As another weekend of Serie A action goes by, AC Milan continue their remarkable recovery as they now have gone eight games unbeaten since the 23rd of December 2017. Furthermore they have scored 12 goals while conceding only four: a far cry from the outfit under the guidance of Vicenzo Montella.
One man in particular must be given credit for the resurgent Rossoneri and that is none other than Gennaro Gattuso, who has continued to silence his critics. These critics who claim that Gattuso’s grinta (grit) will not be enough to help the Milanese giants succeed are slowly eating their words.
Gattuso has slowly gone about his business stamping his authority onto the team by injecting stability and a solid identity that are yielding the right results. Moreover, he has given belief and hunger to this group of players coaxing the best out of them, something Montella failed miserably in.
While his tactical nous needs to be sharpened: this will only get better in time as the Milanese giants play more games. When analysing the 40-year-old closely one can’t help but to compare him to Italian compatriot Antonio Conte, especially with the passion emanating from both sets of man. Although Gattuso has yet to achieve the level of success Conte has in terms of his managerial career, the similarities shared between the two are aplenty.
As players both Gattuso and Conte were keenly aware of their strengths and they never failed to maximise it. Significantly, the two midfielders were prepared to sacrifice for their team; allowing more talented players to shine in their presence.
Despite being technically limited, the duo however were blessed with tactical versatility while being highly combative. Heart, sweat and tears were their motto, which was what duly earned them a spot in some of the most successful Italian teams in Europe.
Additionally Gattuso and Conte were natural leaders in their own right. Gattuso at Milan and Conte at Juventus were dominant characters that made sure any youngster coming through the ranks at their respective clubs knew the weight of the shirt they were representing. Besides that their innate ability to lead from the front brought them the highest accolades that were coveted in European club football.
This highly-sought after winning mentality that the two possessed while in Conte’s case has transposed in his role as a manager, though for Gattuso still nascent, it is taking its shape gradually. With seven Serie A and three Champions League title between them, these two Italians are living proof that passion can bring you unrivalled success in the game.
As managers the two Southern Italians did not have the most ideal of starts though they appeared to have found their sanctuaries in the form of their former clubs.
When Conte was appointed Juve’s manager in 2011, before going on to Italy and Chelsea, the 48-year-old had a monumental task ahead of him with the Turin giants still reeling from Calcipoli. This was a Juventus team far from the glorious years of the 90s needing resurrection badly, a daunting task.
With expectations high, coupled with his fan-favourite tag, the Lecce native had the weight of the world on his shoulders but the pressure never got to him. His first ten months as manager saw the club reach a number of landmarks such as, following a 5–0 win over rivals Fiorentina equalling Fabio Capello’s run of 28 unbeaten matches between November 2005 and May 2006.
On 20 March 2012, Conte became the first coach to lead Juventus to a Coppa Italia final since Marcello Lippi in the 2004 Coppa Italia final. Despite drawing a large number of matches during the season, on 6 May 2012 Conte led Juventus to their 28th league title with one match remaining by beating Cagliari 2–0. After beating Atalanta 3–1, Juventus finished the league unbeaten, the first team to do so since Serie A expanded to 20 teams and 38 rounds.
Above all, it was not just the success that Conte brought to the ‘Old Lady’ but also his innovative ways and the tweaking of the players’ mentality. Conte’s innovation saw him settle on the revolutionary 3-5-2 system tying this system’s ability to extract the best out of his players. With a fixed system in place, continuity was achieved and his players were able to get used to their roles knowing first hand what their manager wants.
Giorgio Chiellini recently stated in an interview:
It is not only in the match with Conte. It is all day, every training session. He is like a police sergeant. We felt something very special in his atmosphere, for three years with him at Juventus and two years in the national team.
When you finish training, you are dead. Not tired — dead. You can do it only because you believe in what he does. We had 40 days in France and it was like entering another world. You are 100% with him. He creates an atmosphere, everyone gives energy to each other. For sure he is one of the very best.
Chiellini aptly describes how Conte transforms the mentality of players by getting them to sweat for the shirt and to believe in him fully as the way forward for success.
Conversely, it would not be too far-fetched to state that the situation Gattuso is currently facing mirrors the one when Conte first took over Juventus and it is safe to say he is taking a leaf out of Conte’s coaching manual.
Firstly, the 40-year-old has created an atmosphere which has the players motivated again. This is a tight-knit group that are playing for the crest on their shirt rather than the name on their backs. Evidently such a situation was clear after the win over Lazio where a circle was formed and Milan players were slapping Gattuso, signalling unity and belief of the highest order.
Lucas Biglia after the win over SPAL had this to say:
From the first minute, Gattuso put into our minds his way of experiencing football. In every training session, he makes us go beyond our limits and we never have a moment to relax.
He and his staff are forming a real team mentality. We have so much hunger and enthusiasm now, he is bringing out the confidence in the side and that makes the difference. We do everything at 100 per cent.
It is not just the change in the team’s mindset that the former Milan legend has brought, but his ability to settle on a fixed system in the 4-3-3 formation is paying dividends and highlights his innovation. The seven time Champions League are slowly forging an identity and have eliminated the divisiveness that was present under Montella.
It is still early days to predict if Gattuso can attain the success of Conte but safe to say he is well on that path. If things are to persist as they are, Milan have the makings of a managerial legend that can make fans of the Rossoneri dream.