Vincenzo Montella’s adventure as coach of Milan ended today with a bare statement published on the club’s Twitter account. The Rossoneri announced his sacking, and his replacement with primavera (youth team) trainer Gennaro Gattuso. Montella also made his reaction public via Twitter. He remarked how honored he felt for having had the chance to coach the club based in Via Aldo Rossi, and wished the best to his successor.
Montella’s elegant exeunt was in line with his personality. No complaints, no barking at all. But maybe this perceived indolence, this incapacity to prompt a reaction from his boys, was exactly what ultimately led Milan’s management to take the decision. “We needed to shake things up,” Director of Football Massimiliano Mirabelli said. Well, if priority is shaking players up, the hot-tempered, yet relatively inexperienced Gattuso, may be up to the task.
The Aeroplanino (as Montella used to be called during his days as a player) paid the ultimate toll after yesterday’s disappointing nil-nil home draw with Torino. That was the last straw, piling up on six losses out of his first 14 Serie A matches. Montella leaves Milan after one and a half year, with a record of 33 wins, 14 ties, and 17 losses in 64 games.
During his first season with the Rossoneri, he managed to bring the club back to European competitions after a three-season gap. His zenith was a 1-0 win against Juventus, that took Milan as high as to the second spot in the Serie A table. In December 2016, he also led his side to conquer the Italian Supercup, once again to the detriment of the Bianconeri.
But Montella’s tenure will also be remembered for his contribution to Gianluigi Donnarumma’s contract renewal. In those turbulent days when agent Mino Raiola was pushing Gigio to part ways with the Diavoli, Montella personally went to visit the young goalie’s family. The conversation they had in front of a nice cup of coffee likely contributed to soften the position of Donnarumma’s clan, which eventually sparked a new contract agreement.
This summer, the new Chinese proprietors and management delivered him a gargantuan transfer market campaign. But with 236 million spent, and 11 new players in the squad, pressure and expectations also grew high. Maybe too high, as the former coach himself said today when talking to press.
Despite the pre-season enthusiasm, support from the fan base progressively dried up, as defeat started to pile over defeat. Some of those, like the 1-4 rout with Lazio, were frankly inexcusable. Vincenzo Montella struggled with giving his brand-new squad a clear shape. We saw him reshuffling cards too often, switching among 4-3-1-2, 3-5-2, 3-5-1-1, and 3-4-1-2 modules.
He started with a four-man defense, only to quickly move to three when he realized that Leonardo Bonucci was suffering in that module (Not that he did better after the change). He came up with other questionable decisions like lining up winger Suso as a second striker, another experiment that he soon aborted.
His players, especially the new joiners, didn’t make the job easier. Bonucci’s plummeting involution is only the most evident case. Lucas Biglia, Hakan Calhanoglu, Nikola Kalinic, Ricardo Rodriguez, André Silva, have all been performing well below expectations. But this is where Montella’s lack of drive became more evident. This is where some good locker room shouting would have helped.
On the contrary, what you got to see after every new defeat, was a peaceful Montella walking into the press conference room with a faint smile. His recurring line was that the team kept growing, and was just missing some more efficiency with their scoring chances. Which was a nice way to say that his side was not hungry, or maybe not motivated.
That is why a temperamental leader like Gennaro Gattuso could prove a good choice in the short term. Sure, promoting Ringhio (“Growl” – a nickname that speaks for itself) from the youth team may simply have been the only immediate solution available. But the Rossoneri need some genuine ass-kicking to wake up, and Gattuso can surely do that – literally, if needed.
Vincenzo Montella leaves a Milan qualified for the Europa League Round of 32, and a few good intuitions. He “discovered” Fabio Borini as side midfielder, and left space to young forward Patrick Cutrone. From here, and a still unquestionable pool of talent, the club will need to restart to save their season.
Feature Photo: © AC Milan