Despite limited resources and the backdrop of confusion relating to the club’s proposed takeover by a Chinese consortium, AC Milan manager Vincenzo Montella has been making progress in his first season at the San Siro.
But how long can he continue to steer a calm course in such choppy waters? Surely the time is coming when the stuttering takeover will begin to undermine his plans?
Milan sit seventh in Serie A. Friday night’s 2-1 defeat at champions and leaders Juventus most probably ended their fading hopes of a return to the Champions League.
The 10-point gap to third place Napoli is surely too wide a gap to bridge.
A return to Europe via the Europa League is now the clear objective – which, if achieved, will nevertheless be a feather in Montella’s cap.
The fallen giants have failed to qualify for European competition in each of the last three seasons – an unwelcome record for one of the game’s great clubs.
Putting the Rossoneri back on the European map even in the Continent’s lesser competition, Montella’s primary goal when the season kicked off, would bring a degree of satisfaction.
Even if they fall short, eminently possible given how tight the scramble for European places is, there is clear evidence of progress under the 42-year-old.
Take for example the fact that with 30 points still to play for, Milan are only seven points off their total for last season. This with a squad lacking depth and dogged by injuries and suspensions – no mean feat.
The burgeoning talents of goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma (18), centre-half Alessio Romagnoli (22) and midfielder Manuel Locatelli (19) have been the story of Milan’s season in many ways.
So too has been the development of former Liverpool player Suso (23), whose six Serie A goals and seven assists bode well for his and the club’s future.
However, given Milan’s difficult circumstances, you have to wonder how long Montella can shield his side’s progress from the inertia caused by the troubled takeover bid.
Sino-Europe Sports were due to complete the transaction on March 3, but they missed the deadline for the deal to be done.
This is the second time an agreed deadline to buy the club has come and gone, as the consortium struggles to put together the required financial package.
While the continuing uncertainty has not had a major impact on the pitch, Montella is sure to feel the effects soon.
Money will not be spent on new players to strengthen his squad until there is financial certainty. Moreover, prospective targets are likely to look elsewhere for the same reason.
But it’s not just new players that the manager and the club should be concerned about. A lack of clarity over the club’s future, and over the kinds of investment promised by the prospective owners, could result in Milan losing its finest talent.
Already, Mino Raiola, Donnarumma’s agent, has publicly made it clear that he won’t let his client sign a new deal with the club until the takeover saga is concluded. And even then, he wants to discuss terms with the new owners before any agreement can be reached.
And what about the manager? Montella was very open in the run up to Friday night’s clash with Juventus in talking about his future.
Yes, he’d like to stay at Milan but only if the circumstances are right and club and manager can work on their “shared objectives.”
It was hardly a threat. And yet it does point to the precarious position the club finds itself in. Progress is being made on the pitch. Milan have in Montella a young and talented manager with a bright future.
But if his plans to bolster his squad over the summer are undermined, and if he were to lose any of the exciting talent already at his disposal, will he continue to feel this is the right environment?
Clearly, the longer the club goes without certainty over its future direction, the greater the likelihood that the gains garnered under the former Italian international and the talent the club has worked so hard to nurture could be lost.