Nick Sabetti: Towering expectations the last thing a middling Milan needs

AC Milan is no longer the club it used to be, but the expectations are still sky high, which will inevitably further dampen the team’s spirits and jeopardize its transition season

On Sunday in Sicily, the day after Palermo drew Cagliari 1-1 at home, Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini decided to fire head coach Giuseppe Sannino. With his side now winless in its first three matches of the Serie A season, Zamparini explained to the Italian media that he had made this decision because he was afraid that his Palermo side would finish in the bottom three and get relegated to Serie B.

Forming a judgment of the quality, or lack thereof, of a club’s personnel after only a few weeks into an almost year-long season can often be a premature thing to do, but that’s precisely what usually tends to occur in the crazy world of football, especially in Italy.

Like Palermo, AC Milan has also only played three games in Serie A so far. However, the vehement wave of criticism that has emerged over the last 48 hours across the Italian peninsula concerning Milan’s very slow start to its Serie A campaign is substantiated.

In its first three games, Milan has won once and lost twice. Both losses have come at home against Sampdoria and most recently against Atalanta. The last time Milan lost its first two home games was in 1930.

Following the 1-0 loss to Atalanta, former AC Milan star Zvonimir Boban said on Sky Sports television that the team is “lacking quality” and that this is “the worst AC Milan side in 25 years.” With Milan having sold a meager 23,618 season tickets (the lowest figure in the Silvio Berlusconi era), Rossoneri fans are clearly in the same frame of mind.

With the departures of Andrea Pirlo, Alessandro Nesta, Clarence Seedorf, Filippo Inzaghi, Antonio Cassano, Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Milan no longer has a single star player that it can really brag about. Alexandre Pato would be a star if not for his incessant injuries and Kevin Prince Boateng, a very good player and a fan favorite among the Milan faithful for his physical prowess and his impeccable Michael Jackson dance moves, wouldn’t have much of a chance of cracking the starting lineups of today’s elite European sides.

There were many headlines in Sunday’s Gazzetta Dello Sport that bemoaned Milan’s loss to Atalanta on Saturday, and there was one that read: “Milan, where are you?” The truth is that the glory days - the days of Arrigo Sacchi and revolutionary tactics, the days of Champions League triumphs and Scudettos, and the days of Andriy Shevchenko and Paolo Maldini - are long gone.

What’s worse, and also telling of how depreciated Milan has become, is the fact that the team is no longer feared. There was a time when Milan was the last team you wanted to play - not anymore.

It really didn’t take long for Atalanta, a bottom half side in Serie A, to figure out that Saturday’s game at the San Siro was definitely one for the taking, and even former Milan boss Fabio Capello went on last week about how Zenit St. Petersburg and Malaga – good teams, but nothing more - would be able to cause Milan considerable problems in the Champions League group stage.

Though the financial crisis is a big reason as to why Milan finds itself in such a dire situation, careless mismanagement is another. Milan stuck to its older players for far too long and also wasted money on declining stars like Ronaldinho and David Beckham or on patch-up players like Ibrahimovic.

The money that was dished out on the Swedish international could have been better spent elsewhere. He did well in the short term and helped Milan win a Scudetto, but he only covered up Milan’s many frailties and instilled the illusion that everything was fine.

Over the last few years, there’s been little to no attempt of a transition from the old legendary guard to a new one, there have been no additions from the youth setup and there’s barely even been a mention of upgrading infrastructure; Milan will now have to pay the serious consequences.


The club finds itself with a huge vacuum to fill and they don’t have the money to do it so hastily like Chelsea has done. And so this season will be only one of several or many transition seasons, because returning to greatness is now going to take considerable time. One simple solution would be for Berlusconi to sell his club to someone who actually has the means to pump money into purchasing players, though whether the former Italian Prime Minister is willing to put his beloved club on the market is another matter.

For now, the reality is that Juventus, Inter, Napoli, Lazio and Roma all clearly possess stronger rosters than Milan. Head coach Massimiliano Allegri insisted at the beginning of the season that Milan could contend for the Scudetto this year, but hopefully by now, with the slow start Milan has had to its campaign, the club will begin to lower its expectations to a much more reasonable level, like qualifying for next season’s Europa League. Not doing so will only make matters much worse.

Taking pressure off the players might be the only way to make this season respectable.