Fans of AC Milan have suffered through a bad four weeks, beginning by losing to short-handed rival Inter and most recently suffering a devastating defeat in their Champions League match versus Manchester United. This comes the same week that Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi criticized Leonardo’s managerial style and encouraged him to allow his team to play more freely.
Italian clubs have been criticized for being too quick to pull the trigger and fire a manager, if for no other reason than a quick boost to the club. We’ve seen a debate over whether Jose Mourinho should be let go by Inter Milan, but what about his cross-town counterpart? Should Leonardo be fired? Make sure you vote in the poll at the bottom of the post, but first here are two contrasting views on what should be the fate of the Milan manager:
AC Milan Should Fire Leonardo
To be honest, it was a mistake to hire him in the first place. No one can dispute his sterling international reputation and his legendary status for Milan, but as we see too often in all sports, the famous players often make a poor manager or coach. That seems to be the case here: a player that has so much natural ability cannot explain to players who may not have that same ability how to play at the highest level.
Before looking at a disappointing Serie A campaign, let’s look at Milan’s Champions League record this year. It is a pedestrian 2-2-3, with a bad loss at home in the group stage to FC Zurich, hardly an international powerhouse. In fact, their home record in the Champions League is 0-2-2, which bodes ill for a club with aspirations of winning the tournament. Of course, this week’s debacle (again at home) against Manchester United is what has prompted this discussion: despite a lead 3 minutes into the contest Milan let Wayne Rooney (who, maybe they heard, is kind of good) roam wild and score two of United’s three goals. They have now put themselves in an almost impossible hole: going to Manchester United (where United is 15-3-2 in all competitions) likely needing to win by two or more goals.
The Serie A situation doesn’t look much better. Milan sits in third place, only two points behind Roma but nine points behind Inter Milan. This was a great year to catch Inter, who has failed to seize control of Serie A and has seen high-profile players fail to live up to their promise. Leonardo is 0-2 against Inter by an aggregate score of 6-0. Ronaldinho has been inconsistent at best, despite his amazing talent, and major signing Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has been called a “poor-man’s David Trezeguet“. Their defense has been inconsistent and a major weakness this year.
What Milan has consistently shown is underachieving talent that is just good enough to be competitive at the highest level, but unable to take the next step to dominance. The club needs a manager with experience managing a major organization to take this team to the next level. However, it will have to compete with Juventus possibly for that person.
AC Milan Should Keep Leonardo
A first-time manager can be a dangerous thing – no matter how long you have been in the game, the adjustment from player/commentator to a person who is responsible not only for training but for roster moves is a major one. Now consider that adjustment on the world’s largest stage – a larger than life owner, a club steeped in tradition where you were a star, a roster that is expected to compete for all the major titles. An experienced manager could struggle under the pressure, much less a new hire.
What then should we expect from Leonardo? I would argue the biggest yardstick to determine his fitness to manage a club is his ability to adjust his style. He can see his mistakes and learn from them. He has already taken his coaching courses, which incidentally are not required for UEFA, to help expand his tactical horizons. After a slow start to the season, he shifted to a 4-2-1-3 tactic, which has resulted in increased scoring and a re-emergence of Ronaldinho as the dominant player he can be. He clearly is learning on the fly but adjusting well.
In the Champions League, AC Milan has struggled a bit but pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the tournament so far – a 3-2 win at the Bernabeau. Granted, they played poorly against Manchester United, but a 2-0 scoreline could advance them. A hard task, but not impossible considering Ronaldinho’s play and the boost of an extremely motivated David Beckham.
Their Serie A situation is also not dire. They are 4-1-2 in 2010 including a 3-0 victory at Juventus. Granted, most of their remaining tough matches are on the road, but they are a respectable 4-5-2 on the road, and have not lost at home this year in Serie A. Their roster reads like an all star team, and Silvio Berlusconi will do anything he can to improve the club.
The season has not gone as well as Milan fans have hoped, but Leonardo is improving as a manager every day, and the club will remain in the race both for the scudetto and the Champions League trophy.