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What Went Wrong With Marco Giampaolo’s AC Milan?

Let us count the ways.

Genoa CFC v AC Milan - Serie A Photo by Paolo Rattini/Getty Images

For the ninth (9th!) time since Max Allegri left the club, AC Milan begin a new era with a new manager - and seemingly no answers to the incredible amount of questions that still hang around the club.

Because we hate ourselves, let’s look back at the various reason that Marco Giampaolo’s tenure with Milan ended so quickly and in such dramatic fashion.

Tactics

Prior to Milan, Giampaolo made his name as a manager by way of his possession-based attacking system making use of quick, vertical ball movement when possible. Giampaolo used the summer to try and implement his system and ran into his first hurdle as coach.

Based on preseason decisions and comments, it seemed that Giampaolo was building toward the above lineup, until he just... wasn’t anymore.

As we well know, Giampaolo planned to use Suso as the trequartista behind the two strikers. It was one of his first public statements as manager, putting his backing behind the Spaniard to transition from the wing to the center of the park as Milan’s creative emphasis. And that plan lasted about 60 minutes into games that matter.

Immediately following the first game of the season, Giampaolo went on the record that Milan’s best formation might be 4-3-3 with Suso on the right wing. With what seemed like no thought whatsoever, he immediately threw out an entire preseason’s worth of training and preparation. In his defense, the retort that his ideas can work across a few different tactical shapes is a good one, but the speed with which he changed his direction was the first red flag of Giampaolo’s short tenure.

Lineup Decisions

To tailor the team to Giampaolo’s system, Milan went out this summer with a clear idea of the types of players needed to make the best of the tactics. This included a calming, press-breaking-capable holding midfielder (Ismaël Bennacer), a fullback comfortable moving forward in possession (Theo Hernandez), and a supporting striker with a head for attacking runs (Rafael Leão).

It’s become abundantly clear, even in the tumultuous beginning of this season, that these albeit young and relatively inexperienced players are much more skilled than the players they would be replacing. Add Lucas Paquetá into that mix, and you have a group of attack-minded players with the skill necessary to create scoring chances.

Except... Giampaolo seemed to disagree. Time and time again, he left Paquetá out for Hakan Calhanoglu, Bennacer out for Biglia, and Leão out for name-a-person. Bennacer admittedly had a shocker (giving up two penalties) against Torino, but other than that there doesn’t seem to be a single good reason for these decisions in the lineup.

Aimless Direction

There’s been plenty of blame to hurdle at Giampaolo, and much of it deserved. But what hasn’t necessarily been discussed is that there was almost no situation in which he was ever going to succeed.

After Giampaolo’s firing, the club hired Stefano Pioli to a two-year contract that reportedly includes a cancellation clause should the club miss out on Europe this season. The club and directors have done a lot of talking about building a young and improving Milan that will see success for years to come. European competition and the revenue that comes with it are obviously an important factor to any rebuild in modern football, but the club does not seem to have any idea of how it would like to get there.

Paolo Maldini and Zvonomir Boban are club legends in their own right - having them around this club is massively important in keeping the history and status of the club around for these new players to take in themselves. In this regard, Gennarro Gattuso was wildly successful.

However, the directors need to decide on the project they are building. If you’re willing to axe your handpicked manager after 111 days, it’s hard to believe that you’ve really thought through what you’re doing.