5 Issues That AC Milan Manager Clarence Seedorf Must Address to Save the Season
For those who suspected that things were a little too quiet at the San Siro this season, this week's news soon put paid to that.
With AC Milan just six points off the relegation zone, embattled coach Massimiliano Allegri bid "Ciao" to the Rossoneri as he was sacked and promptly shown the door.
In his place has come the articulate, accomplished and absorbing Clarence Seedorf, the former Milan midfielder who enjoyed such a successful spell in Italy as a player.
Having been Milan's standard bearer between 2002 and 2012, the former Dutch international made over 400 appearances for the Black and Reds, winning two Scudetti and two Champions League titles as well as capturing the Coppa Italia on two occasions.
Since departing Milan, he signed for Brazilian outfit Botafogo. But, as he told reporters who had assembled in Rio de Janeiro (as stated by The Guardian), it wasn't a difficult decision to return to Italy: "It's a place where I spent 10 years of my life so when the president asked me I couldn't say no."
Furthermore, he may be joined in the dugout by compatriot and former team-mate Jaap Stam. With the two having played together for both Milan and the Dutch national team, the Corriere dello Sport report that the championship-winning pair could reunite.
Reported to have signed a two-and-a-half-year contract, Seedorf's inbox will be overflowing when he arrives at the club's Milanello training ground.
Let's take a look at the five most pressing issues that require his attention.
Instill Confidence in Underperforming Stars
Milan once struck fear in the hearts of all opposition. Now they languish in 11th place, 30 points behind leaders Juventus.
Out of luck, out of form and out of sync, Milan have not resembled much of a team, more a bunch of hapless individuals who have been told to chase a ball. They have even struggled to do that.
Last weekend's game against Sassuolo, where the prodigal youngster Domenico Berardi (co-owned by Juventus) scored four to defeat the Rossoneri 4-3 and consign Allegri to the job-seekers queue, was proof that this team lacks discipline.
They desperately need a morale-boosting uplift. This is where Seedorf and his success stories come in.
Anybody who has watched a post-match interview with the Dutchman or experienced him as a pundit will know that he is an engaging individual who oozes knowledge and is blessed with show-stopping charisma.
What he needs to do is put an arm over the shoulder of these underperforming stars and establish why it is that they been playing in such a diabolic fashion.
Have they been playing out of position? Are they disillusioned with life in Milan? Have they got concerns outside of football?
To compound their misery, Stephan El Shaarawy—a star performer in the first half of last season before fading terribly—will be missing for up to three months with a foot injury.
Make a Marquee Signing
With a team of established internationals, January is not the time to make wholesale changes. Seedorf would risk upsetting whatever harmony remains in the changing room.
But just imagine the lift in morale among the team and their loyal supporters if he could land a blockbuster signing, an individual who could galvanise a side which is lacking cohesion.
As will be established, vice president Adriano Galliani stated that the club need to sell before they can buy. Therefore, here's a realistic proposition: Sell weary goalkeeper Christian Abbiati and replace him with Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
Having been frozen out at the Bernabeu, the Spanish stopper would benefit from a change of scenery, a new challenge and—ahead of the World Cup—a renewed run in a team. As talkSPORT reported in September, AC Milan have a Casillas-shaped void.
The questionof whether the funds are there to bring in a player of world-class quality remains, though. Having signed Keisuke Honda from CSKA Moscow on a free transfer and Adil Rami on loan, this does not smack of a team flush with resources.
With the Red Devils' team captain a free agent at the end of the season, his agent stated to Italy's Radio Crc that the Serbian international will not be short on suitors. As The Guardian's Jamie Jackson reports, it looks as if his eight-year stay at Old Trafford is over.
The slower pace of Serie A could provide a new challenge for a player who has been troubled with injuries.
Stave off Transfer Bids for Valued Players
We are in the throes of the January transfer window. Ergo, there will be rumours, whisperings and speculation linking Serie A's finest with moves elsewhere.
