Can Gennaro Gattuso lead sleeping giants AC Milan back to the Champions League?

Chloe Beresford by Chloe Beresford / 20 February 2019, 12:14

Before the January transfer window, AC Milan and their boss Gennaro Gattuso weren’t in a very good place.

The month of December saw the Rossoneri go through four consecutive matches without a goal as they registered disappointing draws with Bologna, Frosinone, Torino and a 1-0 defeat to Fiorentina.

Milan supporters had been excited to welcome Gonzalo Higuain to the club in the summer, perhaps even thinking that – as part of a team that was geared up to play exclusively for him – he might even emulate his season under Maurizio Sarri at Napoli in which he scored a record-breaking 36 goals.

Yet this was not to be, as the team stuttered through the final part of 2018, and questions were asked of Gattuso as those who followed the Rossoneri wondered why he could not garner the best from the Argentine.

“I haven’t figured out what Higuain is unhappy with, because I see him look content and involved in the dressing room atmosphere,” the Coach admitted to Milan TV before his eventual move to Chelsea.

“We’ll see what happens. If it was up to me, I’d invite him to my house, lock him in a room and throw him food every two to three hours. Unfortunately, I can't do that.”

The striker’s exit would see Polish striker Krzysztof Piatek arrive in his place, a transfer deal which has allowed Gattuso to forget Higuain and start to bring the good times back to the red and black half of San Siro.

February had seen the Rossoneri – complete with their new signings – earn a credible 1-1 draw with AS Roma and put in a stunning performance in a 3-0 win over Cagliari, but the acid test was yet to come as they faced high-flying Atalanta last weekend.

Gian Piero Gasperini’s men had already knocked Juventus out of the Coppa Italia and were playing in their usual “no fear” style with the prolific Duvan Zapata up front.

It was an outcome that was nigh on impossible to predict before a ball was kicked, yet Milan came out of the toughest of encounters with a 3-1 victory, the on-fire Piatek contributing a brace.

Most importantly of all, Gattuso’s side retained their position of fourth in the table, and now look on course to complete their long-stated aim of returning to the Champions League.

 

“This Milan is enjoying itself, the players are enthusiastic, happy to be together and to train,” the boss revealed to Sky Italia after the win.

“We mustn’t lose that. After that, there is a lot of quality in the side, but more importantly everyone is putting their quality to work for the team and that is crucial.”

It is not just the work he has done with the group either.

Many individuals have improved their performances thanks to the work the former midfielder has put in with them on the training ground, with Chelsea loanee Tiemoue Bakayoko the prime example. The 24-year-old was criticised for his early performances with the Rossoneri, but is now putting in adept performances in the middle of the park and so very clearly enjoying his football.

“I’m in love with Piatek!” Bakayoko gushed to RMC Sport after the win over Atalanta.

“I’m under contract with Chelsea, but I’m very happy at Milan and I’d like to continue with them. It was difficult at the start, also because of the language. Today things are going much better, both on the field and in everyday life, and I’m very happy.”

That the boss has been tenacious in the face of so many different crises during his tenure, and that he has continued to prove wrong those who questioned his experience as a Coach is nothing short of remarkable.

Gattuso won the Champions League twice during his time as a Milan player. How incredible it would be if he were to be the one – against all the odds – to return this sleeping giant to the competition after five long seasons away.

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