After Milan defeated Rijeka at the death in the Europa League last night, Vincenzo Montella felt inclined to try describing his “indescribable joy” about the victory:
"I want to underline the spirit of the team that brought the victory home," Montella told Sky Sport Italia. "There was indescribable joy to see the team play with this energy and determination in the final minute.”
The “in the final minute” part is the bit that sticks out, because that’s the only time Milan showed any spirit, energy or determination to win the match. The fact they were up 2-0 was more to fortune than any form of dominance. Andre Silva provided a moment of individual brilliance on the first goal, but the second goal was a bit fortunate. The ball seemed to bounce to Mateo Musacchio off of Leonardo Bonucci's leg in front of goal from a free kick.
Milan, though never really on at all throughout the match, turned off. The defensive errors that led to Rijeka’s two goals in the final minutes of the match were utterly shocking and downright embarrassing for a group with the quality Milan possess. Fortunately, the Rossoneri were bailed out by a brilliant connection between Fabio Borini and Patrick Cutrone. Football showed its cruelty to Rijeka, who deserved a point at the San Siro for punishing a Milan side that appeared lazy, disinterested and content when leading 2-0.
So for Montella to come out and talk about indescribable joy, to proclaim a great result, it’s utterly embarrassing. Sure, he pointed out some negatives, but despite 10 wins in 12 competitive matches this season, it’s not good enough from Milan.
It’s weird for Montella to be talking that way a few days after Marco Fassone publicly put him on blast, condemning Milan’s early performances. Did the message not get through? Does he really think these performances are becoming of a team for which he was given 174 million euros worth of reinforcements over the summer?
Surely, the seat is heating up under Montella. Fassone’s comments were a clear indication that Milan are not going to accept these lackluster performances. Two miserable defeats in Serie A already have the Rossoneri six points off the pace set by Napoli and Juventus. They are already four points off Inter for third place, the last automatic berth into the Champions League.
Granted, Fassone taking his grievances public is a bad look for the club. To flaunt discontent within the club in such a way does nothing to help anyone involved. That said, his frustration is justified.
Remember, Milan must qualify for the Champions League this season or face Financial Fair Play repercussions after a massive summer of spending. The new ownership group has gone all in on the 2017-18 season. This team they have built should have no problem finishing in the top four. Right now, this looks like a side that would be fortunate to finish fifth.
Fassone and company can’t take chances. If these poor performances persist, Montella has to go. He’s provided little evidence that he’s capable of turning this abundance of new talent into a side capable of challenging in Serie A.
Naturally, talk of Montella’s future is likely to intensify more now that Bayern Munich have sacked Carlo Ancelotti, and it is not really that crazy of an idea.
Ancelotti has found success across Europe since leaving Milan in 2009, and his sacking at Bayern seems a bit of an overreaction from the German giants. But perhaps it could be a brilliant opportunity for Milan to bring in a world-class manager to oversee the early stages of this new-look club.
Massimiliano Mirabelli has backed Montella, downplaying the idea of Ancelotti returning to take his place, but how long can that support last? Milan struggled against the minnows of Serie A in September. October brings the big boys: Roma, Inter and Juventus. If Milan can’t hang with their top-four rivals and get a couple results in the process, can Mirabelli keep the faith?
Bringing Ancelotti in – if he’s interested, of course – is not a terrible idea. Is he the man to lead Milan for the next three, four or five seasons? Probably not, but there needs to be a sense of urgency at Milan this year. This is a rebuild, yes, but a rebuild that comes with the added pressure of Champions League qualification being a must. If Milan are struggling to beat SPAL, Cagliari and Udinese, what will happen in the coming weeks, when the opponents include Roma, Inter and Juventus?
If Montella needs to be replaced, how could Milan pass up on Ancelotti? To have such a coach readily available is almost too good to be true. The Milan great could see the Rossoneri through the rest of the season. He knows what it takes to build a Champions League side. He’ll know how to put the pieces together. He’ll surely have the respect of the dressing room. It seems an ideal fit for the time being.
No matter what, Milan have to qualify for the Champions League this season, and something needs to change to make that happen. If Montella really thinks wins like the one against Rijeka are a good step forward for the club, the change seems to be an obvious one.