Maldini, Pioli and the Culprits Behind the Disappointing Milan Campaign

If someone had offered Milan fans a spot in the Champions League semi-final at the start of this campaign, they would have taken it in a heartbeat. After all, this was only the club’s second season in Europe’s elite club competition following a long hiatus, and reaching the Final Four ought to be a success regardless of what might ensue afterwards… or is it?

Sadly for the Rossoneri, this remarkable achievement will go down as the solitary bright spot in an otherwise calamitous campaign. The defending Italian champions hardly put up a fight before succumbing the throne to the southern invasion, despite having the upper hand over Napoli in direct encounters on both domestic and European fronts. At the moment, the club’s best chance of finishing in the Top Four would be a new point deduction for Juventus.

Moreover, Stefano Pioli’s men suffered an embarrassing 0-3 defeat at the hands of their crosstown rivals Inter in the Italian Super Cup. The Nerazzurri once again acted as Milan’s tormentors-in-chief, beating the hapless Rossoneri “home” and “away” in the Champions League semi-final, rendering their European elimination a hard pill to swallow.

Add to that a disappointing early elimination from the Coppa Italia at the hands of 10-man Torino, and the picture becomes crystal clear: Milan have endured a miserable campaign, only brightened by some joyous occasions that remained too few and far-between to leave a significant effect on the main plot.

So this poses the inevitable question: Who’s to blame for the whole fiasco otherwise called Milan’s 2022/23 season?

Well, if the question is unavoidable, then the answer should be as inexorable: Everyone involved in the club is responsible for the chaotic campaign.

While this may sound like an oversimplified answer, the following paragraphs will shed some light on the responsibilities of the culprit persons and parties.

This isn’t to say any one of the persons mentioned below lacks the required competence and abilities to serve Milan, but it merely suggests that this just hasn’t been his best campaign.


We begin from the top of the pyramid. Following a takeover worth over one billion euros, some expected RedBird to usher in a new era by making a big statement on the transfer market.

Yet, the new owners left the club’s directors to fend for themselves, showing little interest in improving the quality of the squad, perhaps using the last season’s Scudetto triumph as an alibi to downplay the vast need for reinforcements on the market.

Expectedly, this left Milan trailing behind the likes of Napoli and Inter this campaign.

Paolo Maldini (and Ricky Massara)

First, let’s begin by stating the immense importance of Paolo Maldini’s role in the club’s revival. The technical director inherited a club in shambles, and alongside sporting director Ricky Massara, he managed to build a competitive squad, primarily focusing on young players supported by a few veterans.

However, last summer’s transfer session proved to be a major letdown for the club legend. Maldini and his collaborators spent the bulk of their summer chasing Charles De Ketelaere. In fairness, fans and observers alike praised the signing initially, but the young Belgian is yet to justify the hype and the price tag that accompanied his landing in Milanello.

Moreover, none of the other new arrivals has taken the world by storm. With the exception of Malick Thiaw, the summer signings hardly contributed to the cause, with the likes of Sergino Dest, Divock Origi and Yacine Adli settling for secondary roles at best.

In the coming months, Maldini needs a solid summer campaign to reclaim his status as one of the best sporting directors in Italian football.

Stefano Pioli

To be fair, Stefano Pioli had a tall order ahead of the start of the season, while the circumstances further complicated his mission. The Milan manager had to challenge on several fronts and defend a Scudetto title while his squad arguably regressed in comparison to last season. Furthermore, untimely injuries to key players like Rafael Leao and Ismael Bennacer had a devastating effect.

However, the coach’s tactical choices left the fans perplexed on some occasions, while his insistence on rotating his formation and deploying weakened lineups in Serie A may have doomed the domestic campaign.

Pioli gave his preference to the Champions League, and in the end, his questionable choice might prove costly, as Milan could finish the campaign outside of the Top Four spots and miss out on a UCL spot for next season.

Milan Players

While it’s easy to blame the hierarchy, the directors and especially the manager, Milan players must also take a deep look in the mirror. Admittedly, some of the club’s stars ran out of steam in the final and most crucial stage of the season, but it’s still insufficient to justify some of the hallow displays in recent weeks.

For instance, few expected the Rossoneri to overturn the return in the second leg against Inter, but what none of us had envisioned was the lack of belief displayed by Pioli’s men who never even launched an onslaught or threaten to pull off a comeback.

Now surely some players were better than others, but in general, Milan stars – the old and the new – have largely underperformed this season.

Milan Ultras

For better or worse, Milan have one of the largest and most influential Ultras Groups in Calcio. How much these organized supporters wield power at the club remains uncertain, but last week’s incident in Spezia made it clear that the players and Pioli would avoid a clash against these groups at all costs.

Whether it was a lecture, a threat or merely an encouraging message as they claimed, this episode didn’t paint Milan – and Italian Football to a larger extent – in a good light.

If the objective was to boost the player’s morale ahead of the second leg of the Champions League semi-final, it certainly didn’t pay dividends based on the feeble performance.

So while it’s always pleasing to have a strong band of loyal supporters, Milan’s Ultras may have unintentionally contributed to the demise of their beloved club.

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