On Monday, 13 January, most of the football world’s eyes were honed in on the spectacle taking place in Switzerland, better known as the annual Ballon d’Or ceremony. 2013 had been an interesting year in football for all three nominees. Hence, everyone was wondering if either Franck Ribéry, who was instrumental in Bayern Munich making history as the first German side to win a Treble, or Cristiano Ronaldo, who had single handedly carried Portugal to the World Cup at the expense of Zlatan Ibrahimović’s Sweden could knock four-time winner Lionel Messi off his perch.
But over 250km away, interesting developments were taking place in Italy’s fashion capital. On that same day it was announced that AC Milan had opted to sack head coach Massimiliano Allegri after the team’s away woes continued with a 4-3 humiliation at the hands of Sassuolo. Despite racing into a two-goal lead inside the first 20 minutes, what unfolded over the next 70 was something that will live long in the memories of the Serie A debutants and their fans’ minds and left Rossoneri supporters reeling. 19-year-old Domenico Berardi became the first player in history to score four goals against Milan (something that even Messi has not yet achieved) and the youngest to net four goals in Italian football’s top flight since none other than famed striker Silvio Piola did so at the age of 18 back in 1931.
The Berlusconis had had enough. In the case of Allegri, it was an interesting ironic twist–as the very side that he helped to guide from what was then known as Serie C1 to Serie B back in the 2007-2008 season came back to haunt him on Sunday. Now, unless if one has been living in a cave somewhere, it was quite apparent that the 47-year-old tactician’s days were numbered at the club at which he won the Scudetto in his debut season (the first for the Diavolo since 2004). His statement at the end of last month in which he admitted that it would be “his last season on the coach’s bench” were just simply a case of addressing the proverbial 800-lb gorilla in the room.
In fact, this past summer, there were growing rumours that he would be on his way out, only to be saved by a stay of execution by owner Silvio Berlusconi before the start of the season. Last season for the team began in a fashion that had not been seen at the club for over eight decades–yet he somehow managed to steer them from 16th to third place and clinch the last Champions League spot at the expense of Fiorentina. Hence, perhaps given the massive handicap he faced with the sales of players like Zlatan Ibrahimović and Thiago Silva, alongside the exits of many of their senatori including Clarence Seedorf, Gennaro Gatuso, and Alessandro Nesta at a time that the squad was desperately seeking that strong leadership backbone, he ought to be commended for making do with what resources he had available to him.
But one mind-boggling aspect of the former midfielder was his poor tactics and substitution policy, something that was badly exposed by the departure of the big Swede to PSG. No longer was “feed the ball to Ibra and we will let him do his thing” going to fly. Sure, the then 19-year-old Stephan El Shaarawy turned out to be quite the surprise revelation for his side. Il Faraone not just stepped up to fill the huge shoes left behind by the departing two-time capocannoniere, but also scored 14 goals to lead the charts going into the winter break and leave Milan sitting in seventh place shortly before the Christmas holidays. And, as we are all well aware, this set the stage for the incoming Mario Balotelli to take over the reins and power the team back into a respectable third place finish, seemingly against all odds.
Everyone admitted that the 2012-2013 season was Milan’s “Year Zero”, and understandably, in the time of rebuilding there is certainly going to be some rough bumps ahead. However, this season was supposed to be different, yet Allegri was found making the same poor tactical decisions he had done during the previous season; except this time, there was no one there to paper over the cracks. El Shaarawy’s dream start had now turned into a fully-fledged nightmare, with the young attacker spending more time on the injury table than on the pitch. Balotelli, who was expected to be the to-go-man for attacks a la Ibrahimović, showed the ugly and frustrating side to his volatile personality that left people feeling him to be more of a liability at times than an asset.
The club had opted to spend a massive sum on Juventus striker Alessandro Matri–a player not only somewhat similar to poacher Giampaolo Pazzini, but in terms of return on investment a poor choice, as he had done little of note whilst on the Bianconeri’s books. As for Pazzini, who scored a solid 15 goals (the second highest on his team) last season, he too, had his own injury issues to contend with and suddenly the Rossoneri were left lacking in attacking nous during what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.
Sure, under Allegri’s tenure, they managed to get through their group stage during this year’s Champions League, but even the most rabid supporter would have to admit that it was often-times more through luck than skill. Last year they managed to pull off a surprise victory against perpetual opponents Barcelona at home during the round of 16, only to be pummelled by four goals to nil at the Camp Nou. And whilst caretaker coach Mauro Tassotti stated that “we’re all responsible for the situation [we find ourselves in]”, a large part of it does come down to the coach. Like a commanding general of an army, one can have the best troops available but if one does not know how to properly utilize and motivate them, then one surely can not expect to get positive results.
This was evident after Milan had gone from two up to a shock three down against Sassuolo this past Sunday. One would certainly love to have been a fly on the wall during Allegri’s half-time talk, because not too long after they took the pitch, Berardi netted his fourth–making Riccardo Montolivo’s late strike a moot point. And with that, his fate, which had long hung in the balance was finally sealed, paving the way for much needed change at the club whose decline since their 2011 Scudetto triumph has been quite rapid and startling to observe.
With him out the door, former midfielder Clarence Seedorf is set to take over in what has been dubbed yet still another rebuilding time for the club. The sun has officially set on the Allegri era, and it has already begun to rise on the four-time Champions League winner’s time at the place he called home for a decade. The former Dutch international recently stated that it was his “duty to help Milan…and help rebuild, as they have suffered enough”.
Indeed they have. But whether Seedorf will be able to alleviate some of that pain as they go through a difficult transitional phase yet remains to be seen.