Three short seasons ago, Massimiliano Allegri was joyously thrown in the air as Milan strolled to their 18th Serie A title. They first reached the top of the table in Week 12 and stayed there until the end of the campaign, capturing their first Scudetto since 2004.
Sealing their triumph with a 0-0 draw at Roma’s Stadio Olimpico back in May 2011, many believed it marked the dawn of a new dynasty under the former Cagliari boss. Allegri had achieved remarkable success in his debut campaign on the Rossoneri bench and would be named Coach of the Year for his efforts.
As they left the field drenched in champagne, it would ironically be Clarence Seedorf who spoke the most with the press. "This is a great moment," said the Dutch midfielder, as reported by the Associated Press (via Guardian Sport). "This group will grow a lot after this victory."
With Christian Abbiati, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alessandro Nesta in fine form, that side certainly had the veteran leadership required to maintain their dominance. With rising stars such as Thiago Silva, Ignazio Abate, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Alexandre Pato coming together to replace the ageing core left behind by Carlo Ancelotti, it seemed Italian football would be painted red and black for quite some time.
Fast-forward two seasons and Milan are a vastly different proposition than they were when Massimo Ambrosini lifted the Serie A trophy aloft on the club’s open-top bus parade around the city. The captain was unceremoniously dumped by the Rossoneri, landing with Fiorentina after receiving the same treatment that befell Andrea Pirlo.
Ibrahimovic and Silva were sold for huge money to Paris Saint-Germain, while a raft of veteran players retired or moved on elsewhere. Only six members of that title-winning squad—Abbiati, Abate, Bonera, Marco Amelia, Robinho and Sulley Muntari—remain at the San Siro, and the club is currently limping along in 10th place, closer to the relegation places than a Champions League berth.
Allegri too is gone, sacked when the club decided it could no longer continue to struggle under the 46-year-old. He was replaced by his former player Seedorf in January, after an embarrassing 4-3 loss to newly promoted Sassuolo.
That match encapsulated everything that was wrong with the Rossoneri both on and off the field. The club’s management was every bit as dysfunctional as the team’s displays every weekend. The capitulation to the Neroverde was the seventh defeat of the season, one fewer than in the entire previous campaign.
It was clear a change was needed and, in just six league games in charge, Seedorf has somewhat steadied the ship. Four wins and a draw have given back some of the belief lost over the previous 18 months, and already there are signs that the former Real Madrid and Ajax midfielder has an idea of how to resolve many of the issues.
But problems still remain, and with Milan currently a staggering 31 points behind leaders Juventus, huge improvement is needed if they are to once again challenge for honours.
While many may disagree, it does seem like they have the right coach to lead them back to those heights—a man more than aware of what is needed to get there.
Managing The Team and Club
One of the major improvements under Seedorf is the fact that Milan now have an identity, something they never truly did after Allegri’s first season in charge. Even this season, the latter used no less than four different formations in 19 games, while the new man has almost exclusively utilised the 4-2-3-1 shape.
That has allowed his players to quickly understand what is needed from them every week, while also giving the management team a clear path to follow. No longer able to just sign the best available player, Adriano Galliani and Co. will be forced to find players who fit Seedorf’s system and style as they improve the squad.
The vice president has worked something of a minor miracle this January, bringing in some excellent acquisitions despite having very little money to spend. Keisuke Honda will clearly need time to adjust after his time in Russia, while Adel Taarabt has settled instantly following his loan move.
With two goals and an assist already to his name, the 23-year-old will hope to impress enough to secure a permanent move. He provides a solid alternative anywhere in Seedorf’s attacking trident, and his presence should mean the end of Robinho at Milan.
Having used a staggering 32 players already this season, it is clear that sales will be as important as new purchases, and unlike recent years, it must be the deadwood that is moved on. To truly challenge the Bianconeri, Milan need to sell their poorer players and improve the overall quality of the squad, and Robinho should perhaps be top of that list.
One other player who has proved to be a shrewd pickup is defender Adil Rami, signed on loan from Valencia with an option to buy him outright this summer. Already established as the club’s best centre-back, the Frenchman is averaging 1.7 tackles, 0.8 interceptions and 5.3 clearances per game according to WhoScored.com.
He will need a more solid partner than Philippe Mexes or Daniele Bonera in the future, but the 28-year-old has clearly improved the team’s solidity. A better central defender alongside him, a back-up option at full-back to cover for Abate and the excellent Mattia De Sciglio would give Seedorf a fairly well-rounded squad from which to select his team.
Stadium and Infrastructure
In order to be in position to truly compete with Juventus, however, there are problems to be solved at boardroom level first. Clearly unhappy at the power wielded by Barbara Berlusconi, Galliani offered to resign earlier this season, as reported by Ben Gladwell on ESPN FC, only to be convinced to remain in a reduced role.
Despite turning 70 at the end of this season, the vice president is still a vital figure at the club, able to open doors that are simply not there for others. He needs to be in a position that allows Milan to benefit from his contacts but also allows the owner’s daughter to continue dragging the club into the modern era.
A major part of that is a stadium and, like most of Serie A’s clubs, the Rossoneri have an exciting long-term plan for a new home. Speculation in Italy recently has built that the club have been working on plans for a stadium to be constructed by the start of the 2016-17 season.
Reports from Football Italia suggest a site six kilometres to the north-west of the city, where the Fiera Milan exhibition is currently based and where Expo 2015 will be held. The revenue it could generate would be essential in order to comply with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Regulations and earn a similar income to their Torinese rivals.
With the team improving steadily under their new coach, talk has turned to the possibility of capturing a Europa League spot at the end of the season. With just four points separating them from a place already, it is a distinct possibility that the Rossoneri could be competing in Europe’s secondary competition next term.
However, as first Juventus and now Roma have proved, missing out on continental competition altogether is no bad thing. Both clubs have benefited from it, and avoiding a top-six finish could well be the biggest achievement Seedorf can accomplish in his first season.
Without the distraction of European football, he and his players would have seven days to rest and prepare for each game, while selecting his strongest available lineup almost without fail. That could instantly see the club return to contention far sooner than many anticipate.
In conclusion, there is much work to be done on and off the field in order for this once-great club to mount a genuine challenge for honours. Yet with Seedorf at the helm and some intelligent changes to their infrastructure, Milan could soon be a contender at the top of the table once again.
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