Between January 2014 and now, AC Milan have had eight different coaches sit at the helm at the San Siro. From Massimiliano Allegri via Filippo Inzaghi to Vincenzo Montella, the responsibility of taking the Rossoneri forward currently falls on the shoulders of Gennaro Gattuso.
That’s a significant amount of turnover in a short space of time. Granted Mauro Tassotti had one interim outing in charge while Cristian Brocchi lasted just seven games. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Montella is the only coach of that group to survive beyond one season.
With such regularity in change comes instability and broken progression. There had been positive signs under Montella and Sinisa Mihajlovic, but it wasn’t sustained and now Milan hope another club icon can come to their rescue.
Since being appointed in November, Gattuso has won five, drawn two and lost three of his games in charge.
The 40-year-old enjoyed a glittering playing career with Milan, making 468 appearances for the club while winning Serie A titles and Champions League trophies in a highly successful era for the Italian giants.
Now, he’s tasked with getting Milan back to the top of the tree, the club having disappointed and underwhelmed after last summer’s spending spree. But is he capable of doing so?
Combative, tenacious and oozing commitment as a player, it was to be expected that he would impart those hallmark characteristics on his squad. However, the true litmus test was whether or not he had the tactical nous and experience to compete with his peers and get the best out of his players at such a high level.
Former teammates and current stars have lined up to give him their backing, with Paolo Maldini and Giacomo Bonaventura the latest to throw their support behind Gattuso this week.
In his defence, results have started to improve. Milan are unbeaten in their last four games in all competitions, with the win over rivals Inter in the Coppa Italia last month now beginning to look like a potential turning point in the season.
However, it’s not yet enough to suggest that Gattuso is comfortably on the path to earning the right to coach this side beyond this campaign.
The Rossoneri have struggled to see off Crotone and Cagliari in their last two outings, while back-to-back meetings with Lazio in the space of three days will give us a better indication of whether or not real progress is being made.
Perhaps Gattuso sees it as two stages of a battle to prove himself. First, Milan must pick up results, climb the table and advance in the cup competitions to keep their hopes of winning silverware this year alive and possibly qualifying for the Champions League.
Beyond that though, he must target a more convincing, consistent and commanding style of play that not only delivers results, which is ultimately the minimum expectation, but also one that provides entertainment too.
For a club with the history and prestige of Milan coupled with the culture developed over the years to play expansive and attractive football, there is a demand for that to continue.
Former Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi would have irked many supporters with his admission this week that he doesn’t watch the club any longer due to the manner of their performances. While it’s not quite the message you want to hear, in truth he may well have a point.
An inability to dominate games against supposed inferior opposition is a problem, and so if Gattuso harbours ambitions of lasting beyond this season, he’s got to continue picking up results but almost as importantly, Milan have to look good in the process.
Naturally, there have been some high-profile alternatives mooted by the media in recent months, with Chelsea boss Antonio Conte amongst the group.
In many ways, comparisons could be drawn between the pair, minus the obvious lack of silverware with regards to Gattuso compared to his compatriot’s haul with both Juventus and Chelsea.
The pair were similar players on the pitch, have both gone on to coach the club that they established their name with during their playing career and there are some obvious character traits that they share with that grit and obsessive determination to be better than the opposition.
So, is Gattuso “Milan’s Conte”? The next five months will determine whether or not he gets an opportunity to follow in his footsteps or if the Chelsea boss will be getting a call in the summer.
As mentioned above though, positive results are just part of the battle. Having spent big last summer and with so many technically gifted players at his disposal with the likes of Hakan Calhanoglu, Suso, Bonaventura and Andre Silva, if Milan don’t impress with their style of play between now and May, the hierarchy may be seeking a ninth new boss in just over four years.
Sumeet Paul covers AC Milan for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @SP_Calcio.