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Gattuso’s departure from Milan was always going to happen after this season’s underachievement

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It really wasn’t all Gennaro Gattuso’s fault, but he still needs to go.

AC Milan v Frosinone Calcio - Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Gennaro Gattuso was never supposed to be a permanent solution to AC Milan’s years-long managerial conundrum.

Like many of his predecessors in the post-Massimiliano Allegri era – the ones that fell into the category of “club legend looking to make it as a coach” – he was supposed to be a bridge between managers, a convenient interim hire to make sure the Rossoneri didn’t fall off a cliff.

That’s a job he did splendidly after Vincenzo Montella was sacked in November 2017. Milan fell short of the top four in Serie A and were knocked out early in the Europa League knockout rounds, but a trip to the Coppa Italia final and a 13-match unbeaten run at the start of 2018 built confidence among those clamoring for this Milan rebuild to be a success.

But that sliver of success and hope meant it would be hard not to give Gattuso the job permanently. Milan did. That was a mistake.

Gattuso was in over his head as Milan’s permanent manager. He was great as a motivator of a team playing just to avoid collapse but taking charge of a team built to finish top four and contend in the Europa League proved too difficult. Fifth place in Serie A. Out of the Europa League in the group stage. Gattuso, rightly, is out as manager.

Even if the bounces went Milan’s way in Empoli’s late scramble against Inter and Champions League football was secured, Gattuso couldn’t have kept his job.

Milan didn’t miss out on the Champions League because of Empoli’s misfortune. Remember when they blew a 2-0 lead at Napoli? How about the draws at Cagliari, Empoli, Parma, Frosinone and Bologna? They drew at home with Udinese and lost to Fiorentina.

Any one of those horrendous results becomes a win, Milan are in the Champions League. All of these results are inexcusable. The above results account for 18 points. That’s 86 points for the season. Milan are second, and Juventus are sweating all the way to the Scudetto, only winning by four points.

Not all of Milan’s issues were Gattuso’s fault. The injury bug spared no one. Mattia Caladara didn’t play a single minute in Serie A (he only played 200 total between the Europa League, Coppa Italia and a match with the Primavera side), and an already-thin midfield was hit hard throughout the season. There was also the issue of Gonzalo Higuain, who was practically useless if someone didn’t play the ball directly to his feet (and he’s been even worse at Chelsea). But a better manager would have gotten more out of this team.

Gattuso showed his flaws throughout the season, particularly in his insistence on playing the ball out of the back, with the goalkeeper and defenders spending way too much time on the ball. Milan didn’t have the players capable of doing that, and it backfired time after time. The Rossoneri played recklessly in the back, and it proved to be one of the biggest reasons why Milan missed the top four.

What’s worse, Gattuso looked a shell of himself all season long. A man famous for his fiery ruthlessness as a player looked weak and timid when confronted with the reality of his inability to take a top-four quality team back to a competition that made him a club legend.

Milan made a mistake making him the manager. That shouldn’t take away from his impact on the club. But the club need to nail this next hire. There have been six permanent managers since Allegri was sacked in 2014. That’s unacceptable.

The best option for Milan has to be Lazio’s Simone Inzaghi. He’s been linked to the Juventus job, as well, but it looks like Maurizio Sarri is in line to take that job. If not Sarri, there are other options available to Juventus that are likely more enticing to a side eager to win the Champions League.

Inzaghi would be a great fit for Milan. He’s a brilliant tactician. Lazio struggled in the league this season, but they lacked the talent of Milan and the other top clubs. They were excellent at keeping their shape, particularly in the back, and Inzaghi’s ability to adjust his tactics mid-match were impressive. Despite lacking behind in Serie A, Lazio did succeed in winning Coppa Italia, largely because of Inzaghi’s management.

Milan are step up for the other Inzaghi, and if he can take this team to the Champions League, he could get Milan back on the map. Not to mention it would be a big boost to his personal managerial resume.

As for Gattuso, he deserves a chance at redemption as a manager. He could always end up with a top Serie B or struggling Serie A side, but there’s no reason for a breakup between he and the club. Milan’s Primavera squad was just relegated from the top division. Perhaps there’s an opportunity for a coaching change, and Gattuso could re-assume his role in charge of the youth team. It’s unlikely Gattuso would want to take that step down, but he can still be a help to Milan.

Ivan Gazidis, Leonardo and Paolo Maldini have a big summer ahead of them. They need to come through with a managerial hire and give that manager a few reinforcements to get this side into the top four. The management situation at Milan has been a joke for far too long. They need stability and a home run hire. They can’t afford to keep going down the list of club greats looking to break into the management ranks.