Most of us claim to want transparency even if it means hearing things we don’t want to hear and few things are more infuriating in life than being deceived. If you tend to agree with the above statement, then you won’t have much of a problem with what Ivan Gazidis has said about Milan in his two highest profile statements about the club he’s running along with Boban and Maldini.
The introductory press conference for new manager Stefano Pioli was an opportunity for Gazidis to remind the media and rossoneri fans’ that he and his colleagues inherited a dire financial situation following the Elliott Fund having to bail out the mysterious Chinese owners and Mirabelli’s disastrous spending spree from a few summers ago.
The former Arsenal directors reminded everyone that club had to make some painful decisions, including passing on participating in the Europa League and focusing on cheaper players, to be economically viable long term because of the mess they were asked to clean up. But while this maybe true, the fans are now tired of hearing about so many different financial terms since now they just want to have some sporting successes.
The seventh coaching change since Max Allegri was sacked in early 2014 felt like another “been there, done that” moment for those following Milan. What ended up costing Marco Giampaolo his job weren’t just the poor results but almost certainly his unwillingness to execute the plan Gazidis had clearly laid out in his other big public statement of the year- his long interview with Gazzetta dello Sport at the end of May.
Say what you will about Gazidis, but he was a man of his word- he stated Milan would target young players who had the potential to become stars at Milan. This would help keep costs down with wages while also potentially generating some future plusvalenze- we then saw the club acquire Bennacer, Leao, Hernandez and Duarte to become the club’s future stars.
With that plan in mind, hiring Marco Giampaolo made a lot of sense. At Empoli and Sampdoria he had an excellent track record of developing young players like Torreira, Skriniar, Praet, Andersen and even Patrik Schick who has sold for an exorbitant transfer fee. On paper not only would Giampaolo get the most out of one of the youngest squads in Serie A, but he would also bring back the offensive minded football we associate with Milan.
Well you know how it turned out- Giampaolo was unmitigated disaster in every aspect. He seemed confused with his lineup (Andre’ Silva starting only to be loaned a few days later), Paqueta’ and Piatek regressing significantly, no offensive improvements, but consistently starting the Biglia, Calhanoglu, Rodriguez and Castillejos of the world over the players Milan was looking to develop was just a bridge too far.
While Milan flirted with the idea of hiring Luciano Spalletti, from a financial stand point it never really made much sense considering he’s still under contract with Inter through 2021 with a substantial annual salary. Instead Milan ended up hiring his predecessor at the nerazzurri Stefano Pioli, who was “welcomed” to the club with a virtual protest on social media demanding his sacking even before his introductory press conference.
The protest wasn’t so much directed at Pioli but rather the direction of the club and by the time the press conference took place, you could see many Milan fans had gotten through the seven stages of grief and had talked themselves into Pioli. When you look at the managers who have been on the rossoneri’s bench since Allegri left, you can certainly make a case Pioli ranks towards the top.
Pioli was able to get Lazio to third place back in 2015, while time at Inter ended with a typical pazza collapse, he had won 12 of his first 16 Serie A matches with the nerazzurri once he replaced De Boer. Pioli received universal praise for the way he handled Davide Astori’s tragic death at Fiorentina and the team got considerably worse last season when Vincenzo Montella (another former Milan manager) replaced him.
Certainly Milan fans will judge Pioli mainly based on results, and it won’t be easy for him since he will face a much tougher schedule than what Giampaolo dealt with in his first seven matches, but how he develops Milan’s young players will be just as significant. But how those results are achieved will be equally important- Pioli will have to get Piatek and Paqueta’ back on track, continue to develop Leao and Bennacer while finding out if Caldara and Hernandez can be starters on defense alongside Romagnoli since Gazidis and the rest of the management team need to see their vision executed on the pitch.