AC Milan's Problems: Is Barcelona Legend Pep Guardiola the Answer?

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AC Milan's Problems: Is Barcelona Legend Pep Guardiola the Answer?
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When La Gazzetta Dello Sport reported Milan were in talks with former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiolayou could almost hear the cheers at San Siro (h/t ESPN Soccernet).

Coincidentally, the reports emerged just days after the Italian club’s 1-0 derby loss to city rivals Inter in Serie A, a probable sign those at Milanello are trying to win back the doubters following a poor campaign so far. In reality, the interpretations are endless and open to debate, but here we will analyse whether Guardiola can cut his cloth in Milan.

Based on his CV, the answer is yes.

Guardiola can be a success at Milan, but it’s more complicated than that. It's true the coach’s achievements are unprecedented in the modern football era. What he won in such a short space of time at Camp Nou is remarkable. The Spaniard scooped, among many honours, three La Liga titles in a row and two Champions League trophies on a path which took Barcelona onto another level. 

Nobody can argue with what the coach achieved in Spain; he essentially ruled the world of football and Barcelona’s continued investments have also ensured that level of progress can be sustained on the long term.

However, those achievements are consigned to history. The big question is whether Guardiola can do a Jose Mourinho and revolutionise a club’s way of doing things by restoring the prestige and swagger of yesteryear.

Mourinho is a perfect example of a coach who gets paid to do a job and does it with whichever club he moves to. We saw this at Chelsea, Inter and now Real Madrid.

Guardiola, on the other hand, was at home at Barcelona, but will he be out of his depths at Milan? It’s yet to be proved, but he would need to overhaul the current playing staff within Rossoneri ranks.

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The current problem at San Siro, and the first Guardiola will encounter, is the fact Milan’s squad does not possess the technical ability anywhere near to what the coach was used to working with in La Liga.

To guarantee short-term success, the former Spain international would have to make wholesale changes on the pitch. Over the longer term, the task would be to develop the club in terms of how things are done and modernise thinking—something that will not come cheaply nor easily given that president Silvio Berlusconi is still deeply entrenched with the glories of times gone by.

At club level Milan lack an abundance of world-class players that have graduated from their youth system, whereas Barcelona are always developing the very best—Spanish conquistadors and world beaters.

Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas, Victor Valdes, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and Pedro all graduated from the famous La Masia academy. These are players who strove and thrived under Guardiola. Look at it this way, nine out of the starting 11 at Camp Nou came through the club’s academy ranks. When you look at Milan’s infrastructure, there is simply no comparison.

Another issue at Milan, and one that continuously affects them, is that historically they are one of the world’s greatest clubs and the price they pay for that is endless pressure. The Rossoneri are expected to win and compete whatever the circumstances and often under limited time–it’s what the fans have become used to ever since Berlusconi's revolution began in 1986.

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However, after selling two of their best players last season in Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as well as offloading the old guard, Guardiola, should he arrive, will start his climb from way down. Milan have not replaced those players and as good as Giampaolo Pazzini is, he is not a replacement for Ibrahimovic. At the back Philippe Mexes is nowhere near the level of Thiago Silva. Alessandro Nesta also left. The biggest names were replaced with no names in comparison.

Time is also important and success will depend on how much time and money, if any, Guardiola will be given to organise the club. The Italians have retrenched, budgets have been slashed and investment in current coach Massimiliano Allegri and his squad has been basic at best. 

Perhaps Milan are creating a war chest for the former midfielder so he can come in and do what he wants. Maybe there is more behind the sale of Ibrahimovic. The Paris Saint-Germain striker revealed he never got on with the coach when both men worked together at Barcelona.

Could it be that Milan’s thinking behind the sale was to offload the Sweden striker and bring in the coach, knowing they could not work in unison? Forward thinking from the Italians, or just bad timing?

Nevertheless, a top coach, Guardiola seems to many as being timeless. The world stood still. They watched and admired as he and Barcelona swept all before them during his four-year stint in charge. He is the unchanging coach, a proven winner who always moves forward with ambition. His success at Barcelona speaks for itself and, quite simply, he was the flag that never failed.

Milan will have noted he is expensive, high maintenance and one who will demand certain guarantees that will likely remain the secret of boardroom discussions at the club.

One thing is for sure, though: If Guardiola is a timeless coach, it’s definitely a time for change at Milan.

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