After weeks of frustration and poor results, AC Milan finally decided to part company with Vincenzo Montella on Monday, and replaced him with club legend Gennaro Gattuso. Question marks remain, as the Rossoneri must salvage something from this season, with Gattuso now the man entrusted to lead the side to improved results.
Here are five things that the former Milan midfielder must address …
Prove that he can do the job
First and foremost, the 39-year-old has to provide early proof that he’s even capable of taking on such a high-level position as there are real doubts. Previous stints at Sion, Palermo, OFI Crete and Pisa have resulted in an underwhelming 31.4 percent winning rate, which doesn’t do much to instil confidence.
There’s no doubt that he’ll bring passion to the job and fire the players up, but with the top job comes a new level of scrutiny and challenges, and we’ll have to see if Gattuso has the tactical know-how and experience to cope with tacticians who have achieved a lot more than him.
Get the players playing on the same page
Arguably the biggest issue under Montella this season was the lack of cohesion and understanding between the players. Milan were too often predictable and ineffective from an attacking perspective, and Gattuso must keep it simple and ensure his players do their jobs effectively.
The Rossoneri have been better organised defensively in recent weeks, but that has to be balanced with a side capable of scoring goals with a dynamic and dangerous threat. There’s no doubt Gattuso has been watching the senior side while in change of the Primavera, and he’ll hopefully have picked up on which individuals he can rely on moving forward.
Help the new players settle in and not be overawed by pressure
The new signings from the summer haven’t all settled as expected, with Hakan Calhanoglu perhaps the best example of that as he has seemingly struggled to cope with the pressure that has been placed on his shoulders.
Having spent 13 years with Milan as a player prior to returning as a coach this past summer, few will know better than Gattuso what it means to be play for the club and the expectations that come with that.
In turn, he will hopefully have a positive impact in getting the group of players performing with more confidence and belief and make it less of a burden to play for such a big club and to stand up and be counted when things get tough.
Improve Serie A position
After 14 games played, Milan sit in seventh position in the Serie A table with a meagre points tally of 20, which has left them 11 points adrift of fourth place. Their malaise this season also leaves them 18 points off top spot, and that’s simply too big a gap given the investment this past summer.
In truth, it’s difficult to see how they can reduce the gap between now and the end of the season given the form of the top four, but Gattuso must at least push them into the top six and build from there.
Given he’s likely to be a short-term appointment, the Milan hierarchy will undoubtedly expect an immediate reaction, and it’s hoped that Gattuso is the right man to guide them up the table as quick, and as far as possible.
Lead a deep Europa League run
Having also faltered in Europe in the group stage, it’s an ambitious claim to suggest that Milan have a genuine chance of winning the tournament.
There are still top clubs involved coupled with those that will drop down from the Champions League still to come, and so it will likely prove difficult to go all the way.
However, it’s become apparent it’s their most realistic route to get back into the Champions League for next season, and so this will without doubt be a major test for Gattuso to prove himself in Europe against top opposition.
It’s difficult to really establish what the realistic objectives for this season are now, as it could be argued Milan have to write this campaign off in terms of their long-term plans. A new coach will be appointed next year and will undoubtedly want to stamp his mark on the squad, and so for all the excitement of this past summer, it looks like hitting the reset button is inevitable at the end of the season.
That’s of course unless Gattuso can prove himself to be a genius appointment, but given the experiences of his former teammates Clarence Seedorf and Filippo Inzaghi in the Milan hotseat in recent years, he has his work cut out for him to buck the trend.
Sumeet Paul covers AC Milan for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @SP_Calcio.