I know that technically it is not the season midpoint, but the winter break gives ample time for reflection. As I look to explore the squad from top to bottom up to this point, the most logical start is the Coach. The problem with these discussions is always the perspective and angle of the reviewer. One could base their grades on so many criteria such as expectations, performances in certain scenarios, or the season up to this point as a whole. In the end, it is almost impossible to be spot on in these types of discussion, but the important thing is to get some thoughts down and build from there.
I am going to give my grade for Leo at the end, but I want to somewhat meander my way to it. When this season started I called for his head, in fact I didn’t even want him anywhere near the sideline. His “deer in headlights” look and his lack of experience, not even having his Coaching permits, made me cringe upon his hiring. Bottom line I left this guy for dead from the moment he arrived. What played out since his death sentence has been a pleasant surprise, but complacency now will do a disservice promising a start as Leo embarks on arguably his most trying 6 weeks as the Coach of AC Milan.
In true report card fashion, before giving a grade an individual is given a list of positives and negatives, and you don’t have to look to far for the positives. Leo has really made some sweet wine out of sour old grapes. A team that was written off as old and past it, continues to show its age, but Leo has done more than enough to gel the squad and get the most out of the roster. The key to this success, the 4-3-3, he tried it, liked it, and stuck with it, and the team responded going on an eleven game unbeaten run and scoring a fair amount of goals in the process. He made this move going against conventional wisdom of Serie A and has found success, and he needs to be given credit for it.
He needs to also be given credit for the success of the front line of Dinho. Borriello, and Pato. His faith in these players paid dividends, and his ability to evolve Dinho into the player he has become has to be recognized. Unfortunately though without negatives there would be no positives and with Leo there are a few. I boil those two negatives down into two simple words: integration and rotation. Leo has done neither, and at this point it is hard to see real examples of even attempting it. In fact you could make the argument that his early inclusions of Oddo, Kaladze, and Dida, when faced with injuries, were a regression and step backward. Relying on players who were on their way out of the Club, instead of turning to youngsters to give them a chance was uncharacteristic of his style and disappointing. For this point alone he has flat out failed and done little to improve one of the largest issues that plagued Carletto’s Milan career. Yes you can argue that Abate and Antonini have been a given a chance, but after that you wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.
As for rotation, his greenness has to be blamed. Like many young coaches he sticks to what works, putting a burden on older players like Seedorf, Ambro, and Zambro, because frankly he has not been around long enough to notice the nuances of fatigue or the progressions of a young player. Fortunately for Leo he has many an opportunity to redeem himself as the schedule gets further congested and his use of players like Adiyah, DiGennaro, Stasser, and even Flamini should prove his value further as a Coach.
So with both ends of the spectrum explored, I can safely say Leo has
earned a B mark. His success to this point has been a pleasant surprise and his ability to stick to his guns and what has been best for the team is admirable. But he needs to use more of the players at his disposal in the right situations. His success against the like of Genoa, Fiorentina, and a weakened Juventus will cement himself as Coach or possible relight the fire under his seat for 2010.