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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Coppa Italia final: AC Milan undergoing a restoration rather than a revolution

Serie A club have been on the up in recent times, but progress has been more steady than spectacular

AC Milan have made progress but it has been more piecemeal than dramatic. Antonio Calanni / AP Photo
AC Milan have made progress but it has been more piecemeal than dramatic. Antonio Calanni / AP Photo

Some good news arrived at AC Milan on Tuesday.

The club have been granted a licence to compete in European competition next season by Uefa. The game's governing body in the continent had earlier signalled concerns about the Italian club’s balance of debts and outgoings.

Milan will still face scrutiny and potential punishment if they are deemed to have infringed Financial Fair Play guidelines. But they can look forward to midweek nights under the lights at San Siro, from August.

All they need now is to ensure they sweep into 2018/19 Europa League in style.

Milan may yet hold on to sixth place in the Serie A table – one route into Europe – where they lurk with two matches to play, well short of the top-four finish that would have sneaked them in the Uefa Champions League. European football's biggest club competition is regarded as a natural home for the seven-time winners.

There is Wednesday night, and a Coppa Italia final against Juventus, where victory would go a long way to endorsing the idea that a Milan revival is genuinely under way.

It was 13 months ago that Silvio Berlusconi, club president since the late 1980s and overseer of five triumphs in the European Cup, handed over control to Chinese magnate Yonghong Li and his Rossoneri Sport Investment group, shaking hands on a deal worth €740 million (Dh3.2 billion).

By the end of the summer’s transfer window, the recruitment bill for new players exceeded €200m. Milan appeared to be keeping pace, for the first time in a decade, with the big spenders of the club game.

What they have not done yet is keep pace in Serie A with the very best, as Juventus march towards a seventh successive scudetto, Napoli provide the best example of how to build a renaissance, and the Rome clubs and Inter Milan scrabble for the two remaining spots in the next Champions League.

Milan are still long way short of their standards, and of the level they reached in 2011, when they won their last league title. And the new regime, who borrowed heavily to fund the takeover, are still unable to convince all milanisti they have set out a smooth path to their ambition of returning Milan to the upper strata of the sport.

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Read more:

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Gattuso proving to be a hit at Serie A club - literally and figuratively

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AC Milan are in a better position than they were before Gennaro Gatusso took over as manager. Miguel Medina / AFP
AC Milan are in a better position than they were before Gennaro Gatusso took over as manager. Miguel Medina / AFP

But one decision in the last year does seem to have yielded positive results.

Milan’s executives made their first managerial change, dismissing Vincenzo Montella at the end of November, and promoting from the youth pitches Gennaro Gattuso into his place. It looked as if sentiment – or populism – had informed the choice of new manager.

Gattuso, a hugely successful and loved player in the midfields of commanding Milan teams in the early part of the new millennium, had a patchy record in coaching. He also had a famously short-fused, pugnacious style, at least when he was growling around San Siro as a player.

Yet, here were are: coming up to six months into his first attempt at Serie A management, Milan are a shade higher in the table than they started under Gattuso. And although their European campaign faltered at the last-16 stage – beaten 5-1 on aggregate by Arsenal in the Europa League – they have reached the cup final.

Inter and Lazio were beaten over narrow ties to get Milan to Rome’s Stadio Olimpico for the confrontation with time-honoured rivals.

For Gattuso, there is probably no better opponent to pump him up. He was a member of the Milan side who beat Juventus on penalties in the Champions League final 15 years ago.

He will also be facing the last manager, Massimiliano Allegri, to have won the Serie A title for Milan. There have been seven different men in the seat since Allegri was dismissed.

Gattuso is obliged to take the role of underdog. Juve stand 31 points ahead of Milan in the league table, and have defeated them home and away in Serie A this season.

“They have something more than we have, no doubt about that,” Gattuso said, “but I feel we are in good shape at the moment. Our mentality will be very important.”

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