Football Features

Stefano Pioli: The new AC Milan manager some fans already want #out

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 17:41, 9 October 2019

AC Milan have appointed Stefano Pioli as their new manager.

The 53-year-old has stepped in on a two-year deal after the Rossoneri sacked Marco Giampaolo after just seven games in charge (at 111 days, he has presided over the shortest tenure in the club’s history). It’s a pretty big call to ditch a coach after just seven games but with Milan just three points off the relegation zone in Serie A, having lost more than they’d won, the board felt a change was needed.

Enter Stefano Pioli.

Who is Stefano Pioli?

Stefano Pioli is a journeyman Italian coach who has managed up and down the Italian leagues since 2003. He began coaching all the way back in the last millennium, showing promise by guiding Bologna’s youth team to success. Salernitana was his big break in the first-team dugout, while he made his Serie A debut as a coach over 10 years ago in 2006 with Parma.

That didn’t work out too well though; Parma struggled, found themselves in the relegation zone, and Pioli was sacked by February. He then moved around the lower division again with Grosseto, Piacenza and Sassuolo, before reappearing in Serie A in 2010. First with Chievo, then Palermo, where he lasted just 90 days (he just missed out on Javier Pastore who joined PSG that summer and arrived just before Paulo Dybala).

After Palermo there was Bologna, and then finally success (of a sort) with Lazio. Pioli built his side around Felipe Anderson and Miroslav Klose. The German was old but coming off a memorable 2014 World Cup win and he produced a 13-goal league campaign that fired the Biancocelesti to third in 2014/15. That’s the highest finish Lazio have managed since they won Serie A all the way back in 1999/00.

But that success didn’t last; Lazio fell off hard and he was sacked just a season later. Then he somehow got a job with Inter Milan, replacing Frank de Boer in November 2016. He started off well enough: 10 Serie A wins in his first 13 games. But a winless run of seven, including five defeats, ran him out of town after just six months in charge. Finally, he managed Fiorentina for two non-eventful years before resigning last April.

Pioli’s sides tend to be nice to watch, playing open attractive football in a 4-3-3 shape (a shape that suits a lot of Milan’s current players). Importantly, he likes his sides to press ferociously from the front. That will help him modernise Milan, playing fast and aggressively to give the Rossoneri a real attitude. Moreover his trust in youth will appeal to a club that is famous for following a similar philosophy.

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How do Milan fans feel?

Well, they’re not happy. Before the announcement was made, or even before Giampaolo was sacked, ‘PioliOut’ starting circulating on Twitter, with the hashtag becoming the number one trend in Italy.

Plus, he doesn’t have the pull of say Gennaro Gattuso, a club legend and a provider of hilarious content. He was also a pretty good coach between 2017 and last May, guiding Milan back into Europe (only for them to withdraw this season for breaching Financial Fair Play rules), but he resigned due to the stress and mental pressure the job was exerting on him. Now, Gattuso wasn’t perfect but he genuinely loved the club and gave it his all. That level of loyalty engendered the same from Milan’s ultras.

Pioli, on the other hand, has no connection to Milan. And more to the point he has never shown in his career the capability to really elevate a side to greatness. Yeah, that Lazio side were pretty good and worthy of praise – but it didn’t last.

Yes, he’s also got good ideas about playing expansively and counter-pressing, and yes his 4-3-3 shape will suit a lot of current Milan players, but it’s all very middle of the road. It’s good, not great. And Milan, one of the world’s most historic clubs, should be aiming for great.

In fact, they were aiming for great – which is the principle reason the fans are now upset. There had been rumours that the Rossoneri were after Luciano Spalletti and lots of rumours appeared to that effect. Now Spalletti is an elite coach who, sure, has the kind of temperament that can lead to disaster – but he’s also an innovator with razor sharp ideas. But in the end, they have wound up with Pioli. So even though Pioli is good, the comedown makes him seem worse than he is.

The second problem Pioli has (for Milan, anyway) is that nothing he builds lasts. He’s never managed a club for more than 100 games, and he has lasted more than a single season just three times in his career. Three times from 14 separate appointments. That’s not good at all for Milan who right now need stability.

Pioli will be the 10th manager Milan have had in the last five years. That is staggering incoherence. For reference the nine Milan managers prior to 2014 reigned over a total of 17 years. Milan need someone who can come in and pick up on the good work that Gattuso began, but they also need someone to ensure that the project endures, and that the Rossoneri become a stable side again.

Milan don’t need a solution that will last for one season (or a maximum of two) which will then need changing again, as Pioli would offer. The regime in charge is short-sighted enough that adding a short-term manager like Pioli to the mix is just asking for trouble.

The board are the real cause of the fans ire, because they clearly have no plan and are making this up as they go. But sometimes even when you’re winging it, you get it right (e.g. Gattuso) but here they seem to have got it quite wrong.

Stefano Pioli is a good coach, and in the short-term he will certainly stabilise Milan and probably even improve them. But he doesn’t have the stamina to last over the medium and long-term, which given their short-termist board, is just what the Rossoneri need right now.