Let’s re-wind back in time to November 27 2017. The Rossoneri have just drawn 0-0 against Torino at San Siro, adding to Vincenzo Montella’s rough start that saw Milan win only six of their first 14 matches, and 12 points out of a Champions League spot, which was the main goal coming into the season.
On November 27, Il Diavolo officially announced that coach Montella was to be relieved of his duties, and Primavera coach, Milan legend and Azzurri legend, Gennaro Gattuso, would be his replacement. When the announcement came, most fans met this with anger. Not because of Montella’s departure, but many doubted “Rino’s” ability to manage a Serie A side with highly paid players, and that he didn’t have the tactical mind to fix the Rossoneri’s current problems with several new players integrated into the squad. Initially, these critics may have been correct, as the first few weeks did not go all that well, but with patience, the ship started to steady.
Vincenzo Montella enjoyed a stellar debut season with the Rossoneri, winning the Supercoppa over Juventus and bringing the team to a Europa League spot; unfortunately for Montella this season he failed to gel a team with 11 new signings arriving from the summer transfer-spending spree. The Red and Blacks lacked a true identity. Since Gattuso replaced Montella, his team have found a true identity that has helped revive Milan’s underwhelming season.
After a couple of tough losses following Milan’s 1-0 Coppa Italia derby win over Inter, the tem started to gain confidence and play with a purpose as Gattuso’s men came back from behind to draw 1-1 away to Fiorentina. The Rossoneri then beat Crotone, Cagliari, Lazio, SPAL, Sampdoria, Roma, Genoa, Chievo, and drew away to Udinese before snapping the streak away to Juventus. Not to mention, during the streak also came a 5-4 win in penalties over Lazio to advance to the 2018 Coppa Italia final. This streak wasn’t a stroke of luck; this clearly showed the positive work Gattuso has brought to this team, and the identity that he and the players have created together.
Once 16 points behind rivals Inter, this deficit turned into a tight, five-point gap between the cross city rivals, and this was thanks to a consistent starting eleven, players finding their form and quality, and all in all, playing for their coach. Gattuso has instilled a mentality in the squad that it is not acceptable to lose, and the fans should expect to come into every match with the thought of taking three points. After beating tough sides such as Sampdoria, Roma, and Lazio twice, this “grinta” like mentality showed throughout the team.
There are several things that Gattuso has done right, selection wise, tactically, and of course, mentality wise. A consistent line-up is what sparked the streak and fantastic play; Patrick Cutrone receiving the most minutes as the starting centre-forward, Hakan Calhanoglu adjusting to his role on the left-wing, Davide Calabria altering his overall game at right-back, and of course, the tandem that has been built between Alessio Romagnoli and Leonardo Bonucci. Gattuso has used these players constantly in the same roles, so they can get used to the positions and become accustomed to playing alongside one another, something that Montella struggled to do early in the season.
Aside from the tactical shape and 4-3-3 formation Rino has implemented in the team, there are several intangibles he’s brought to San Siro. Gattuso has played for many great teams in his career, with Milan and the Azzurri. He’s taught these players what it means to play for the Rossoneri and put on the Milan jersey, which is something that the club has lacked over the past few years of difficulty. In addition to this, there seems to be clear excitement around Milanello, at San Siro, and surrounding the whole club again. Fans at the stadium are cheering loud, and the away Curva Sud travellers are clapping and chanting for 90 minutes. It seems that with Gattuso representing this Milan team, and being an all-time fan favourite, anything is possible with this squad, and the tifosi believe it.
Many coaches around Europe and the World have commenced their professional career with important sides by being promoted from the Primavera team. Two coaches that come to mind are Pep Guardiola and Zinedine Zidane, who respectively started their coaching careers with the Primavera’s of the teams they once played for, Barcelona and Real Madrid. At the time, these teams ignored well-known European coaches to pick one of their own, just like Marco Fassone and Massimiliano Mirabelli did in selecting Gattuso to immediately replace Montella. These are similar situations because they were given the opportunity to succeed and obviously, they both ran with it and flourished in their roles.
Furthermore, Gattuso shares a similar style to Antonio Conte and Diego Simeone, two coaches that excel in man management in addition to their tactics deployed. Many have succeeded through improving players individually and creating a cohesive unit between them, who says Gattuso cannot do the same? Not Rino, that’s for certain.
After a very slow start, the Rossoneri with Rino are back in contention in Serie A, within striking distance of a Champions League spot, and currently holding a Europa League spot for next season, in addition to their place in the Coppa Italia Final against Juventus in May.
Gattuso has now officially renewed his contract with the Rossoneri till 2021, making his role permanent for the next few seasons, and he is absolutely deserving of this contract extension. Not many coaches can come in to a team such as the state Montella departed Milan in and flourish, but Gattuso found a way to make miracles and create relevance of the 2017-2018 season for the players, the squad, and Milanisti around the world.
As the Serie A season winds down with the remaining few matches along with the Coppa Italia Final, Gattuso will get the chance to spend the summer transfer market with the team, request players of his liking to insert in the starting 11 or use as depth. To succeed, a coach needs to be respected by his players, and sometimes feared. At this moment, there’s nothing but respect in training and matches, as you can tell Rino’s players are fighting each and every match to earn his respect as well.
If you don’t believe Gattuso is the right man for this job, and for this squad, watch some highlights of the team celebrating after a win. The Calabria native congratulates every player; they huddle together as a group, and then salute the fans. This has not been present for the past five difficult years, and there’s one man to thank for that, and he’s the right man for the job, with a deserved renewal: Gennaro Gattuso.
Like Rino Gattuso said immediately after becoming the official head coach:
“I feel the same emotions as I did when I was a player, when I come to Milanello it’s like I’m in heaven”