By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer
Before kick-off, some of AC Milan’s great European nights in recent memory were shown on San Siro’s giant screens. There was last season’s 4-0 demolition of Arsenal and the 2003 Old Trafford coronation against Juventus among others, with the club seemingly hoping to inspire the players and fans ahead of the Champions League fare that was to follow. But the 90 minutes of football which was served up by the Italian giants on Tuesday night will certainly not make it onto any highlight reels any time soon.
The goalless draw with Anderlecht served only to deepen the Diavolo’s crisis, with the first 45 minutes in particular leaving the home faithful completely dejected. It wasn’t until the introduction of Stephan El Shaarawy on the hour mark that a Milan player made even a half-chance off the back of decent movement. While the travelling support sang several songs in multiple languages, the masses in the Curva Sud could barely bring themselves to raise their voice even once. And who could blame them?
Their heroes are not their heroes anymore. The heart has been ripped out of the club with the summer sales, but they are also the most lifeless outfit Italian football has to offer right now. Massimiliano Allegri is being exposed as a tactical pygmy, while the players that remain after the clear out are simply unable to inspire any real change to the flow whenever things are going against them on the field. They are clueless, lifeless and completely devoid of the drive needed to drag the side out of their current rut. It hasn’t ever been this bad under the current regime.
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Sure, they have had dips in form since the arrival of Silvio Berlusconi in 1986. After Fabio Capello left for Real Madrid, they followed four titles in five seasons with an 11th-placed finish and would only come 10th when the Don returned for the next season. Then there was the spells under Alberto Zaccheroni, Fatih Terim and Carlo Ancelotti which saw the Rossoneri finish no higher than third in a four-year period, but even that culminated in a European title in 2003.
This, though, is very different. The current Milan bring back memories of the Leonardo-led team of 2009-10 which was regularly exposed for its lack of tactical discipline and technical ability on the wrong side of the ball. But at least amidst 4-0 defeats to Inter and Manchester United, and other high-scoring failures, there was a modicum of fun about the team’s style that season.The Brazilian might not have had a clue what he was doing on the bench, but he sent out Ronaldinho, Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf, David Beckham and Alexandre Pato with the modus operandi of entertaining the spectators nonetheless. His ‘4-2-crazy’ ideal was unsuccessful, but it was swashbuckling all the same.
Under Allegri, there is anything but fun. They are not winning, they are not entertaining, and they are simply not any good. Kevin-Prince Boateng is now seen as the flair player in their starting XI, yet it was his power rather than his panache which made him a surprise star after arriving from Genoa in 2010, and these days he looks as short of fitness as he does of ideas. He is by no means the only one, but the difference between his demeanour and his play from last season to this is perhaps the most stark.
"Allegri said they are taking small steps in the right direction, but such claims insult supporters forced to sit through utter dirge"
One thing is for sure: the fans will not blithely sit by and just allow the club to fall into disrepair. They are proud, even if the players are not. Allegri claimed after the draw with Anderlecht that the Rossoneri are taking small steps in the right direction, and his players echoed those sentiments, but such talk is insulting to the supporters who have been forced to sit through utter dirge so far this season. They are now third favourites in their Champions League group in most neutrals’ eyes, they have just three points to show from one of the more straightforward schedules they could have been handed by the Serie A fixture computer, and the last Milan player to score at San Siro was Allievi coach Filippo Inzaghi.
The old saying that things must get worse before they get better holds a hell of a lot of weight. The only question now is, just how bad will it get before the nadir is reached and things start to look up again? They are already as bad as any team in their president’s reign, and the worst may yet be still to come.Follow Kris Voakes on