The search for AC Milan's next coach looks like it has come to an end.
It's seemed like a foregone conclusion since March that Filippo Inzaghi would not continue as Milan manager beyond this season. The hiring of the legendary striker was an ambitious gamble. He had never coached at the senior level and was being entrusted with a team lacking in overall quality, especially in the defense.
Add to that the pressure to succeed immediately after the team failed to qualify for Europe for the first time since the 1990s, and this season was a disaster waiting to happen.
After Carlo Ancelotti was relieved of his duties at Real Madrid, Silvio Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani launched a full-scale effort to bring the man who took Milan to three Champions League finals in the first decade of the new century and won two of them back to the San Siro. Ancelotti considered the offer but turned it down on Tuesday, saying he needed to take a year off to recharge his batteries, reported by Football Italia.
That brought the search back to Serie A, and it looks like Berlusconi and Galliani have found their man. On Wednesday, former Fiorentina and Sampdoria coach Sinisa Mihajlovic was spotted arriving at Milan's headquarters by a number of news outlets, including Sky Sport Italia (h/t Football Italia), presumably for talks about the top job at San Siro.
Football Italia has since relayed a report from Corriere della Sera claiming that Mihajlovic is indeed the choice, with the firing Inzaghi the only thing preventing an official announcement.
That formality may have already come. The ANSA news service has run what is apparently a statement from the club (h/t ESPN FC) that Inzaghi "has been informed by the club, with great regret, that there will be a change in coach next season."
There has been no other confirmation at the time of publishing, but it's not like the club has made a secret of their desire to replace Inzaghi in recent weeks. Pippo is done, and the Serbian is in.
So what will Mihajlovic bring to Milan? Judging by his past, quite a bit.
As a player, Mihajlovic spend his early years in the domestic league of what was then Yugoslavia. After two years at Red Star Belgrade, he moved to Roma and spent the rest of his career in Serie A. That included four-year stints at Sampdoria and Lazio before he retired with Inter in 2006.
In 14 years in Italy, he became known as a set-piece wizard. He was the sole holder of the league record for free-kick goals until Andrea Pirlo tied him in April. A hard-nosed defender on both the flank and in the middle, he won the Coppa Italia four times and the Scudetto twice before becoming an assistant with the Nerazzurri.
With the exception of a brief stint as the coach of the Serbia national team, he has coached exclusively in Italy. His first job as head coach came at Bologna. After a successful season with Catania in 2009-10, his name was brought up in conversations about Jose Mourinho's successor at Inter, reported by Reuters (h/t Yahoo Eurosport), but he eventually landed at Fiorentina, replacing an equally high-profile coach in Cesare Prandelli.
After an eighth-placed finish and a rough half of the season, he left Florence to take up the Serbia job before landing at Samp and truly finding his stride.
Taking over in November 2013, Mihajlovic led his old club to 12th place—two spots higher than the previous season—and then made magic from the start this season.
The Blucerchiati didn't lose until late October and didn't lose their second game until after the winter break. They held their own against big clubs all year. They drew against Napoli and Roma at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris and came from behind to hold Juventus in Turin. Their travels also saw them beat Roma 2-0 at the Olimpico.
What dropped the team to seventh was an unfortunate case of draw-itis, but they continued to impress on the field, even after selling top forward Manolo Gabbiadini to Napoli during the winter transfer window. The promising youngster was replaced by Samuel Eto'o and Luis Muriel, whom Mihajlovic helped to turn things around after a disappointing 2013-14 campaign at Udinese.
When Mihajlovic arrived at Samp, he instituted a 4-2-3-1 system that worked quite well. It moved Gabbiadini from the top of the formation to the right wing, where his speed and cannon shot turned him from a promising prospect into a revelation.
His tactical sensibilities have evolved since then. He has mixed that 4-2-3-1 system with a 4-3-3 and, when Gabbiadini left, a 4-3-1-2, with Muriel behind the likes of Eto'o, Stefano Okaka and Gonzalo Bergessio. The play of Eder also factored in when the team used wingers. The Brazil-born forward played so well this year that Antonio Conte gave him an Azzurri call-up—one he justified by scoring an equalizer for Italy against Bulgaria in European Championship qualifying.
Mihajlovic has this year proved he can take a team that isn't necessarily the best on paper and get to the higher reaches of the table. That's exactly the kind of coach Milan needs right now. His success with young players usch as Gabbiadini and Muriel bodes well for players such as Suso, Stephan El Shaarawy and Mattia De Sciglio.
Despite of rumors of big-money moves for the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic—that one comes from Gianluca Di Marizo (h/t Football Italia)—it's still highly unlikely that Milan will be successful with such efforts, given the state of their finances. It's much more likely that Mihajlovic will be presented with the kind of team he worked with in Genoa.
With Milan in a rebuilding phase, Mihajlovic's experiences at Sampdoria this year will be invaluable. The Rossoneri will likely be trotting out a team of younger, cheaper players of the kind the Serbian coach knows how to get the most from. How he decides to utilize the men at his disposal will be key to their success, but choosing a talented coach on the rise is a major step in the right direction for Milan.