It is the 23rd of May 2007 and a Filippo Inzaghi brace has just clinched AC Milan their seventh European Cup, a feat that cements their status as a European footballing powerhouse. Fast forward nearly nine years and the outlook is very different for the Rossoneri. They have just appointed their fourth manager in the space of only two years and now look destined for a third consecutive season without Champions League football; a travesty for a club of Milan’s illustrious stature. This is a footballing establishment who, in terms of silverware, can still be considered as the joint-most successful European club side of all time. This rise to footballing might is almost as staggering as their more recent fall from grace.
Siniša Mihajlović was relieved of his duties earlier this week with Milan sitting in a disappointing sixth position in Serie A. The Serb’s dismissal does seem slightly premature given that he departs with a win ratio of 50% during a reign that saw the 47-year-old guide his team to the Coppa Italia final. His win ratio is also just 6.7% shy of Carlo Ancelotti’s record during his successful reign at the club between 2001 and 2009. Furthermore it is a significant improvement on the 35% achieved by Filippo Inzaghi in the 2014/15 campaign.
However, Silvio Berlusconi’s reason for calling time on Mihajlović’s reign must reside in the fact that Milan sit an enormous 27 points behind league leaders Juventus and, perhaps more significantly, 15 points adrift of Roma in the third and final Champions League berth. Milan have been left behind by their Italian rivals to such an extent that they now struggle to lure big name players to the club. This is despite Mihajlović being granted a €90 million transfer kitty for the summer of 2015 that was spent on the likes of Carlos Bacca and Alessio Romagnoli. Although the Rossoneri did secure these big money signings, there remains a lack of truly world class players at the San Siro.
Unsurprisingly, the fans are not happy. Milan’s attendance has been in gradual decline since the much-loved Ancelotti departed the club in 2009. The 65,000 crowd that they were once able to attract during his reign has now been decimated to a number closer to 35,000. This is a firm reflection of Milan’s fall in recent years, with perhaps the biggest disappointment from a neutral fan’s perspective being the loss of romance surrounding the iconic Derby della Madonnia – the Milan derby. A fixture that once promised a ferocious rivalry, world-class players and a pulsating 90 minutes is now, comparatively, a disappointing affair with average football on display. The last three meetings between the sides have brought just 4 goals, whereas three derbies that took place between 2005-06 saw 13 goals. The gulf in quality between these two current sides and their former selves is not hard to see. But just how has this happened?
football turned into a money game and Milan failed to keep up financially with Europe’s powerhouses
Milan’s steady decline can be owed to a string of poor decisions at boardroom level that dates back to when Silvio Berlusconi purchased the club in 1986. Sure, this kick started a period of Rossoneri dominance in the late 1980s as Berlusconi initially coped well with the pressures of running a football club. But with the turn of the century, football turned into a money game and Milan failed to keep up financially with Europe’s powerhouses, forcing them to offload their star players during Massimilliano Allegri’s reign from 2010 to 2014. The likes of Kaká, Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimović were all let go for handsome fees to ensure Milan were not left trailing behind Europe’s giants. Unfortunately for Milan, this exodus coincided with the old guard of Paolo Maldini, Filippo Inzaghi, Alessandro Nesta and Clarence Seedorf either retiring or moving on to pastures new. But, at this point, all did not appear lost. Youthful talent including Alexandre Pato, Stephan El Shaaraway and Mario Balotelli provided cause for optimism at the San Siro. But ultimately, these players have not delivered at the level required to turn Milan’s fortunes around.
Of late, a number of peculiar managerial appointments have been the final straw in guiding Milan towards the wilderness years they now habituate. Three ex-players, all inexperienced in a managerial sense, have been handed the task of reviving Milan’s fortunes in recent years, and all have failed to deliver. Cristian Rocchi – another inexperienced ex-player – has now been handed the Rossoneri hot seat on the back of Mihajlović’s departure. Despite being involved in Milan’s youth set up for the past 2 years, this is another risky move from Berlusconi given the failures of Leonardo, Clarence Seedorf and Filippo Inzaghi who were promoted from a similar position to Rocchi.
Milan find themselves trapped in an era of turmoil and are showing little sign of escaping it. They represent a problem that runs throughout Serie A, a league ever decreasing in quality due to financial instability and weak ownership. Indeed Juventus are the only European giant of the modern era left in its ranks. At their peak, the Rossoneri represented everything that was good about Italian football, so it is quite fitting that as Milan decline, so does the league.