5 Fixes AC Milan Need to Make Before Next Season
They might be the last Italian team left in the Champions League, but 2013-14 hasn't been a great year for AC Milan, and with the departure of manager Max Allegri already announced, the rebuilding work needs to begin as soon as possible.
Plenty of questions need to be asked, from what kind of manager the side really needs to what kind of players the coach will require to return to the top. Let's look at five of the most important issues they'll need to address before next season.
Find a New Manager
This is going to be top of the To Do List at Milanello.
Allegri's relationship with the club's owner has been strained for some time, but he's managed to act professionally throughout, even as he resigned, and while he guides the team through the rest of the season, the club should be acting the same way and searching for the right manager—rather than a flashy or gimmick option like Clarence Seedorf—to take over in the summer.
Speaking to the press, Allegri said:
I spoke to Adriano Galliani prior to Christmas about the decision to leave the club in June. We're professional and we have to work well to the end of the contract. I've had four years here, and I thank president Berlusconi, Galliani and the club for having given me the chance to lead an important team.
It was a dignified statement from a man who's been dragged through more than his fair share of undignified scraps while at the Rossoneri.
Professionalism is far from a given when Silvio Berlusconi is involved, but the former Italian prime minister will need to be on his best behaviour when choosing a new coach. Allegri's far from perfect, but the former Cagliari boss has been a faithful servant to the club and managed to bring success in a difficult time.
The club—and its supporters—will do well to remember that Allegri inherited a geriatric team and had his best players sold. Despite that, he's won the league and somehow managed to keep his side in European contention. Plenty of other managers would have failed miserably in his position.
If the new guy slips up, Berlusconi & Co. might soon be wishing they hadn't treated Allegri so poorly, because with a less-capable manager, this current side is mid-table at best.
Avoid Populist Snap Decisions
This won't be an easy thing for Berlusconi to do. The self-made billionaire rose to the top of Italian enterprise and politics by appealing to the lowest common denominator and making—rather than keeping—promises for a quick fix of popularity.
Most recently, his opponents accused the former PM of signing Mario Balotelli to curry favour with supporters and win votes in an upcoming election. Sounds far-fetched, but anyone who knows Italian politics will know that Berlusconi will try almost anything to win favour, and with the search now on for Milan's next manager, that should have the team's more intelligent fans worried.
The obvious move for the president to make is hiring Clarence Seedorf. Already a club legend, the Dutchman will appeal to some sections of support, as well as give the president his own version of the young, exciting manager currently en vogue in Italy.
Seedorf comes across as being intelligent and hard working, but with the current problems and tight budget he'll inherit, turning things around at Milan is a huge task for any young manager. On top of that, the truth is that for every Vincenzo Montella, there are a litany of failures—see Gennaro Gattuso. Hiring his former No.10 will grab plenty of headlines, however, and Berlusconi rarely looks past an opportunity like that.
Secure Mario Balotelli's Future—or Get Rid of Him Immediately
If—and I mean if—there's a downside to having Mario Balotelli at your club, it's that there's never a dull moment with the Italian striker.
Despite it being just 12 months since Balo joined Milan, the club he supported as a boy, all the talk here in Italy recently has been about his desire to leave the San Siro and return to England.
In short, it's not good for the club. Milan needs security, and the new manager needs to know who he can rely on before he builds a new team. Ideally, Balotelli would be the man he'd like to focus on, structuring a new-look Rossoneri around their most talented player. But if the current uncertainty persists, doing that could prove disastrous.
There aren't many players in the world with Mario's characteristics, and if he decides to leave, then Milan could be left with a team setup that doesn't fit whatever replacement they can find. It would be a shame for the Rossoneri—and Serie A—to lose Balotelli, but if it's going to happen, then it's better if it happens before, rather than after, the new manager settles in.
Sort out the Defence
If the table was organised on goals conceded, Milan would be sitting just two spots above the relegation zone right now. Plenty of people will blame Allegri for that, but the truth is that Milan's current defence just isn't up to scratch.
For a club that could once rely on the likes of Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta, that's tragic. Cristian Zapata is a squad player at best, and while he promised much as a younger player, it's time that everyone accepted the fact that Philippe Mexes is not a truly top-class centre-back.
Ignazio Abate and Mattia De Sciglio are both fine on the flanks—the latter in particular is an incredible talent—but the central core needs an overhaul. If they can sort the centre-backs out and keep Nigel de Jong and Riccardo Montolivo fit, then the Rossoneri could have a spine worthy of any side.
Figure out What's Wrong with Stephan El Shaarawy
It's hard to believe that Stephan El Shaarawy is the same player we saw in the first half of last season. Injuries have played their part in curbing his form, but the young Italian looks a shadow of his former self.
El Shaarawy started just once this season in the league, along with a couple of sub appearances and a game in the Champions League. This time last year, he'd already netted 14 times and contributed plenty in terms of assists and general attacking intent.
The 21-year-old blossomed in a difficult period for the Rossoneri, and he almost single-handedly dragged them back into contention and eased the pain of losing Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Paris Saint-Germain. 12 months on, and he can't get a game. Allegri will do his replacement—and Italy boss Cesare Prandelli—a big favour if he can get his star pupil firing on all cylinders before the end of the season.
What else do Milan need to do? Let me know on Twitter.