A frustrated AC Milan fan recently made headlines when he put Max Allegri up for sale for the low price of €1.
"For sale, Allegri, without ideas or character," ran the headline. It got lots of laughs, but it was unfair on a manager who's taking flack for circumstances not of his own making.
It's tempting to think that the club could advertise online for their next coach, actually. In the Wanted Section, "Fall Guy Needed, No Experience Necessary." Because these days, sitting on the bench at the San Siro is as much about taking the blame for the Berlusconi family as it is about managing one of the world's most successful football teams.
Max Allegri might not be perfect, but it's difficult to imagine any manager doing much better in his position.
He won the league on his first attempt with a squad full of players past retirement age and then the next year finished runner-up in the league and performed well in the Champions League with a team of inexperienced youth and underwhelming misfits.
The way Milan turned around their season last year, after starting with only eight points from their first seven games, shows that not only is he obviously an inspirational man-manager, but he is clearly able to change his ideas when they're not working.
Football narratives are always fascinating because depending on who you listen to or what page you're reading from, there can be as many as four or five "best" teams in any one league, all of whom have legions of fans expecting success.
There can, of course, be only one winner, and it's usually a deserving one.
It's no easy task to ask a football fan to consider their team dispassionately and analytically, but does the current incarnation—forgetting history, prestige and expectation—of AC Milan deserve to be challenging for a league title more than Juventus, Napoli or Roma? The simple answer is no.
Nowhere on the pitch are they better than their rivals. Compare Christian Abbiati to Gigi Buffon, Philippe Mexes and Cristian Zapata to Castan and Mehdi Benatia, or Sulley Muntari to Arturo Vidal, Gokhan Inler or Jose Callejon. They don't match up.
Only up front can Mario Balotelli be considered at least as good as Gonzalo Higuain or Carlos Tevez.
The resurgence of Kaka behind him is cause for more hope and speaks to Allegri's motivational abilities because several coaches failed to get the best out of the Brazilian at Real Madrid—but again, it's unlikely he'll top Francesco Totti or Paul Pogba in the excitement stakes any time soon.
Everywhere you look, Milan are lacking. That's not something said lightly or meant to cause offence. It's just that so much criticism has been leveled at the manager, the discussion deserves some balance.
Allegri might be at fault for part of the team's current plight, but he's having to make due on account of other people's failings, too.
Adriano Galliani is often rightly praised for his work in the transfer market. He's gotten the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the aforementioned Balotelli on the cheap in the unlikeliest of circumstances, and he knows when to roll the dice on a romantic dalliance like bringing back Kaka.
But Galliani does two jobs, and they're not always pulling him in the same direction.
As the vice-president and C.E.O. of the club, he's in charge of making sure that Milan stays competitive on the field and successful financially, but he's also charged with keeping the owners happy, and that's become increasingly difficult to do.
Gone are the days when Berlusconi was willing to spend lavishly on his club. UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules, the global financial crisis and the former prime minister's own legal battles have meant that he's had to tighten his belt of late, and that fact has hit the club hard.
Milan were ill-prepared for budget cuts and are now struggling to find their feet scrambling for hotly contested bargain players and future prospects.
There's also change afoot inside the Berlusconi empire, and it's having an effect across their business interests. The controversial billionaire's daughters, in particular, hold the future of the football club in their hands.
Marina Berlusconi is the eldest, and currently serves as the chairwoman at Fininvest, the family's investment company. She's also regularly tipped as the heir to her father's political influence.
Unlike Silvio, however, Marina is not such a fan of spending big on soccer, and she's been blocking extravagant spending at the club for several years now.
The 29-year-old Barbara Berlusconi, meanwhile, will be familiar to many as the former girlfriend of Alexandre Pato. She's also got significant influence within Fininvest, and in particular, on the board at the club.
Barbara has denied it, but it's now an open secret that there's something of a power struggle going on between her and Galliani. She's said that she never, as originally reported, demanded that her father fire the club's CEO after their loss at home to Fiorentina, but there's no smoke without fire.
"I simply asked," said Barbara (here via Sky Sports), "for a change of business philosophy at Milan."
Considering that in recent years the philosophy seems to have just been to hope Galliani can find a bargain somewhere, it's hard to see how such change wouldn't affect or remove the current vice-president's influence.
Mistakes have certainly been made in the transfer market, and someone needs to take responsibility for that. But if the club is to move forward then that responsibility cannot mean simply one person shouldering the blame for the sake of political expediency.
Galliani might be culpable for the current squad's weakness, but he can only function within the parameters given to him by the Berlusconis, so he doesn't deserve all of the criticism.
His manager, meanwhile, deserves none of it.
Milan are 16 points off third place after just 11 rounds, and that's partly because he hasn't been able to settle on a functioning, reliable and effective XI. Blame his tactical inadequacy, perhaps, but it's also surely due to the fact that his current squad just isn't up to scratch.
Changing the coach won't change things at Milan long-term unless there's a clear investment plan and political squabbles are banished from the boardroom.
It's also worth considering what former players like Clarence Seedorf being linked with the job says about the state of modern football in general and Milan in particular.
The manager's job is less and less about talent and hard work, and more and more about headline-grabbing and papering over cracks caused by someone else higher up the food chain.
Hiring a former star would be a huge gamble that the club don't need to take because a great player does not a manager make. For every success story like Carlo Ancelotti or Antonio Conte, there are many more cautionary tales like Paolo Di Canio, Roy Keane or Diego Maradona.
No disrespect to Seedorf, but he wouldn't do any better. At least not in the long term.
Even if he has the necessary talents to become a manager, he wouldn't have the raw material at Milan right now to sculpt a winning team. No one would.
In a recent interview, the Dutch midfielder made no secret of the fact that he dislikes Allegri, or that he wants to become a coach.
He might find that once he becomes the latter he'll respect the former more. Say what you want about managers, but it's not easy when everyone's a critic and you're being blamed for things you can't control.
That's worth remembering for fans before they crucify the wrong man—and leave the culprits free to sin again.
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