One of the few consolations available to the head coach of Milan now is that at least he knows how the system works. Leonardo may be a relative novice in his current role but he has seen the job in detail from above and from below. The Brazilian takes his beleaguered squad to Atalanta today for what is being heralded as perhaps his last match in charge should Milan lose their third match in a row.
He played under several different coaches as a Milan player. As a Milan executive, a role he had until June, he also worked at the club at a time of unusual loyalty towards the man in charge of the first XI. That man was Carlo Ancelotti, whose departure to join Chelsea in the summer is now looking either a very shrewd move by the Italian, or a disastrous error by Milan. Defeat at home to FC Zurich in the Champions League last Wednesday brought the club's competitive record under Leonardo for the season so far to three wins and three defeats in eight European and Serie A matches. Almost as damning is that Milan have not scored for their past 270 minutes. If they miss Ancelotti off the field, they demonstrably miss Kaka on it.
Adriano Galliani, the club vice president, held an emergency meeting with the players after the 1-0 loss to Zurich and reminded them of what he called the Three Commandments of their jobs. First, that they were a "group of winners". Second, that "nobody would be being shown the door until the end of the season at the earliest". Third, that it was regarded that the club, as the bare minimum, should participate in the Champions League every year, and still be involved in it at the later stages. On form, those objectives are in jeopardy.
Milan are hovering in mid-table in a Serie A that awards automatic Champions League berths only to the clubs finishing the season first, second and third. In the 2009/10 Champions League, meanwhile, they have the same number of points as Zurich in a group that also contains Marseille and Madrid, whom Milan must play twice in their next pair of fixtures. But it is Galliani's second commandment that is attracting most scrutiny.
Leonardo is not so naive as not to believe in the possibility of his swift removal from what is his first job as a senior coach of a professional team. The club's close relationship with Marco van Basten, the former Milan striker and Holland's head coach, who left his managerial job at Ajax in Amsterdam earlier this year makes him, a plausible candidate for a rapid replacement. His agent has denied any contact over a possible vacancy between his client and Milan, but fans are already responding to newspaper polls in large numbers declaring their enthusiasm for the appointment of the Dutchman instead of Leonardo.
Walter Mazzarri, who left Sampdoria during the summer, is also available, as would be a number of candidates who would maintain the "continuity" principle on which the club decided to appoint Leonardo in spite of his inexperience. For "continuity", read any number of ex-Milan players, such as Alessandro Costacurta, who retired from playing three years ago. Nearer the summit, pacesetters Sampdoria are at home to Parma, while Juventus, still unbeaten under their "novice" head coach Ciro Ferrera, travel to Sicily tonight to play Palermo.
@Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Atalanta v AC Milan, 5pm, Aljazeera Sport +7