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Why AC Milan made a mistake by renewing Maurizio Ganz

By keeping the coach, the team has opened themselves up to all sorts of criticism and has people questioning their commitment to the women’s project.

AC Milan v Pomigliano - Women Serie A Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/AC Milan via Getty Images

It wasn’t too long ago that Ivan Gazidis, AC Milan’s former chief executive, reaffirmed the team’s commitment to the Rossonere. His words were stated to assuage the fears of a fanbase who were dealing with the uncertainties and fears caused by the COVID-19 crisis. Serie A Femminile’s season had been suspended due to the pandemic, and the Milan Women’s post-season fate hung in the air. Spoiler alert: they didn’t qualify for the next season’s Champions League, as Fiorentina qualified ahead of them on goal difference.

Ever since then, it seems like the Rossonere have stayed in a state of stasis. They seem like they are currently in a state of suspended animation as the team has progressed very little since those fateful days. Milan failed to make next season’s edition of the UWCL, albeit this time, it happened due to internal strife and drama. While the Rossoneri faithful were forgiving of the team missing the tournament the first time around, as they did so largely due to factors that were beyond their control, the fans are not so forgiving for what happened last season. And why should they be? After all, it was Milan who shot themselves in the foot and who didn’t qualify due to their own actions.

Part of the reason why they didn’t do so was due to Maurizio Ganz falling out with former team stars Valentina Giacinti and Verónica Boquete. Someone (who is most likely close to Ganz) leaked the rumor that Vero and other players demanded his dismissal. Vero herself has denied this, which means that someone lied about what actually happened. This is not a good look for the team. And yet, despite Ganz falling out with his former players, failure to win any trophies, and failure to carry the team forward in any meaningful way in three years, he was signed to a two-year renewal by the club.

Even though most of us who followed the women knew the renewal was coming, it’s still quite frankly, frustrating and flabbergasting that it happened, mainly because it happened despite everything that happened during this past season.

When it comes to women’s football, there is a long and painfully extended grace period for the management. Coaches are allowed to fail over and over again, and there are little to no repercussions for their actions. The reasons for this are that the powers that be simply do not care enough about women’s football to want things to change. One could even make a successful argument that women themselves aren’t really a priority for them. They are mostly a secondary concern for them, and that’s assuming they even care about them at all. For all of their shiny words about progress and caring about gender equality, Milan themselves are also guilty of this.

A wise person once said, “the higher the level of investment, the more questionable the managerial appointment.” No more is this more relevant than in the case of AC Milan with Maurizio Ganz. And while the team themselves are bringing in high-caliber players, including Kosovare Asllani and Kamila Dubcová, the truth of the matter is that it’s going to be hard to see the team winning anything of significance under such poor management.

Asllani herself recently lamented the environment at her former team, Real Madrid, as being ‘unprofessional’ and counterintuitive to building a successful squad. This makes her decision to sign for Milan a bit surprising, as she’s likely to encounter a few issues with the team here. Perhaps Madrid’s environment was so bad that she was willing to go to another club that somehow wasn’t nearly as bad as that team was. If the Swedish forward does encounter any problems at Milan, then one shouldn’t be surprised if she lays everything out in the open after she leaves.

Going back to the subject of Ganz, it is worth noting that he is not unique in this situation. For example, there’s also Gareth Taylor, the coach of the Manchester City Women. Taylor managed to drive away Lucy Bronze, Georgia Stanway, and Caroline Weir, who were three of their best players, all in one transfer window. To add insult to injury, Stanway also scored the game-winner against Spain on Wednesday. Now, compare this to the men’s team, and just imagine if Pep Guardiola had a falling out with João Cancelo, Kevin De Bruyne, and Phil Foden and they all willingly left City to go to other teams. The City fans would rightfully be questioning him and calling for his head. But alas, since Taylor coaches the women, he gets to keep his job.

Similarly, just imagine if Ganz was in charge of the Milan Men and had a falling out with Ibrahimović and sent him away to Fiorentina. Imagine if he did so while also failing to qualify for the men’s Champions League. The fans would have been very angry about this (justifiably so) and there would have been several protests, complete with banners in the Curva Sud calling for his dismissal. There is a very good chance that he would have been fired by Elliott for his actions as well. This brings us to the crux of the frustration of his renewal, as it’s proof that there is a double standard when it comes to women’s football: things that are not acceptable in the men’s game are acceptable in the women’s game. Oftentimes, people are rewarded for their failures too.

