The last two seasons have not been kind to AC Milan. In 2013/2014, Massimiliano Allegri’s ability to get the best out of his average side ended, as he was sacked after a 4-3 defeat to Sassuolo in January 2014.
Clarence Seedorf came, saw and did nothing and was replaced in the summer of 2014 by Filippo Inzaghi. Perhaps Milan were hoping for a similar effect that Antonio Conte had at Juventus, a legendary ex-player to galvanise a stagnant club.
Whilst Conte had spent a number of years coaching in Serie A and B, Inzaghi’s managerial experience consisted of one year as coach of the Milan primavera side. His inexperience quickly showed, Milan’s season was simply atrocious on every level. The Rossoneri, with their eighteen league titles and seven European Cups, came a miserable tenth place, winning just 13 of 38 games.
Inzaghi spent most of the season on the edge of doom, reaching its nadir in April. After another poor defeat, this time against Udinese, Inzaghi exploded on the team bus, telling his players that ‘they were unworthy of this shirt’.
Quite right of course, but so was the response of some of the players, who countered with ‘we may be unworthy, but you’re not up to coach Milan’. Shockingly, Inzaghi was not given a second season in charge.
He does not deserve all the blame for the morass at Milan. The hierarchy at the club is a mess, having made countless mistakes in recent times. Milan have not had the transfer clout like they did in the recent past, as Silvio Berlusconi began to cut costs.
Their biggest signing last summer was Giacomo Bonaventura for a mere €7 million. Too many players, most of whom were average, decent or past their best (apart from Diego Lopez) have signed for Milan.
Which leads us onto this summer, which has been a brilliant mix of farce and success. Firstly, the search for a new manager. First choice was former coach Carlo Ancelotti, who was hunted by CEO Adriano Galliani all the way to Canada.
Making a series of promises, Galliani told Ancelotti he would have €120 million in transfer money, which would be used to obtain the likes of Mario Mandzukic, Carlos Bacca, Jackson Martinez, Ilkay Gundogan and Mario Suarez.
Ancelotti refused to budge, so Milan decided to do a 180 degree turn, from appointing a successful coach who seems like a good guy, to appointing Sinisa Milhajlovic.
The kindest thing you can say about Milhajlovic was that he was good at free kicks, holding the record for successful free kicks in Serie A (along with Andrea Pirlo). The worst thing you can say is that Mihajlovic was a racist thug of a player, and is an utterly loathsome person.
At the end of a game against Arsenal in the Champions League, Mihajlovic called Patrick Vieira ‘a black piece of s**t’. Mihajlovic argued that Viera called him a gypsy, which is no excuse for his racist language. Mihajlovic had to publicly apologise for his comments, earning the ire of Lazio’s fans. That was not the worst thing he has done however.
Whilst at Red Star Belgrade, Mihajlovic began a friendship with a noted fan by the name of Željko Ražnatović, who may be better known to you as Arkan. Arkan was a member of the Red Star Belgrade ultra group called the Delije, and he took a prominent part in the infamous riot with Dinamo Zagreb’s ‘Bad Blue Boys’ (who were inspired by Chelsea’s hooligans) in May 1990, as Yugoslavia began to be torn apart.
Arkan later founded a paramilitary group, known as his ‘Tigers’, who committed extensive war crimes during the Yugoslavia conflict. These included torture, rape, and mass killings of non-Serbian men and women. Arkan was charged on twenty four counts by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), but was murdered by one of his own men before he could stand trial.
Now with a ‘friend’ like that, I’m sure most normal people would at least disown their relationship, Mihajlovic took a different path. He instead asked the worst of Lazio’s fans to hold up a banner which said ‘Onore Alla Tigre Arkan’ (‘Honour to the Tiger Arkan’).
His hopeless response was that he was simply honoured a friend from his Red Star Belgrade days. There may be many dislikeable people in football; prima donnas, divers, dirty players, but how many have openly honoured a known war criminal like Mihajlovic did?
Mihajlovic the coach has not managed any club for longer than two years, usually doing well initially before slowly fading away. Interestingly enough his contract at Milan is for two years, which suggests that the Milan board also does not see him as a long term manager, possibly a stop gap before the return of Ancelotti.
Another major story of Milan’s summer was their search for an investor. Berlusconi wanted control of AC Milan, but wanted somebody else to fund its rebuilding. Despite rumours about a bid emanating from the Chinese government, Milan’s new moneyman is the wonderfully named Bee Taechaboul, known in Italy as ‘Mister Bee’.
He paid €485 million for a 48% stake in AC Milan, meaning Berlusconi is still the majority shareholder. With Mister Bee on the board, Milan have loosened their previously tight purse strings in an attempt to return to the summit of Italian football.
Milan’s initial transfer moves were tragic. They believed they were very close to the signings of striker Jackson Martinez of Porto and central midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia of Monaco. All they were waiting for was Martinez to return from the Copa America to complete his medical, instead Atletico Madrid swooped and signed Martinez without one, to Milan’s dismay.
Kondogbia chose to join great rivals Inter Milan, publicly stated they offered less money than Milan, but he preferred to work with Roberto Mancini. As Sam Lopresti pointed out, both players cited the ‘projects’ at Atletico and Inter, opposed to Milan’s gap filling policy. Lopresti put the blame squarely at Galliani’s door, suggesting it was time for him to move on.
Galliani, though, redeemed himself by securing his next targets. Carlos Bacca, Sevilla’s Europa League hero last season, joined for €30 million. He was followed by Luiz Adriano of Shaktar Donetsk, who scored nine goals in seven Champions League appearances last season, who signed for just €8 million.
Milan now have a quality strike force, one with a proven pedigree at European level. They have also overspent on Italian players as well. Like in England, Italy’s youth systems are struggling to produce players, as teams like Fiorentina often play without any Italian players whatsoever.
As such, Italian player’s values are being inflated. Andrea Bertolacci, one of the stars of Genoa’s excellent season (but co-owned by Roma) joined Milan for €20 million, an astonishing fee for a player who has never played in Europe and has just three caps for Italy.
Milan are also in the process of spending at least €25 million for Alessio Romagnoli, another Roma player who is just twenty years of age and has played just forty five professional matches. Both players may go on to star for Milan for the next decade, but they are still extortionate transfer fees.
The final part of Milan’s hectic summer has been a proposed new stadium. Following Juventus’ lead, clubs in Italy have begun to move towards modern stadia they actually own. For all its charm and history, the San Siro is not compatible for Milan’s modern needs.
Their average attendance was 36,730 last season, which in a stadium that holds 80,000 is bad for television. The board have announced plans for a 48,000 seater stadium in the Portello area of Milan, at an expected cost of €300 million. The project, though, has hit a stumbling block.
A dispute has broken out between Milan and Fondazione Fiera, who also wanted to use the site. Milan were awarded the site in July, but are now hesitant to use it, due to excessive costs of initial building work, which are believed to have increased by €35 million.
The stadium situation has aptly summarised Milan’s summer. A piece of good news is quickly followed by bad, and vice versa. A new investor in Mister Bee, but the same people really running the show (Silvio and Barbara Berlusconi, Galliani), no Martinez or Kondogbia but Bacca and Adriano, a potential new stadium but in a problematic location.
A manager like Mihajlovic will probably also turn out to be bad news also. Despite this, Milan have improved in many areas of the pitch. They should be good enough to reach Europa League places, but for now the top three and the Champions League are out of reach.