirabelli was always going to be put under a microscope and judged crtically by a fanbase desperate to win. Fair or not, the Italian director is now facing the possibility of being sacked after one season. In a results-based profession like football, and with a lot resting on qualifying for top four, the harsh reality is he must be held accountable just like everyone else.

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