Sinisa Mihajlovic is set to become the fourth AC man to take the helm of AC Milan in the past sixteen months. Since the sacking of Massimiliano Allegri, a coach who brought the club their eighteenth scudetto and achieved the double with Juventus, Milan have gone with appointing club legends to the position and then shaming them publicly before sacking them rather unceremoniously.
Unfortunately that has not worked out to anyone’s liking.
First, it was Clarence Seedorf who was thrust into the position by President Silvio Berlusconi, without any coaching experience in any level of soccer it was always going to be an uphill battle for the Dutchman. An eighth place finish and failure to qualify for Europe spelled the end for Seedorf.
Then it was Adriano Galliani’s turn to put his favorite in the position. At the behest of Galliani, Inzaghi won the job with only one year as coach of the Primavera and a Viareggio Cup victory in his resume. The feeling was he was ready to take on the massive project of bringing Milan back to the top, however with little investment in the team and a lack of tactical acumen it was no surprise to anyone when Milan finished out of Europe again, this time in the middle of the table in tenth place.
So now with two steps backwards being taken since the exoneration of Allegri, it is not a former legend of the Rossoneri that Berlusconi and Galliani are eyeing up to restore pride to Milan but a former Nerazzurro, Sinisa Mihajlovic.
The linking of Mihajlovic to the bench at Milan has caused quite a stir. The Serbian was involved in many clashes against the Rossoneri as a player at both Lazio and Internazionale. His rumored appointment has turned some heads especially since in 2010 the Serbian went on record saying “I would never coach Milan, out of respect to Inter.”
It seems Mihajlovic is willing to go back on his word, but to be fair to him, he certainly isn’t the first coach to take over at a rival of a club he once played for and he certainly won’t be the last. Giovanni Trapattoni, a Milan legend, enjoyed much success at rivals Juventus and Inter. Also it wasn’t long ago that Carlo Ancelotti took Juventus to two second place finishes in 2000 and 2001, he was welcomed back to Milan with open arms.
There are many examples of this in world football and players or coaches remaining fully loyal to their club is very rare. Even Leonardo, a beloved Milanista for many years, took a crack at the Inter bench, it didn’t end well but it was fun watching it. The era of complete loyalty to one club is over, players change clubs all the time, why should coaches be any different? Sentimentality can often cloud judgement, however the only thing that should be scrutinized is Mihajlovic’s ability as a coach and the Serbian has proven he can handle the job.
As a defender Mihajlovic earned a reputation as a hard man, and rightfully so. A European Cup winner with Red Star Belgrade in 1991, Mihajlovic was a member of the Yugoslavian golden generation along with players like Davor Sukur, Zvonomir Boban and Robert Prosinecki. He is probably most well-known for his fearless attitude, bone crunching tackles and as a free kick specialist, racking up an incredible 28 goals from the dead ball (a Serie A record) during his days with Roma, Sampdoria, Lazio and Inter.
After retiring in 2006, Sinisa Mihajlovic went to school on the Inter bench. His teacher, Roberto Mancini, claimed two Serie A titles with the Serbian as his assistant. From there he spread his wings and took on challenges at Bologna and Catania before landing his first semi-big role at Fiorentina. Mihajlovic led the Viola to a 9th place finish in his only full season in charge after taking over from Cesare Prandelli who left the city of Florence to take over the Nazionale.
Mihajlovic was sacked in November of 2011 after a loss to Chievo Verona left him with only 3 wins on the season. Mihajlovic returned to Serie A after a short stint with the Serbian national team, this time it was at Sampdoria where Sinisa would find his footing as a coach in the Italian game. Mihajlovic led the Blucherciati to a 7th place finish and Europa league place in his second season in charge, earning himself interest from Inter, Milan and several other European clubs. In fact it was his former mentor Mancini who claimed that with the results he was achieving, Mihajlovic would soon be on the Inter bench. Mancini was right about one thing, he will be coaching at the San Siro, except it will be with rivals Milan. Despite his former allegiances, there is only one true question that should be asked of Sinisa, will he be the proper fit for the Rossoneri at this particular time in their history.
Many see this as a train wreck waiting to happen and some fans are against the idea of a former Inter player on their bench but is this romantic idea of loyalty to the colors clouding their judgement? After all, even Juventus fans threatened to boycott after their hero Antonio Conte was replaced by Massimiliano Allegri in the summer of 2014, only to lead Juventus to the league and cup double and their first Champions League final since 2003. It is unfair to hold Mihajlovic up to such high standards and major question marks remain over whether the Serbian will return the Rossoneri to their former glories, however, Mihajlovic may be just the man Milan need in their current incarnation.
A stonewall disciplinarian, Mihajlovic leads with an iron fist. Exactly what a team like Milan need at this particular time. While in charge at Serbia, he drafted up a code of conduct contract and made every player sign and obey. One of the clauses forced his players to sing the national anthem, and when one of the players Adem Ljajic was in breach of the contract he was dropped. When Sampdoria took a chance on former Barcelona and Inter star Samuel Eto’o, Sinisa showed no favoritism to the Cameroonian. A training bust up between coach and player just a couple days after the striker’s arrival threatened to end Samuel’s stay in Genoa before it even started. The Cameroonian protested after Mihajlovic forced a double training session on the team after an embarrassing 5-1 defeat at Torino. The coach in this instance also showed he could reason, forgive and forget. When Eto’o apologized for his conduct, Mihajlovic welcomed him back into the squad. Most of the complaints with this current crop of Milan players is a lack of commitment and fire, what the Italians like to call “grinta.” Gattuso is probably the best example of grinta, Inzaghi had it too he just lacked the ability to bring it out in the players. Players who don’t pull their own weight under Mihajlovic will come under intense scrutiny from the Serbian who accepts no excuses and pulls no punches.
President Berlusconi is on the verge of reaching an agreement with Thai businessman Mr. Bee for a 48% stake in the club. What this means in the short term for Milan may be unclear. Will Mr. Bee splash out the cash as a minority partner? Will Berlusconi be willing to spend the money invested by Mr. Bee? Will it be another transfer market of freebies and aging players masquerading as their former selves? Whoever takes over at Milan from Inzaghi will once again be dropped into the deep end with no water wings, more questions than answers will most likely be available.
Mihajlovic has almost ten years of coaching experience both as an assistant and head coach and has shown with all of his appointments that he can handle a shoe-string budget and get the best out of young talent and older stars as well. Also in the event of investment he will hopefully get a say in which players are acquired even though that has not been the case with Milan managers in the past.
With Mihajlovic at the helm Milan will have something it hasn’t had in a long time, an identity. Regardless of the crop of players, the fiery Serb will try and get the best from each and every member of a group of players who need a strong leader. Someone to show them how to act professionally and give everything for the colors. No doubt there are massive gaps in the make-up of the squad, but a good foundation is there. Players like Stefan el Shaarawy, Mattia De Sciglio, Andrea Poli, Diego Lopez and Suso are in need of motivation and will be dedicated if pushed to the limit.
A man of Mihajlovic’s intensity can get them going. Toughen them up, make them fight and battle for every point as his Sampdoria side did. Could the Serbian be the one to bring about the stability to rebuild Riccardo Montolivo’s struggling career? Remember him? Mihajlovic managed Montolivo while at Fiorentina and the two shared a good working relationship. Will this reunion bring out the best in the Milan captain?
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