AC Milan have appointed Stefano Pioli as their new coach, the Serie A club said in an official statement on Wednesday, handing him a two-year contract with the hope he will turn around the fortunes of the seven-times European champions. Milan sacked their previous coach, Marco Giampaolo on Tuesday after the team lost four of their first seven Serie A games of the season to sit 13th — 10 points off leaders, Juventus.
Pioli has coached several Serie A teams including Lazio, who he led to a third-place finish and the Coppa Italia final in the 2014-15 season as well as Inter Milan.
His last job was at Fiorentina, where he was credited with keeping the team together after the sudden death of captain Davide Astori in March 2018 threatened to derail their campaign, eventually finishing eighth.
Pioli left in April this year during his second season, saying Fiorentina had questioned his abilities following a poor run of form after they fell to 10th. The club would eventually finish 16th — three points above the relegation zone.
The new Milan boss will be wary of the “pressure” attached to his new role with the club. Milan have been on a mediocre reality for years and the last of their 18 Serie A titles came as far back as 2011. Also the last time they played in the Champions League goes back to the 2013-14 season after finishing third in the Italian top flight the previous campaign. Their woes are further compounded by the fact that the current struggles of the Rossoneri is their worst start to Serie A campaign in 80 years (via Goal).
When Milan appointed Giampaolo, there was a sense of optimism and positivity this summer as Milan appointed Marco Giampaolo with a vision of getting back to the top and doing it in style.
There were positive signs over pre-season, as Milan showed glimpses of his brand of football and that in turn suggested there would be a transformation as the campaign went on. However, seven games in and having lost four of those outings to leave the Rossoneri in 13th place, his Milan career which spanned a premature total of 111 days was called to an end.
Debate will no doubt go on as to whether Giampaolo was given enough time, but it’s unclear if there were further issues behind the scenes which ultimately forced Paolo Maldini and Zvonimir Boban to make their decision.
However, the new boss Pioli will be well aware of all the situations behind his appointment and will know anything short of an instant positive return will be bad for him. With that in mind, here are some crucial mistakes Giampaolo made that Pioli should take a cue from and correct or better the narrative.
Lack of conviction, clarity in approach
As noted by Football Italia, Giampaolo added to the scrutiny and confusion by conceding after his very first competitive game that he may have to make concessions and change his tactics and plans to suit his side.
That is a questionable move after just one game, and that arguably showed a lack of conviction and trust even in his own methods and a failure to implement his plans while the players were seemingly not good enough to adapt and make the necessary adjustments.
Should he have had more time? Perhaps, but ultimately he had a few months over the summer to either get his ideas across, or find compromises. It shouldn’t have taken the first game of the season to draw such crucial conclusions and similar questions were raised after each performance.
Conversely, some may look at that and credit him for trying to adapt in order to get the best out of his players.
Not enough improvement, failure to get ideas across
Seven games still perhaps wasn’t enough time, but it was sufficient in the eyes of the Milan management to be convinced that they needed to act and make their change now.
There were positive signs in the first half at Torino, and that was arguably the best they looked under Giampaolo in terms of team play on and off the ball.
However, from the opening-weekend loss at Udinese to the horror show against Inter and the capitulation at home to Fiorentina, those were unacceptable results and the performances were dire. Giampaolo needed his side to show improvement on a consistent basis at least in the performance aspect to show progress was being made, and ultimately he wasn’t able to and paid the price with his job.
Didn’t play new signings enough
From taking Ismael Bennacer out of the starting XI despite his impressive debut to Rafael Leao being benched against Genoa and the lack of playing time for Ante Rebic and Rade Krunic, these are all players who should have played more.
They all seemingly suit Giampaolo’s demands both on and off the ball with their energy, tenacity and technical quality, and yet he didn’t give them prominent enough roles.
Again, it comes back to whether or not he had enough time to work with them and if they would have gone on to become pillars of the side with patience. However, Giampaolo’s selections and decision-making weren’t working and it has led to the plug being pulled on his stint in charge.
Relied too much on underperforming stars
Even after Milan’s win over Genoa last weekend, a game in which Suso did little to impress, Giampaolo praised the Spaniard and insisted he had a good game, as per Daily Mail.
By also sticking with Hakan Calhanoglu and Franck Kessie as well as giving Lucas Biglia and Samu Castillejo plenty of playing time, he was showing too much trust and reliance in players who simply weren’t delivering and have been consistently not good enough in recent times.
Suso and Calhanoglu were arguably the most culpable in that regard, and while they need to take responsibility yet again as another coach has departed, Giampaolo’s insistence on continuing to start them and leave them in the side in crucial roles without offering enough quality and consistency was a major factor in his own downfall.
In terms of performances, Suso’s creative output has taken a negative turn and is well highlighted by his statistics. As per Whoscored, Suso averaged 2.7 shots, 2.8 key passes and 1.9 dribbles per game during the 2018-19 campaign. Those numbers have dwindled and the Spaniard has only managed 2.3 shots, 2.3 key passes and 1.7 dribbles per 90 minutes so far this terms. Indicating that the 25-year-old has been performing below his considered standard this season and based on that, perhaps he should have been dropped from the starting lineup.
Back in September, Giampaolo remained convinced that Suso was capable of playing as a trequartista, as noted by the clubs’ official website, and it was calls like that which also must have seen him lose a sense of confidence and perhaps contributed to the decision to axe him.
Stefano Pioli’s appointment might still look a harsh decision on former boss Marco Giampaolo but based on the “fragile” nature of things at the Milan hierarchy, the desperate need for instant positive results means Pioli has to keep his head up and must show progress with the side by first righting the wrongs of the former manager. Pioli was signed on a two-year-contract but only time will tell if he will stay that long with the Rossoneri.