Ganz not only managed to send away two of the club’s best players but he also failed to lead the team to the Champions League. He also oversaw their humiliating 6-1 loss to rivals Juventus. It was the worst loss in their four-year history. And yet, despite all this, he was rewarded for his actions by being given a contract extension. The fact that they did so is both frustrating and quite frankly, insulting too.

When it comes to women’s football, most of the coaches fall into two categories: They are either incompetent or abusive. Every once in a while, you get the two-headed chimera who is a combination of both. Coaches like Amanda Cromwell and Corinne Diacre also show that there is no gender divide when it comes to terrible managers in the women’s game. To his credit though, there has been no evidence of Ganz being abusive towards his players. However, that’s the bare minimum, as you’re not supposed to be abusive towards the people you hold power over. Giving him any plaudits for this is like giving a grown adult a cookie for tying their shoelaces before going to work in the morning.

Although he is not abusive, he is still not a good coach. As further proof of this, Ganz’s Milan managed to lose the derby to Inter Milan for the first time in their history. To make matter worse, the game was also broadcast globally on platforms like Ata Football, which means that the team lost in front of a global audience.

Good coaches are a rarity in the women’s game. Coaches like Casey Stoney, Laura Harvey, Natalia Arroyo, Juan Carlos Amoros, Sarina Wiegman, Rita Guarino, and Gianpiero Piovani, are the exceptions and not the rule. In fact, there are so few, good coaches in women’s football that you can actually name most of them.

Stoney herself is a great coach who cares deeply about her players, and who has created an environment where her players feel safe and protected and more importantly, where they feel like they have a voice. Stoney has also admitted that she doesn’t always get it right and invites her players to have a dialogue with her so that they can work together and improve as a team. This is part of the reason why the San Diego Wave FC have been so successful in their debut season in the NWSL, and why they are currently in first place in the standings.

This is in stark contrast to a manager like Ganz, who is willing to shut out players who disagree with him and even send them away to other teams. He is not a good communicator, nor is he good at player management. And hell, he’s not even a good tactician. It is also fairly safe to assume that coaches like him are being kept around to deflect from their employers’ failures. They are the ‘yes-men’ who do their employers’ bidding without question. They are also the fallout guys, the goats who are scaped, sent out to a baying public with pitchforks and torches alight, to take the blame for how badly these teams have managed their women’s sectors. What one can conclude from this is that Ganz is but a cog in a large machine and that the entire gestalt bears responsibility for this.

By renewing Ganz, Milan have shown that they are content with mediocrity. They have shown a lack of ambition and are content with a second-place or hell, even a third-placed team. It’s this, combined with how the social media team often drops the ball when it comes to the women, that one has to seriously question their commitment to them. While Milan should be praised for doing other things for their women’s team, including being the first to pay them pensions, the first to hold training sessions between the men’s and women’s squads (in Italy); and for selling their jerseys in the team store, this club often sends mixed signals about how much they care about them.

This juxtaposing and confusing attitude will eventually filter down to the fans, because, after all, why should we care about them when the team themselves seemingly don’t?

While it might be tempting to give up on the Rossonere, you would also be doing the players a disservice. Now more than even ever, we have to be vigilant and keep our eyes on the ragazze. The players deserve better than what they’re currently getting and they'll only get it if we amplify their voices while simultaneously advocating for them, and also being careful not to speak over them as they air their grievances.

In her farewell post to her former team, Valentina Giacinti stated that part of the reason why she left the club was due to people who “tried to destroy her dream” of becoming a symbol of Milan. If we’re not careful, then they’ll likely destroy the dreams of the team’s other players. This is why we still need to support them, despite the questionable choices of the club’s management.

Change is a slow, gradual process. Oftentimes, it means dealing with a painful present that gives way to a bright future. And Milan will become that shining city on a hill once they get serious about their women’s team, and stop making mistakes like this.