Maybe this time they’ve got it right.
Last week, as they looked to quickly put yet another disappointing campaign behind them, AC Milan announced that Marco Giampaolo would be their new head coach. He becomes the ninth different man to take charge of the Rossoneri since the start of 2014, his predecessors overseeing varying levels of mid-table mediocrity during their forgettable tenures.
Milan have finished eighth, 10th, seventh, sixth, sixth, and fifth in Serie A over that time, winning only the 2016 Supercoppa Italiana as ownership troubles added to the problems they faced: Silvio Berlusconi selling to Yonghong Li, only for the Chinese businessman to be revealed as a fraud so – having financed that first take-over – the Elliott Management Corporation effectively repossessed the club.
That badly affected the coaches who were appointed following Max Allegri’s dismissal in January 2014 as Mauro Tassotti (who was only a temporary appointment), Clarence Seedorf, Pippo Inzaghi, Siniša Mihajlović, Cristian Brocchi, Vincenzo Montella, and Gennaro Gattuso each failed to reach the goals set for them.
Four of those men were in their first-ever Serie A coaching role, and even the two with the requisite experience – Montella and Mihajlović – were far below the standard expected at San Siro. That three of them were club legends as players hints at just how desperate Milan were to fight their way back to a level in keeping with their glory-laden history.
With faces from the past having repeatedly failed them, the Rossoneri have now turned to the future in more ways than one. Giampaolo, 51, is a vastly experienced tactician who has slowly worked his way up through the ranks, his career on the sidelines starting with Pescara shortly after his playing days came to a halt.
Since then he has worked for 11 other clubs, including Empoli where he replaced Maurizio Sarri and improved on the results achieved there by the new Juventus boss. He then moved on to Sampdoria, constantly evolving and tweaking his approach to keep the Blucerchiati in a position to maximize their potential.
Giampaolo deserves immense credit for his role in Fabio Quagliarella’s incredible 2018-19 form, helping the veteran striker to overcome serious personal issues and become Serie A’s leading scorer. The 36-year-old had never scored 20 goals in a single season but, as good as he has become in Genoa, there is little doubt that the coach’s best work came with the string of young players he has molded.
Milan Skriniar, Lucas Torreira, and Patrik Schick all enjoyed breakout campaigns under his guidance, their sales generating a potential €105 million in the process. That they had cost Samp less than €13 million combined speaks volumes about Giampaolo’s impact, and that looks set to continue with Joachim Andersen and Dennis Praet the subject of major interest this summer.
Furthermore, the coach had built an entertaining and resolute side, one capable of earning results against the peninsula’s biggest clubs. Indeed, over his last four seasons, Giampaolo has registered wins over Milan (three times), Inter (two), Roma (two) and Juventus (two), each time doing so with a much less talented team, yet he instilled them with the belief that they could achieve victory despite the odds being against them.
He has been tactically flexible throughout that time, switching – after some experimentation with a back three – from 4-3-3 to 4-3-1-2 when he realized it was a better fit for the players at his disposal. However he lines them up, short passing and intense pressing have long been key tenants of Giampaolo’s philosophy, and just like the players he has helped to move on, the man himself is now ready for a bigger challenge.
“I worked really hard to get this chance. Milan are the most successful and one of the most important clubs in Europe,” he said after his official unveiling last week. “This is a great opportunity for me because it has been a long journey, and it will continue to be, because it never ends, you never stop building ideas and projects. At this moment, I am very happy to start at this big club and I am very motivated.”
Yet he is under no illusion about the size of the task that lies ahead.
“Milan’s history speaks of a club that always sought the beauty in football and the aesthetics along with the result,” Giampaolo told reporters. “An even better explanation is that Milan have the culture of good football, so believe they can achieve results through entertaining performances. I’m not presumptuous enough to compare myself to the Milan of the past, but that ought to be our mission, to play enticing and fascinating football, winning the games thanks to that approach.”
His job will be made much more difficult because Milan have broken UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations, a situation which could cause them to pull out of the Europa League next term as a forfeit. With money tight, the club seem set to lean on a plethora of talented youngsters, both from their own academy and ones they can buy at minimal prices from elsewhere, meaning there will likely be no star names arriving this summer.
That suits their new man perfectly, however, allowing him to continue to work in the same way he has done throughout his career meaning that, finally, AC Milan have a coach and project that are ideally suited to one another. Maybe this time they’ve got it right.
Adam Digby is an Italian football writer for FourFourTwo, The Independent, and elsewhere. Author of "Juventus: A History In Black & White." Follow Adam on Twitter.