One match into the Serie A season, AC Milan are winless, having dropped a 3-2 opener to Napoli at the San Paolo. The result was predictable. How it happened, on the other hand, has caused quite the reaction among Milanisti.
The Rossoneri went up 2-0. Milan fans were in dreamland. It was amazing, but it always seemed likely a goal would come for the Partenopei.
And it did, minutes after Davide Calabria’s goal, and Napoli never looked back. The dream start turned to calamity. It left a bitter taste in the mouths of Milan fans worldwide, and the reaction from a fan base easy to snap in recent years has been unsurprising.
FIRE GENNARO GATTUSO!
So many experts on social media, 90 minutes of football and Gattuso should be relieved of his position.— The AC Milan-Godfather (@ACMilanSydney) August 27, 2018
Against Napoli I think we did better than expected, unfortunately often good teams do get on top in 90 minutes.
Reality is our squad quality is not as good as most top teams.
In the level-headed manner Milan fans are famous for, a movement calling for Gattuso’s sacking is getting louder. It seems like the start of something familiar, and that’s a problem.
Few were still on Vincenzo Montella’s side when he was let go last November. But a few years before that, the drawn-out fall of Massimiliano Allegri caused a massive divide among the fans. Milan fans couldn’t stop arguing among themselves, and they watched the Rossoneri crash out of the Champions League, never to be seen again.
So let’s put an end to this before you all start jumping down each other’s throats: Gattuso is going nowhere right now, nor should he.
Gattuso played his part in Milan’s loss to Napoli, of course. The attempt to play out of the back with a group of defenders, a goalkeeper and a wannabe regista who were all clearly uncomfortable doing so was a bad decision. Every Milan fan watching the match knew it, and they have to believe Gattuso is smart enough to learn from his mistakes. He needs the benefit. He needs the opportunity to correct his own mishaps and — quite literally — manage the team.
Maybe things change now that Hakan Calhanoglu is available for selection. Maybe that 4-2-3-1 everyone keeps hoping to see becomes a reality. Maybe things change when Mattia Caladara is in as center back, and maybe Tiemoue Bakayoko rediscovers his Monaco brilliance. Everything can still come together wonderfully for Milan this season. Finishing top four will be a mighty challenge, but this season needs to be a stepping stone.
The same has to be said for the manager. Gattuso took over a team in disarray in November 2017. He got it back on track, and he even got to a Coppa Italia final. One of the things people liked about Milan coming into the season was the sense of stability. How would it make sense to destabilize the team by dumping the manager who is growing and developing — much like his new-look team — after a match they were expected to lose, even if the loss was painful?
The name of Antonio Conte will follow Gattuso around like an evil spirit this year, but it shouldn’t bother him. Firing Gattuso at any point in the foreseeable future would be reckless and irresponsible, two adjectives no one can use to describe Leonardo and Paolo Maldini. Those two men made some big changes this summer. If they wanted a new manager, they could have gone for one. But they didn’t.
There is faith in Gattuso, and with good reason. The Napoli match was a blip. The reaction to every mishap can’t be immediate termination. How is that productive? That’s been the Milan strategy for five years, and that’s how long it’s been since the Champions League anthem was heard on a Rossoneri matchday.
Be mad about the Napoli loss. Blame Gattuso for it. That’s fair to do. But give the man the opportunity to rectify the mistake. New players are getting fit. Calhanoglu is available for selection now. Milan fans didn’t see the finished product at the San Paolo.