Nearing the end of a decade of misery Milan continue, for the moment, to be miserable. After having missed out on the Champions League by a single point, leadership rightfully adjusted the course of the club - the team would focus on bringing in young, (relatively) affordable players with tremendous upside that can grow and mature with the new Milan. This direction resulted in the turnover of both Sporting Director Leonardo and manager Gennaro Gattuso.
Legend Paolo Maldini pretty quickly took over as Sporting Director, but the club took a detailed approach to identify and hire the new manager. Eventually, they brought in Marco Giampaolo from Sampdoria, known for his possession-based style of attacking football, generally played with a midfield diamond. He had his say in incoming players as he worked to implement an identity on this club. And the results have been... disastrous.
Literally, the results have been disastrous. Milan have lost four of their first six for the first time in almost sixty years, and sit 16th in the table (on goal differential, but still). That’s really bad!
I fully understand the idea of sacking Giampaolo right now, acting quick before the season ostensibly slips away. I just completely disagree. Let’s take a look at all the reasons we’re seeing people say he should be sacked, and why they’re (in my opinion) not necessarily right.
The results simply aren’t good enough.
As we just touched on, this is quite literally right - at no point should a club like this ever be anywhere near the relegation zone. However, once you dig a bit deeper, what’s below the surface gives some cause for cautious optimism.
We’re only six games into the season, so the sample isn’t massive, but some underlying metrics point toward Milan being due for an upward trend. They’ve given up 1.09 goals/90 minutes this season, with an expected goals against of 1.1 per 90. So, while the defensive performances haven’t been particularly good, the defensive results are about what they should be.
On the other hand, Milan are averaging 0.73 G/90, with an xGF/90 of 1.02. Which is to say, Milan’s attack is underperforming by about 30% - that’s a lot! For our purposes, we can say that they could easily have another 2 goals under their belt - looking back at Milan’s schedule, that could have turned into maybe an extra 4 points. That would give Milan 10 points on the season, good enough for a tie at 6th place, right back in the European places.
Milan are drowning, but all they really need to do is remember that they’re in the shallow end and can just stand up (this is a metaphor for just finishing their damn chances).
The easiest way to turn around the team is by changing coaches.
Every season, teams almost immediately go through the exercise of deciding whether or not they should sack their coach, for a myriad of reasons. One of the most important questions is almost never considered until it’s too late - who’s going to be the new coach?
Let’s say Milan get rid of Giampaolo - the name linked most often with the job is our old friend, Rino Gattuso. I love Rino as much as the next guy, but let’s think about last season: Rino philosophy of choice was sitting back in a low block and hoping to absorb any attack thrown at him, and he threw in some subpar counterattacking for good measure. They didn’t qualify for Champions League. This past summer, the club brought in players to fit into an attacking, possession-based system. In what world does Rino take that team and perform?
There are exactly two coaches out there that are both currently unemployed and would be an upgrade on Giampaolo - Max Allegri and Marcelino. The first one was seemingly randomly fired by Milan after winning a recent Scudetto, the other fired by Valencia after leading them to the Copa del Rey and the Champions League. Would either of them take this job? It’s hard to think so.
If you don’t do it now, you risk losing the season.
This is the only reason for firing Giampaolo that I’ll give the time of day.
It’s a natural reaction to think that this team needs a massive course correction, or else they’ll be flirting with the relegation zone the entire year. The results haven’t been pretty, and admittedly aren’t acceptable for a club like Milan, nor should they be.
But you need to remember - this has been six games. October just started this week. Milan still have a possible 92 points available to them! I fully understand the idea that things can get out of hand, but... it is so early.
Milan brought in Giampaolo to help give the club an identity, an identity based in attacking and rooted in possession. The used their entire summer budget to compliment that philosophy. If you cut and run now, then you throw out your entire plan to rebuild this team, and you do it in the middle of a panic.
You don’t get to take your time, you don’t get to take a step back and look at the overall philosophy, engage in negotiations meant to bring in complementary players to set your manager up for success. You don’t get to do almost literally anything the right way.
You’re throwing a new coach into the fire in the worst possible position to create positive situations in which the team can succeed. You’re blowing up a project at the first sign of trouble, signalling to everyone willing to listen that your club is in full-blown crisis, and that you don’t have the answers.
Without a doubt, there’s a time where sacking your coach mid-season is justified. It just isn’t this one.
All stats courtesy of Wyscout.
Check out our article on why Giampaolo should leave.