BY ADITYA BAJAJ | Follow@adityabajaj
For 27 years, Adriano Galliani has been Milan through and through. His importance to the club can never be undermined and if the club today boasts of being a traditional powerhouse its majorly because of the players signed by ‘Uncle Fester’ (as he is fondly called), throughout his tenure as the second in command at Milan. A master negotiator, his magical skills at coaxing clubs into letting go of their prized assets for cheap made him the best at what he did in Europe. Add to that, his eye for players who were troubled but at the same time massively talented and the Rossoneri were easily one of the best players in the transfer market.
His record speaks 28 trophies in 27 years, but today if at all the club is struggling it is majorly down to some dubious decisions taken by the club under his watch very early this summer.
“Milan are planning a return to that tactic, but it was not dictated by President Berlusconi. We simply decided to adopt this system when we signed Riccardo Saponara from Empoli, seeing as he is a trequartista. The moment we signed him it was obvious we'd play with 4-3-1-2 and not 4-3-3", is what Galliani said back in June amidst allegations that one of the conditions that President Silvio Berlusconi had put on the table while deciding Massimiliano Allegri’s fate was the forceful implementation of the 4-3-1-2 – a formation synonymous with the great Milan side of last decade.
Now why would anyone destabilize a team that had performed exceptionally well since playing in a 4-3-3 since November of last year and in the process having won 17 of their 26 games and losing just two until the end of the season in May? It’s imperative to note, that in the second half of that season, the Rossoneri were the best team in Serie A and the only reason they could have missed out on the Champions League was because of the horrendous start where the team collected a miserly 14 points in the first 12 games of the season.
The presence of players like Stephan El Sharaawy and M'baye Niang on the wings supporting Mario Balotelli in the centre provided Allegri not only with pace and width upfront but also tremendous support to his full backs. Strength on the wings is what Milan had and after a torrid summer where the club went through a massive clear out releasing veterans and two of the best players in the world, it seemed like at least they were moving in the right direction.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and the veterans were history while El Sharaawy, Balotelli, Niang and Mattia De Sciglio represented the future of this new Milan that had decided to promote youth and build on the foundation owing to the financial difficulties at the club. But the laughable decision at the top to clip the wings and switch to a more traditional two striker system backed up by a trequartista, really pegged the club back to square one.
The purchase of Ricky Saponara, considered to be one of the best young players in Italy today and the pursuit of Keisuke Honda represented an extension to the new philosophy the club was supposed to be following moving forward coming into the new season. A philosophy that promoted youngsters pretty much like what Barcelona had done back in 2008. But when you switch philosophies in the middle of the transfer season, you obviously have to change your whole strategy (if there was one at all) as to the kind of players that need to be brought in to suit the new formation.
Instead, Milan waited until the end of the mercato – a habit Galliani has developed over the past few seasons with mixed results – and ended up buying the likes of Valter Birsa, Ricky Kaka and Alessandro Matri who was brought in from Juventus for an appalling €12 million. Switching to a two striker system meant Milan needed another striker to support Balotelli, while the search for a back up to Kaka called out for the signing of Birsa from Genoa.
|Niang, Balotelli and Sharaawy | Once the future of Milan, the trio's fate hangs in the balance today|
Now though Kaka has shown glimpses of his former self, that doesn’t change the fact that despite much promise of promoting youth, the club once again resorted back to relying on veterans. Niang didn’t seem to fit in the two striker system, while before getting injured at the start of the season El Sharaawy wasn’t really at his best in a supporting role, as his primary position is on the left wing where he uses his tremendous pace to cut into the heart of the defence.
Matri was repeatedly preferred to partner Balotelli even before the Egyptian Italian fell prey to a string of injuries. The 21-year old is easily one of Milan’s more reliable options upfront and forcing him to adapt rather than play to his strength is appalling to say the least.
Is it just a co-incidence that Milan’s best performance all season was the 3-0 victory in the Champions League qualifiers against PSV when they lined up exactly the way they did for the better half of 2012-13?
Yes, the numerous injuries to the squad mean the options are lacking but at least before the summer Milan did have a plan. It would have been an altogether different thing had they concentrated on buying players based on last season’s blueprint instead of starting once again from zero having already done that in the summer of 2012. What’s funnier is that Milan have neither been able to effectively use the 4-3-1-2 nor are they well equipped to start with the 4-3-3 due to the lack of enforcement in the summer.
While Adriano Galliani has been a master at dealing and wheeling in the market over the years, his deficiency at handling the same with a limited budget has hampered Milan. His lack of faith in youth is another issue that needed to be addressed and that’s exactly what Barbara Berlusconi – who called for heads to be chopped from the top – has been wanting to implement to kick start a revolution at the club.
Yes, Galliani cannot shoulder all the blame as the financial difficulties both in Milan and Italy have handcuffed him and forced him to deal the way he has in the last few seasons but he has failed to adapt. Always relying on experience and age, Uncle Fester’s blind eye towards promoting youth is the reason why the team is so mediocre to the say the very least at this point of the season. Lady B’s assertion that scouting for young talent and tapping their potential at a very early stage should be the plan for the future given the limited budget in hand and Galliani’s failure to do exactly that is why she rose against the man who built the club into what it is today over the past 27 years.
His resignation may have been rejected (expectedly) by President Berlusconi, but how he will work in tandem with the same lady who tried to force him out of the club will be interesting to see. The two barely see eye to eye and the partnership has failure written all over it, though the only positive is that Galliani is not the only with all the power at the top. With Barbara making her presence feel, he can no longer take his position for granted.
With the arrival of Adil Rami and Keisuke Honda in January and the return of El Sharaawy and Mattia De Sciglio from injury, Milan will be a much different and better side than they are at the moment but if they are to move forward, the dubious decisions to destabilize the squad have to be stopped from the top. They have to stick to the system that has worked and continue building on that which is what should have been done in the mercato.
Having clipped their wings in the summer, Adriano Galliani has a massive task to take this club forward in the right direction and trust the youth because now a certain Lady B is watching ready to pounce at any chance she gets to make the changes at the top, which is exactly what Milan need at the moment.
Adriano Galliani is a legend and his experience and contacts in the business of dealing with others is invaluable to Milan. But sometimes even legends have to adapt in order to preseve their legacy.
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