According to that genius of the footballing “bon mot”, Giovanni Trapattoni, there are only two types of football managers – those who have been sacked and those who will be sacked.
Right now, Milan’s coach, Serb Sinisa Mihajlovic, might have good reason to reflect on Trapattoni’s home-spun philosophy. With nine games played in Serie A, the mighty Milan continue to languish in mid-table, currently in 10th position, much to the dismay of their hardcore fans. That, in itself, was enough to prompt media speculation last week that maybe the folks at Milanello have already lost faith in this season’s new coach.
A 2-1 win over Sassuolo, with goals once again coming from the two strikers signed this summer, namely Colombian Carlos Bacca and Brazillian Luiz Adriano, has taken the pressure of Mihajlovic – at least until tomorrow night’s home game against Chievo. Arguably, the turing point in this game came in the 29th minute, when Sassuolo goalkeeper Andrea Consigli was adjudged to have upended Bacca, prompting referee Gianluca Rocchi to both award Milan a penalty, converted by Bacca, and to show the red card to Consigli.
A goal and a man down with an hour still to play, Sassuolo did well to make a fight of it, equalising through a well struck Domenico Berardi free kick in the 53rd minute and only losing to Milan with Adriano’s 87th minute headed goal from a corner kick. In that sense, Sassuolo took some of the shine off Milan’s bliss.
In the meantime, it will not have been lost on Mihajlovic that, for the first time in three months, club owner, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, turned up at the Milanello training ground last Friday to rally the troops. Speaking to reporters on the same day, Mihajlovic opted to “get his retaliation in” first, claiming that he was the man get the Milan season back on track, before adding: “If I don’t succeed, you’re going to need an exorcist around here”.
Stopping for “selfies” with Milan fans on his way out of Milanello, Mr. Berlusconi learned of his coach’s “exorcist” remarks which in turn prompted him to comment: “I come with an exorcist already installed. The Boss will do the job”
We doubt very much that Mr. Berlusconi has any intention of sacking Sinisa Mihajlovic this season. Sacking a coach in mid-season is hardly his style. His 29 years as owner of the club have been marked by some long spells by some very successful coaches – Arrigo Sacchi last four seasons, Fabio Capello six and Carlo Ancelotti seven. In those 29 years, too, he has “sacked” only five coaches during the season – Swede Nils Liedholm (not appointed by him) back in 1987, Uruguayan Oscar Tabarez in 1997, Alberto Zaccheroni in 2001, Turk Fatih Terim also in 2001 and Massimo Allegri in 2014.
Whilst he might not sack Mihajlovic, Mr. Berlusconi has however been giving every indication that he intends to perform his “exorcist” role. Not only did he make himself felt and heard around Milanello but he also turned up in the Milan dressing room at the San Siro both before and after the Sassuolo game. On his way to the Milan dressing room after the game, he also dropped in on the Sassuolo dressing room too to pay his compliments.
Here, too, he indulged in a little bit of “political” fair play, at least according to the reports of both Mihajlovic and of Sassuolo’s talented coach, ex-Roma player, Eusebio Di Francesco. First, Mr. Berlusconi congratulated Di Francesco on his team’s good performance, even telling them that they had not deserved to lose to Milan. Then, he went down the corridor to his own team to congratulate them, telling them that they had deserved to win. Once a politician, always a politician, you might conclude.
As for his Milan, all is by no means lost. Such is the wide-open nature of a Serie A title-contest in which two points cover the first five in the table that, even if they are currently 10th, Milan are only five points off second place in a table that is now led by Roma. Furthermore, we still have 29 games to play in Serie A, so it is much too early to be arriving at hard and fast conclusions.
Which might also apply to Milan’s 16-year-old goalkeeper, Gianluigi Donnaruma, who became the second youngest Serie A debutant when he replaced former Real Madrid goalkeeper, Spaniard Diego Lopez, against Sassuolo. Not exactly perfect for the Berardi free kick goal, Donnarumma may get another immediate chance against Chievo tomorrow night.
Donnarumma, along with former Atletico Madrid winger, Alessio Cerci, recalled into the team because of injuries, could yet indicate the shape of things to come at the Mihajovic-coached Milan. In the meantime, if the boss turns up in the dressing room again tomorrow night, Mihajlovic would do well to bear in mind the two Trapattoni categories of coach.