"This is the end. :-)"
So read the tweet of Mario Balotelli, posted in the small hours of Sunday morning after a tumultuous night at the San Siro.
Given the lacklustre display against Genoa, speculation over the meaning of the striker’s musing spread over social media. Did Balotelli mean he’d had enough, less than a year into his adventure with a club that he had yearned to join, or was it coach Massimiliano Allegri standing on the precipice?
Corriere della Sera later reported (in Italian) that it was simply a reference to his friend, kickboxer Giorgio Petrosyan, losing a big fight in New York shortly before, which Balotelli watched on television at home in Milan with a group of friends, including Petrosyan’s brother.
That Balotelli was watching sport with his mates at 4 a.m. will do little to calm the mood of the Milan ultras who complain that their team’s players stay up too late and don’t treat the honour of playing for the club with the gravity it deserves—feelings that spilled over into substantial numbers barricading the players into the stadium after Saturday’s disappointing draw, demanding a dialogue.
Just before midnight the impasse was broken when Kaka—goalscorer and captain for the night—and experienced goalkeeper Christian Abbiati came out to listen to the fans’ grievances.
That was a start, but another sign of the continuing strength of discontent among the Rossoneri faithful arrived with the news that full-back Kevin Constant deleted his own Twitter account after receiving criticism from fans, as Football Italia reports here.
If the players are hardly winning any local popularity contests of late, it is clear that the malaise goes deeper. Milan go into Tuesday’s crucial Champions League tie at Celtic in 13th place in Serie A, a whopping 14 points behind the final Champions League place already.
A loss in Glasgow, pushing them to the brink of elimination from the competition that defines them, would almost be too much to bear.
Allegri has never been popular given his plain brand of football—a far cry from the vintage Milan sides of yesteryear—even when winning the 2011 Scudetto at the end of his first season in charge. Adriano Galliani is his greatest ally and the moment that the vice-president loses his grip on power, the coach is as good as gone.
Galliani’s own exit has been invoked as a genuine possibility in recent weeks, but in the short term Allegri appears safe enough. Milan don’t have the budget to attract a genuinely top-class coach (club legends Clarence Seedorf or Pippo Inzaghi are perhaps the most likely) nor the budget to improve a flagging squad, now shorn of Kevin Prince Boateng, too.
The absence of the injured Stephan El Shaarawy can only explain so much.
A catch-up is not totally impossible: Milan were 13th after 12 games last season. The big difference with last season is perhaps the form and quality of opposition of the teams currently occupying the top three positions.
Champions Juventus have hit even stronger form of late with Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez really clicking up front, Roma have been re-energised under new coach Rudi Garcia and Napoli have an enviable arsenal of attacking quality at the disposal of Rafa Benitez.
Balotelli finding form would help—he saw a second successive penalty saved against Genoa, which would have provided a winner.
Yet this time, it’s not all on Mario. Some of that renowned Milanello spirit needs to be found—and quickly.
- DOWNLOAD BLEACHER REPORT'S HUGELY POPULAR TEAM STREAM APP RIGHT HERE