This is when The Mirror links Napoli's Gonzalo Higuain with a move to Chelsea, despite the fact he only signed in the summer. When The Guardian believe Manchester United could sign Juventus pair Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal, despite United's continued mediocrity and Juve's superioirty. And when The Mirror believe Arsenal may bid for Milan's Mario Balotteli, despite the fact that Italy's enfant terrible was clearly unsettled during his time spent in England at Manchester City.
It is unlikely any of the above will materialise. But what Clarence Seedorf must do is ensure that rumours concerning key Milan players leaving the club definitely don't materialise.
One strong rumour circulating before Christmas had linked Milan defender Cristian Zapata with a move to aforementioned Manchester United, who have been mired in misery.
The Colombian international reacted quickly, though, stating he was happy at Milan (as reported by Sky Sports).
Another player who may be subjected to transfer bids is Mario Balotelli. The team's star attraction, he has scored seven goals in 14 league appearances so far.
His, verbose agent, Mino Raiola has told Italian media that his client would not be leaving, and Rossoneri fans will hope this is true.
He did, of course, sign in the January transfer window last year, and they will be praying he does not leave just 12 months after signing.
Sell Players Who Are Surplus to Requirements
One of Milan's many troubles this season has been that their top players have been absolutely woeful.
A paltry 11 goals scored by their five strikers, only four clean sheets and constant positional confusion among midfielders has led to renewed speculation that an overhaul is needed.
Speaking at the press conference to greet new signing Keisuke Honda, Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani conceded that the team, now with 30 players, must sell before they can buy (h/t Goal.com).
Subsequently, a sigh of relief was collectively exhaled this week when it was confirmed that the beleaguered Alessandro Matri had departed the club and joined Fiorentina. A report by Sky Sports' Nadia Carminati confirmed he has signed on loan for the rest of the season.
Originally reported by Gazzetta dello Sport, Fiorentina is a good destination. La Viola are still reeling from the news that their star player, and the league's top scorer, Giuseppe Rossi has been struck down by the recurring knee injury that formerly consigned him to the sidelines for almost three seasons.
Since signing in the summer from champions Juventus, Matri has been a resounding disappointment. One goal in 15 league games is an insufficient return. It must stick in the craw that the Rossoneri could have converesely bid for Carlos Tevez, before he joined Juve.
Another player who has been a passenger for too long is goalkeeper Christian Abbiatti. He should either make way for a replacement or allow prodigal keeper Gabriel an extended run in the side.
For a while now there have also been concerns about ageing players such as Cristian Zaccardo, Philippe Mexes and Daniele Bonera, as well as the quality of Dutch players Nigel de Jong and Urby Emanuelson. All of the above have had markedly patchy, below-par seasons.
Establish the First-Choice Defence
The Milan back line has looked less than impressive of late.
With that in mind, Seedorf now needs to take the staunch approach which harks back to the glorious period of the 1980s, when Milan won consecutive European Cups (the last team to do so).
While the Dutch triumvirate of Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard took the plaudits, it was the defensive-centric "catenaccio" system that was the real toast of the town. Playing a fluid formation, it involved the centre-halves playing high up the pitch, akin to sweepers.
The current crop haven't got the talent to be so all-encompassing, so Seedorf needs to establish which four will get the nod and fit in with his system. Too often this season, Allegri chopped and changed the defensive back line.
In the humiliating 4-3 defeat against Sassuolo, Cristian Zapata and Daniele Bonera played in the centre, with Urby Emanuelson and Mattia De Sciglio on the flanks.
They, clearly, are just not good enough.
Matias Silvestre, on loan from rivals Inter, has been restricted to just three games—he would provide a new dimension.
Ignazio Abate, instrumental in defeating Barcelona last season (even if they eventually lost on aggregate), should be reinstated. He can maraud up the right flank and provide an attacking influence. Failing that, Cristian Zaccardo would be a solid addition as a more stable right-back.
Zapata is a good player, if not slow. Questions remain about the ageing Bonera and Philippe Mexes, but new signing Adil Rami should, hopefully, shore this creaky and leaky back line.
There are a lot of possibilities, but establishing a defensive quadruple and allowing it to gel is essential.