And so, Milan it is. Zlatan Ibrahimovic made up his mind and decided to continue his seemingly-endless career with another stop in Milano, on the red-and-black side where he conquered a Scudetto in the 2010-2011 season.
Milan triumphantly announced that the Swedish highlander will join a broken down Rossoneri side as early as January 2nd, in an attempt to put together the pieces of a season which saw the Elliott Management club plummeting to the 11th place in the Serie A table, far from Europe and from the glory that was.
Ibrahimovic will re-embrace the club where he was the top scorer of the past decade with 42 goals, despite having spent only two seasons in red-and-black between 2010 and 2012 – which says a lot about the quality of the firepower transited in Milanello in the past 10 years.
But while Ibra’s Second Coming is surely a hit for Serie A and a nice return of image for the struggling Rossoneri side, the signing of a 38-year-old looks more like a temporary Band-Aid than the fruit of some calculated planning on the part of Milan’s management – whose long-term project, if any, is still a mystery.
Technical Director Paolo Maldini and co. secured the expensive services of the Swede striker for 6 months on a 3.5 million deal, with the possibility to extend it to the next season. Still, Zlatan is 38 and has not been playing an official game since November.
Sure, over the past two years he has been bullying and perforating the defenses of most U.S. elite division’s clubs as he made his way into the MLS at Los Angeles Galaxy. But his impact and resistance as he attempts a comeback into the most hysterical and impatient league in the football world are all to be tested and constitute a risky, albeit fascinating bet.
It is, in any case, a clear sign that something went terribly wrong in the Rossoneri’s control room.
Remember last summer? The Devils deciding to count on their fresh forces, lining up the youngest Serie A side with the lowest average age among their starters, the result of a transfer market campaign suffocated by the financial fair play collar. A bunch of youngsters, some home-grown, some scouted here and there in the football world underground, put in the hands of a coach – the Prophet of Bellinzona Marco Giampaolo – known for his elaborated style of play and his ability to nurture young talents.
Well, it all ended with Giampaolo sacked after just seven games, having distinguished himself for a somewhat evident confusion and a lack of grit on the part of his squad, which resulted in Milan collecting four losses in their initial seven campionato tests.
The club quickly dismissed him, reportedly looking at Luciano Spalletti to change the trend, but when the former Roma and Inter coach turned out to be unavailable, they changed direction towards Stefano Pioli – who is an experienced trainer with a good track record of “saving a season,” but has never been the pillar of any club’s long-term strategy.
Just as to say, let’s save what can be saved.
Perhaps former coach Gennaro Gattuso, who is now trying to put Napoli’s pieces together, and who left Milan after an 18-month-spell over disagreements with the board, had smelled trouble when he decided to part ways – more or less amicably – with the Rossoneri and their cockpit.
Ibra’s comeback certifies the major, probably ultimate, failure of a project built around Krzysztof Piatek, a central striker who landed in Milanello less than a year ago with the label of a potential new phenomenon and who instead suffered an appalling involution in the past few months. Even at 38, Zlatan does not come to be a substitute striker, and with the larger-than-life presence of Ibracadabra, it is not unlikely that the Polish forward will be soon seen packing and looking for fortune somewhere else.
But with Ibrahimovic realistically able to save the day for no more than one-two seasons, young Rafael Leao still too disoriented and inconsistent (on top of having completely different characteristics from Piatek or Ibra himself), and Patrick Cutrone hastily ditched to Wolverhampton last summer, it is not sure what Milan’s plan for the future of their front line are.
So far President Paul Singer, the manager of the American fund that forcibly took control of the club after the year of the Chinese boxes and enigmatic, insolvent president Yonghong Li, has been watching from the sidelines, and so has CEO Paolo Scaroni. What is Elliott Management Corporation’s design? What are they planning to do with a football club they likely had no intention to manage? Restructure it in order to increase its value and then sell it?
You are doing it wrong.
Milan have lost international appeal. Europe looks far, and the Rossoneri’s abstinence from listening to the Champions League pre-match tune also risks accelerating the departure of one of the very few positive notes from these recent years.
At 20, Goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, despite having been the starting goalie since 4 seasons already, still has to play a single match in the top European competition, and may very well decide that the time has come for him to walk the international stage. Especially considering that his agent is Mino Raiola, another one that probably foresaw Milan’s troubles much in advance, and had already tried to take his protégée away from Milanello.
What Milan need is a project, but their management seem to have opted for giving their disillusioned supporters panem et circensem instead.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s comeback to Italy is a godsend for a Serie A league which is slowly regaining its international appeal after a decade in the shadows, and one cannot just wait to see him facing Cristiano Ronaldo. On that note, keep in mind that the Rossoneri will host Juventus at San Siro on April 11.
But is it what Milan really need?
The signing of Zlatan rather looks like a sleight of hand trick. It is a desperate move to distract a distraught fan base and make them forget that the king is naked: There is no project and it will still take much time to see the Rossoneri back to where they historically belong.