Why Is It so Difficult for AC Milan to Find Stability?

Sam LoprestiFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2016

Silvio Berlusconi has owned AC Milan for 30 years, but sometimes his meddling has harmed the team.
Silvio Berlusconi has owned AC Milan for 30 years, but sometimes his meddling has harmed the team.Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

AC Milan are enduring one of the darkest periods in the club's history. It's certainly the poorest stretch they've endured since Silvio Berlusconi bought the team in 1986.

The Rossoneri have missed out on European competition each of the last two seasons, finishing eighth in 2013-14 and an embarrassing 10th a year ago. The last time they did play on the continent, they scraped through the group stage of the UEFA Champions League before getting wiped out in the round of 16 by Atletico Madrid in 2014.

The root cause of the team's problems can be traced directly to the lack of stability the team has endured since the 2014 dismissal of then-coach Massimiliano Allegri.  Since Allegri's sacking, the team has had four managers over two-and-a-half seasons—and if current coach Cristian Brocchi doesn't prove his worth in his last few games, it will soon be five in three.

That instability isn't just limited to the manager's office.  The playing staff has seen a lot of turnover over the last few years—along with some unwelcome meddling from the club's top echelons.

In the end, it all comes down to Berlusconi.

There's no question the media mogul and former prime minister of Italy pulled the club from their absolute worst. They had been relegated twice since 1980, the first time as punishment for the 1980 Totonero betting scandal and were on the verge of bankruptcy when he stepped in.

Mihajlovic became the fourth coach Berlusconi has fired since 2014.
Mihajlovic became the fourth coach Berlusconi has fired since 2014.Antonio Calanni/Associated Press

His investment made the club great again. He signed the likes of Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten. In his first six years at the helm, he broke the world transfer record three times. The team has won eight of its 18 league titles and five of its seven European Cups under his stewardship.

But even in all that success, there has been an uneven streak in Berlusconi's management of the team. After a decade with just two coaches, Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello, Berlusconi went through a five year period (1996 to 2001) in which he employed nine managers, including interims, before Carlo Ancelotti arrived and stayed for eight years.

It's no surprise the team won only one title during that time.

Berlusconi isn't anywhere close to as bad as Palermo owner Maurizio Zamparini, whose penchant for firing managers—he's changed coaches nine times this season alone—has turned his club into a laughing stock. When things go well, as they did for long stretches under Sacchi, Capello and Ancelotti, Berlusconi will usually leaves his manager alone, save for the suggestions about which tactics to employ, as recalled by former Milan midfielder Andrea Pirlo in his memoir, I Think Therefore I Play.

But if things start veering off course, his trigger finger gets itchy.

The main cause of this is simple: Berlusconi considers his football knowledge superior to that of most of his coaches. Pirlo's recollections of Berlusconi's constant chatter to Ancelotti about which tactics he preferred to see on the pitch are only the start. After the 2009-10 season, when Milan finished third, Berlusconi told La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Goal) that the Rossoneri would have won the title—and handily—if he had been coaching.

Berlusconi's high opinion of himself in this regard often puts him at odds with his coaches. The man in charge for that 2009-10 season, Leonardo, was quoted by Corriere dello Sport (h/t BBC Sport) as referring to himself and his boss as "incompatible" following his sacking.

Leonardo called himself "incompatible" with Berlusconi during his time as Milan's boss.
Leonardo called himself "incompatible" with Berlusconi during his time as Milan's boss.GIUSEPPE CACACE/Getty Images

This season, Berlusconi continually undermined Sinisa Mihajlovic, refusing to credit him for big results and often criticizing the team's style of play. He was even reported to have meddled with the roster. Journalist Gianluca Di Marzio wrote Berlusconi went over his coach's head to renew the expiring contract of center back Philippe Mexes despite the Frenchman not being in Mihajlovic's plans (h/t Football Italia).

In spite of the progress Mihajlovic brought to Milan this year, Berlusconi set impossible expectations for him to meet. He made it clear in a February interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Gazzetta World) expected qualification for the Champions League at a bare minimum—highly improbably given the weaknesses present in the squad and the quality of some of the teams that have passed Milan by during their fallow period.

Even stranger, in his statements following Mihajlovic's dismissal, Berlusconi seemed to focus more on how the team looked on the field rather than the Serbian's results. "Aside from the results, we have never seen Milan play so badly," he said in a Facebook post responding to fan criticism of Miha's dismissal (h/t Football Italia).

Making the Coppa Italia final for the first time in 13 years and reaching the cusp of European competition wasn't enough. Berlusconi seems fixated on not only getting results but looking like the Brazil teams of the 1970s while doing it. Instead of being praised for his accomplishments, Berlusconi made Mihajlovic the fourth coach he has fired since 2014.

The Rossoneri owner seems to expect things to get better for Milan simply because they're Milan and he's him. When it doesn't work out that way, he's prone to knee-jerk reactions that prevent the team from establishing any kind of consistency.

Without that stable foundation, Milan's comeback will never reach the levels they hope to get to. Berlusconi needs to either restrain himself or sell the team. If he doesn't, fighting for the UEFA Europa League will be all the team can look forward to for the foreseeable future.