Breaking Down the Changes AC Milan Need to Make to Challenge in Serie A Again

Blair Newman@@TheBlairNewmanFeatured ColumnistApril 19, 2016

AC Milan's new coach Cristian Brocchi arrives for a Serie A soccer match between Sampdoria and AC Milan, at the Luigi Ferraris Stadium in Genoa, Italy, Sunday, April 17, 2016 (Luca Zennaro/ANSA via AP) ITALY OUT
Luca Zennaro/Associated Press

This season has been a strange one for AC Milan. It began last summer with hope of rejuvenation, though this quickly turned to fear of further decline. The team then showcased gradual improvements in the following months to climb into Serie A’s top six.

However, while a return to continental competition is on the cards, the Rossoneri are a long way off challenging the Italian football hierarchy. Juventus are nine points clear at the top of the league and on the cusp of securing a fifth consecutive Scudetto.

Behind the Bianconeri, Napoli and Roma look promising under the respective tutelages of Maurizio Sarri and Luciano Spalletti, while Roberto Mancini’s Inter Milan are also a rising force.

Sixth place represents progression for Milan, though this season has nonetheless been one of great turbulence. Sinisa Mihajlovic, who instigated much of the progress, is now gone, sacked following a run of five games without victory. In his place stands Cristian Brocchi, formerly the Primavera coach.

The future appears uncertain for the club, and while the intention remains to return to the top of Serie A once again, there are a number of changes that must happen in order to facilitate this.

Bolder football

Silvio Berlusconi wants improvement at Milan.
Silvio Berlusconi wants improvement at Milan.Antonio Calanni/Associated Press

One of the primary reasons given for the dismissal of Mihajlovic was the style of football the former Sampdoria coach perpetuated during his time in charge. Milan president Silvio Berlusconi was clear on this matter with a post on his official Facebook page, per Football Italia, stating:

I proudly defend all my choices from the first to the last, which is to correct with a change of coach a trend of football that was not up to the history of AC Milan.

Let us be clear, aside from the results, we have never seen Milan play so badly. With that in mind, at the end of the season and not now, evaluating the concrete results of this choice, we can make the best decisions in the interests of our Milan.

While perhaps exaggerated, there was a good amount of truth to Berlusconi’s words. The Rossoneri’s style of football under Mihajlovic was functional and, while more effective than what came before, was also dull to watch.

For too long Milan have been pragmatic, adapting to their opposition instead of imposing themselves in each and every game. The team need to play bolder, more assertive football if they are to re-establish themselves as serious contenders in Serie A.

Brocchi has discussed a desire to play a more proactive game, telling the club’s official website:

Pinning our opponents back in their own half and pressing will be something that I will request. We must have an aggressive mentality. When we’re in possession we have to keep hold of it for as long as possible and try and find the right solution and route to goal. This will take time.

Managerial resolution

Unfortunately, while he may have the right ideas, as it stands Brocchi is only in charge until the end of the season. At that point, Milan will either hire him permanently or, as has been rumoured, bring in a new first-team coach.

Should the Rossoneri go with someone else in the summer, they would be appointing their sixth coach in four years, following on from Massimiliano Allegri, Clarence Seedorf, Filippo Inzaghi, Mihajlovic and now Brocchi.

This veritable coaching carousel has to end soon. If Milan want to make real gains on the pitch, they need to have the vision of one coach underpinning the team.

A number of strong candidates have been linked to the club, many of them with their own tactical preferences.

Is Eusebio Di Francesco the right man to take Milan forward?
Is Eusebio Di Francesco the right man to take Milan forward?Marco Vasini/Associated Press

Sassuolo’s Eusebio Di Francesco is set to sign a contract extension with the Neroverdi, but he continues to be rumoured as a possibility to take over at Milan. The 46-year-old has implemented a coherent, attacking style of play within a 4-3-3 system at his current club, and he seems to have the combination of idealism and nous needed to establish his ideas at the San Siro.

Another man who would be able to remodel the club in his own adventurous image would be Fiorentina’s Paulo Sousa, who, according to ItaSportPress (h/t Football Italia) is also on the Rossoneri’s coaching wish list.

Both of the above would bring a bolder approach, but whoever is chosen, they will require the time necessary to wholeheartedly instil their ideals into the players. This means being given more than the 10 months afforded to Mihajlovic.

A more efficient transfer policy

This season, per Transfermarkt.co.uk, Milan’s net spend was higher than any other club in Serie A. Despite this, they have failed to even come close to a title challenge. Consequently, it’s worth investigating exactly how productive the club’s spending has been.

The £22.5 million fee paid for Carlos Bacca is being repaid, with the Colombian top-scoring for the side, while the £18.75 million signature of Alessio Romagnoli is a promising one, with the 21-year-old already maturing into a key member of the team’s defensive line.

However, the £15 million signing of Andrea Bertolacci looks more likely by the week to be a poor piece of transfer activity. The midfielder did not initially appear suited to Milan, who were more in need of a solid midfield bulwark than an elegant passer at the time of his arrival. His poor WhoScored.com rating of 6.78 is confirmation that he has not settled.

Andrea Bertolacci has had a tough time in Milan.
Andrea Bertolacci has had a tough time in Milan.Antonio Calanni/Associated Press

Luiz Adriano is another player who seems destined to underwhelm, having joined last summer from Shakhtar for a price of £6 million. Meanwhile, Juraj Kucka has proved to be perhaps the club’s only bargain, with his £2.25 million fee looking like a steal following some dynamic displays.

If Milan do appoint a coach with a clear tactical vision prior to next season, they will have to complement this with a more efficient transfer policy based on quality rather than quantity, with focus on specific areas of the team that need to be revamped.

The Rossoneri have improved this season, though in order to make the next step from European qualification contenders to Scudetto hopefuls, they need a coach with a bold tactical vision and a transfer policy to back it up.