What AC Milan Need to Do This Summer to Avoid Another Season of Struggle
The struggles of Milan this season have been well documented, and to simplify them one only needs to glance at the Serie A table. With one match remaining, the once-great Rossoneri sit in a lowly eighth place, an incredible 45 points behind league leaders and three-time champions Juventus.
Closing that gap and mounting a serious title challenge in 2014-15 is almost unthinkable and even the 21-point lead to third place would require an almost unprecedented turnaround from the San Siro club.
However, given their rich history and their dire financial status, they must look to do just that, for another season outside the Champions League could spell disaster for the ailing Italian giants. With players like Mario Balotelli and Mattia De Sciglio wanting to test themselves against the continent’s best, a prolonged absence could see these hugely talented stars seeking the exit door in a hurry.
Yet things are far from being as bad as they first appear and scratching the surface in analysing Milan reveals many incredible positives to be found within the club. There are signs that they have already taken numerous steps on the road to recovery and some of their unresolved issues have some simplistic solutions.
Over the following pages is a list of what the Rossoneri need to do to avoid a repeat of the annus horribilis the current campaign has proven to be.
1. Decide If Clarence Seedorf Is the Right Coach
Clarence Seedorf only took charge of the team on January 16 this year, taking over from Massimiliano Allegri and inheriting a side in utter disarray. Since assuming his role on the bench, he has installed a 4-2-3-1 formation which has brought the best from the players at his disposal and has won six of his last eight matches.
The 38-year-old may lack the experience expected of a Milan coach, but the club has often thrived under such unexpected appointments. Club management must decide if they are to continue with the Dutchman, judging if he is taking them in a direction they want to commit to before investing in new players this summer.
If he is not, a new coach must be given the entire summer with the squad to avoid heading into the new campaign less than fully prepared for the challenge ahead.
2. Believe in Their Young Players
While many look at the Milan squad and judge them on poor quality players like Kevin Constant and Cristian Zaccardo, the club has quietly developed a number of highly talented youngsters. The Rossoneri are benefiting from a raft of starlets, who have been brought to the brink of the first team by youth team boss Filippo Inzaghi.
The benefits of believing in a number of them have been discussed here previously, but with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Regulations tightening even more, using them in the first team becomes even more important. It is a point not lost on Adriano Galliani, the club Vice President telling a December press conference (h/t FootballItalia):
We assure you Milan is always looking to strengthen the youth sector and we’re satisfied with the progress. We want the youth sector to be what it was when President Silvio Berlusconi first arrived.
It has to be like the one in 1986 with Alessandro Costacurta, Filippo Galli, Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi, that, along with Mauro Tassotti, won three European Cups together.
3. Find a New Goalkeeper
Perhaps the most glaring need in the current Milan XI is between the posts, the demise of long-term No. 1 Christian Abbiati perfectly mirroring the decline of the Rossoneri. Just as the club has slid down the league table at an unprecedented rate, the 36-year-old has similarly suffered a sad demise over the current campaign.
Once viewed as one of the best goalkeepers on the peninsula, Abbiati has conceded no fewer than 30 goals in his 27 appearances thus far in 2013-14. Making just 70 saves across those matches, according to statistics from the Fox Soccer website, he has one of the worst shot-to-goal ratios of any player on the peninsula.
Milan has been linked with a number of alternatives for next term with a report in La Gazzetta dello Sport (in Italian) highlighting the club’s interest in Mattia Perin of Genoa and Udinese’s Simone Scuffet.
4. Continue to Draw the Best from Mario Balotelli
Mario Balotelli arrived at Milan in January last year, immediately lifting the Rossoneri back into the Champions League places at the expense of Fiorentina. His goalscoring prowess has been maintained this season and the striker has now netted 30 goals in 52 appearances for the San Siro outfit.
Simply put, “Super Mario” is the best player in the squad and has clearly thrived in the famous red and black shirt of Milan. The club must ensure that continues while surrounding him with the pieces needed to contend for honours once again.
5. Trim the Squad Considerably
There are currently no fewer than 53 Milan players either out on loan or away on co-ownership deals, with another 30 available to Clarence Seedorf on a weekly basis. While some of the younger players will undoubtedly benefit from the experience such deals give them, it is the players who look unlikely to ever pull on the Rossoneri shirt again—such as Alessandro Matri and Antonio Nocerino—that must be sold on.
Carrying such deadwood is a huge burden on the club's future plans and is undeniably a negative influence on transfer strategy. Milan need to cut ties with as many of these players as possible and reduce their bloated numbers, with current squad members like Robinho also quickly moved on.
The Brazilian’s agent told the Milan News website that the striker has a number of offers “from all over the world,” (h/t FootballItalia) and he is certainly surplus to requirements at the club.
6. Rediscover Stephan El Shaarawy
While this past weekend’s loss to Atalanta was the latest disappointing result for Milan, the return of Stephan El Shaarawy provided a bright note on another black weekend for the club. The 21-year-old was brought on as a half-time substitute on Sunday, his 45-minute display marking his first appearance since mid-December.
He enjoyed a lively return, contributing to the attack, as he completed 16 of his 19 passes and five of six take-ons. Those stats, highlighted in the above link (courtesy of the FourFourTwo StatsZone app) fail to show how much he has been so sorely missed at both ends of the field, a fact he proved as he tracked back brilliantly to stop Giuseppe De Luca pulling the trigger late in the match.
Getting the young striker—who has netted 24 goals in 80 appearances for the club—firing once again is essential to transforming the fortunes of Milan. To do so, Clarence Seedorf must bring the best from his partnership with Mario Balotelli (a matter discussed in detail here), a pairing vital to the future of the club.
7. Sort out Their Central Defence
The sale of Thiago Silva to Paris Saint-Germain followed the retirements of Alessandro Nesta and Paolo Maldini, and the absence of that top-quality trio has left a gaping hole in central defence for Milan.
Arriving on loan from Valencia, Adil Rami has gone some way to filling that void, averaging 1.5 tackles, 1.6 interceptions and 5.4 clearances per game over his appearances for the Rossoneri, according to stats site WhoScored.com. The same source shows he has won an impressive 41 of the 68 aerial duels he has contested, while completing 40.3 passes per game at an admirable rate of 85.7 per cent.
His future with the club remains unclear, however, with Tuttosport (h/t Football Italia) reporting that the club are looking at Brazilian defender Alex, rather than making the Frenchman’s move permanent. With Daniele Bonera, Philippe Mexes and Cristian Zapata all failing to impress, Milan need at least two more players in this position to improve upon their dire record this term.