Despite the 0-4 Camp Nou drubbing, Massimiliano Allegri will see the glass as half-fullFrom relegation strugglers to world beaters, now all the way back down to the role of also-rans. It’s been quite a season for Massimiliano Allegri’s Milan side and it’s not over yet.
By Shane McDermott
05:51 PM UTC 14 Mar 2013
“He knows f*** all about football.” This was the opinion expressed none other than Milan patron and president, as well as ex-prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi while campaigning in the north of Italy. Talk about a vote of confidence from the board. The knives are out for Allegri after Milan’s Champions League exit, but the club would do well to take a longer term view if they’re to rebuild on what already look like solid foundations.
Italian daily Corriere della Sera wrote on Wednesday that the most striking aspect of Tuesday’s game was that it wasn’t a game at all. Milan were simply overrun from start to finish. And while it’s hard to argue with that observation, it may be worth inserting a bit of context.
Barcelona really are some team. For those of us too young to have watched Diego Maradona in his prime, it’s even difficult to think of a side that can compare to the Catalans. Marcelo Lippi’s Juventus side had Edgar Davids and Zinedine Zidane but their football was more organization than inspiration. Manchester United in the 90’s never knew when they were beaten, but fighting spirit can only get you so far. The Galaticos at Real Madrid played some stunning football, but that was simply the sum of their highly expensive parts. You never got the sense of synergy that emerges from Messi and co.
Which made the 2-0 result at the San Siro all the stranger. Interestingly, Allegri said after that match that third place in the league was still the club’s priority. Perhaps the tactician from Tuscany didn’t want to raise hopes too high or perhaps he could see that Barcelona couldn’t possibly be as toothless at home as they were at in Milan. Then, the team lost Giampaolo Pazzini to injury after the match against Genoa. With Mario Balotelli cup tied, that was a key part of the puzzle unavailable.
Milan set out their stall to defend and strike on the break and truth be told, they almost pulled it off. Mbaye Niang almost made his starting debut in the Champions League a dream come true only to see his strike come off the post. Stephan El Shaaarwy was off-form and should have done better with a couple of chances. Had Milan scored with the game at 1-0, 2-0 or even 3-0, they would have gone through having beaten the best team in the world, rather than throwing away a 2-0 lead.
The numbers don’t lie though and 4-0 leaves no rooms for ifs or buts. From Serie A’s comeback king to Barcelona beater in the Champions League, Allegri has now once again hit the ground with a bang. Since moving to Milan three seasons ago the praise, when it has come, has been over the top and the criticism as well.
The 45-year-old polarizes opinions. Milan’s start to this season was the worst since the 1940’s. After 8 matches played, they were looking at relegation. Now with 10 games left, Milan are third and only two points behind Napoli. Another way of looking at it though, would be to say they’re only 4 points away from 6th. Ending the season outside of the European places would surely lead to Allegri leaving the club. A third place finish and he’ll be lauded as a tactical genius. The difference between those two results could be as little as three points. A fine line between winning and losing.
Matteo De Sciglio, Stephan El Shaarwy and Mbaye Niang all made their debuts under Allegri and they all have big careers ahead of them. Kevin-Prince Boateng has flourished more under Allegri’s guidance than he did in the Bundesliga or the Premiership. Kevin Constant has been transformed into an athletic full back and is playing Champions League football after arriving in Italy from the French second division. Robinho has run harder for Milan than he has in his entire career to date. There’s still a question mark over what Balotelli will bring to the party but five goals in his first five games is no slow start.
The rebuilding process at the self-described most decorated club in the world is well underway and the dirty work has been done. The club have a core of players that could still be at the club ten year from now. Whether Allegri will still be there is another question entirely.