Where did it go wrong for sacked Vincenzo Montella at AC Milan?

Chloe Beresford by Chloe Beresford / 27 November 2017, 16:12

When morning reports in Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper suggested that AC Milan were considering sacking Coach Vincenzo Montella and putting youth team boss Gennaro Gattuso in temporary charge, no-one was surprised.

Those rumours had been around for some time, and the Rossoneri had failed to score for the fourth consecutive league outing at the San Siro.

What was a surprise though, was that the club decided to pull the trigger so soon after the rumours emerged, announcing the news via their official Twitter account on Monday morning. They also revealed that they had indeed put Gattuso in charge, a man that - although he was undoubtedly a club legend as a player - has limited experience at best as a Coach.

Whether or not his temporary appointment will see the side fare any better than under his predecessor, time will only tell. But now seems as good a time as any to look back at Montella’s tenure in an attempt to figure out what went wrong.

They say that football is a game of two halves, and the same can be applied to his time at Milan. Appointed in June 2016, he was brought in as a refreshing change to former players-turned-bosses Pippo Inzaghi, Clarence Seedorf and Cristian Brocchi, all who - alongside Sinisa Mihajlovic - had failed at San Siro after Massimiliano Allegri was fired in January 2014. While the ex-Roma striker enjoyed a successful career of his own on the pitch, spells with Catania, Sampdoria and Fiorentina ensured he was much better prepared for the challenges of Coaching a side like Milan.

At the time, then-owner Silvio Berlusconi was still trying to negotiate a hugely complicated deal for the sale of the club with Chinese investors and the new boss was made aware that there would be hardly any money to invest in the team whilst this process was going on. “It is the belief of the club that the style of play of the new Rossoneri Coach will be the basis of a fruitful and positive collaboration,” said the hugely successful supremo on his appointment.

As the sale hit countless stumbling blocks and Montella still had to work without investment in the team, Berlusconi was proved correct. That he had to utilise what was available in the club’s youth ranks suited his positive style of play and the man-management skills he had displayed at Fiorentina as he pushed his budget team on towards the highly-decorated club’s first silverware since 2011.

That was a Supercoppa Italiana victory against champions Juventus, a match in which eight of Milan’s starting 11 were Italian, and four of those Rossoneri youth products. By the time the Chinese investors eventually completed the deal in April, Montella was well on his way to finishing the season in a Europa League spot, a pretty good achievement considering all the obstacles that had been in his way.

But then everything changed. The new owners had gone all-in on finishing in a Champions League position for 2017/18, their rhetoric all pointing towards restoring this fallen giant to its former glory. Out went the prudent philosophy that Montella had adopted so well, and in came an astonishing ¤230 million summer spend, all gambled on finishing fourth place or higher.

Whilst this U-turn and highly unusual business plan had turned things upside-down for Montella, he too allowed himself to crumble under the weight of expectation. Instead of standing firm with the principles that had seen him start to build something positive last season, he bowed to pressure of starting players that had been purchased for a high price, making his team selections and tactics look entirely confused.

Goalscoring has been a huge problem and - with just 19 league goals scored - Milan sit 11 points behind Roma in that coveted 4th place Champions League spot, having played a game more than the Giallorossi. Yet the Coach continued to field Nikola Kalinic, a man with one goal in 11 matches, leaving home-grown youngster Patrick Cutrone on the bench.

The 19-year-old has three goals in his last three starts, but it appears that Montella lost his way with the arrival of the new ownership. “Analysing the game, Milan controlled it from start to finish,” said the Coach after Sunday’s draw with Torino.

“We created six or seven clear scoring opportunities, and just as many where we got the final ball wrong. I don’t remember Torino having a shot on goal other than in the final minute.”

It was the latest in a long line of post-match press conferences whereby he failed to take ownership of the problems that were occurring around him, the clearest signal that he would not be up to the task of turning the side’s fortunes around.

Despite his record this season though, Montella will be back in a job before too long. The problems at Milan, however are far from resolved.

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