Maverick Mihajlovic may be just what AC Milan needs
Growing up watching Sinisa Mihajlovic on Channel 4’s Football Italia, the no-nonsense wing back from the former Yugoslavia with set-piece nous wasn’t someone you would have marked down as management material.
A tough-tackling style and eye for the spectacular strike from dead balls isn’t all he’s taken into coaching. Controversy has come with Mihajlovic throughout his career, which skyrocketed when he won the European Cup as a 22-year-old at Red Star Belgrade.
Best known for spells with Sampdoria and Lazio, with the latter he won four major honours, it was teammate Roberto Mancini who took him on as his assistant at Inter Milan when Mihajlovic finished playing before taking his first job at Bologna.
Now these friends sit either side of the San Siro divide, as Mihajlovic succeeds Rossoneri striking legend Filippo Inzaghi.
Tempting Carlo Ancelotti into an AC Milan return was their main target, but the ex-Chelsea coach is taking time out to have surgery and a break after being axed by Real Madrid.
Instead, the task of rejuvenating a Rossoneri side that has been in decline for several seasons now falls to Serie A stalwart Mihajlovic, fresh from steering Sampdoria into next term’s Europa League.
That’s something Milan look on enviously at, as they are set for a second successive season without continental competition. To address the disturbing slide into mid-table mediocrity, some tough choices need to be made.
A strong character like Mihajlovic, despite his Inter links, has not shied away from difficult decisions in the past and will be looking closely at the Rossoneri roster.
Five players aged 30 and over are out of contract at AC Milan this summer, including long-serving stopper Christian Abbiati. Defender Daniele Bonera, French centre half Philippe Mexes, Dutch anchorman Nigel de Jong and striker Giampaolo Pazzini are the others whose futures Mihajlovic may decide lie elsewhere.
Attack-minded right back Ignazio Abate, now 28, has been on the Rossoneri’s books since 1999 and a consistent performer that skippered the side under Inzaghi towards the end of this season, but his deal is also up. Lorenzo De Silvestri, a year younger at 27, has played for Mihajlovic at both Fiorentina and Sampdoria.
Milan have buying options for on-loan pair Salvatore Bocchetti (Spartak Moscow) and Mattia Destro (Roma) to bolster centre back and the attack, while in midfield Marco van Ginkel may return to Chelsea to fight for his place.
It’s the engine room overhaul that may be most intriguing, then, with Michael Essien, another with Stamford Bridge connections, moving on a free to Greek outfit Panathinaikos.
Fellow Ghanaian great Sulley Muntari, a player no less controversial than prospective new coach Mihajlovic, was linked with leaving the Rossoneri to join Everton, though they have just secured some younger legs for midfield in capturing Tom Cleverley.
To remodel this central area, incoming Milan manager Mihajlovic may have to look at bringing in some outstanding performers from other mid-table sides that could kick on.
Late blooming anchorman Mirko Valdifiori would be a bargain for the Rossoneri at around £5m, with Torino chasing him after making an opening offer of €4m, though Napoli may take both player and coach Maurizio Sarri from Empoli.
As Milan have sold Riccardo Saponara back to this team, however, this may give them the edge to get Italy’s new holding midfielder.
Fellow Azzurri international Franco Vazquez, meanwhile, has seen his profile raised considerably after a breakout campaign at Palermo.
The Sicilian side’s president Maurizio Zamparini insisted he would not sell his prized assets to the Rossoneri, with Champions League clubs chasing the 26-year-old Argentine-born playmaker and star striker Paulo Dybala joining Juventus.
Milan have a much better relationship with Genoa, ironically the bitter rivals of Mihajlovic’s now former side Sampdoria, and midfield all-rounder Andrea Bertolacci is a really bright prospect at 24.
Recent reports suggest the Rossoneri will allow French forward Mbaye Niang to join them permanently after a successful loan spell, provided Bertolacci goes the other way. This would definitely be a smart swap or part-exchange.
Mihajlovic must also show ambition by battling Europe’s elite for other top talent at either end of the pitch. In defence, it would be a real coup to capture Torino duo Matteo Darmian and captain Kamil Glik.
While the former may not be the most realistic target because of rumoured interest from several Champions League sides, Croatia full back Sime Vrsaljko from Sassuolo has just as much potential.
If Abbiati goes, then swooping for Argentina keeper Sergio Romero on a free switch from Sampdoria could be worth considering too.
There are a couple of Manchester City misfits with prior experience of Serie A, namely Stevan Jovetic, who worked with Mihajlovic at Fiorentina, and Aleksandar Kolarov – a modern day equivalent of the new Milan manager – that are linked with returns to Italy.
Old friend Mancini will ensure there is a San Siro struggle to secure the services of the Montenegro number 10 and Serbia wing back, however.
Inter are not a more attractive option than the Rossoneri, though, as they too must now know the humility of not participating in European club competition next term.
Mihajlovic may want to take a look at Alessandro Matri when his loan spell at Serie A champions Juve ends, while fellow attacker Alessio Cerci has worked with the coach before. Alternative striking options to bring in from outside would be Man City’s Edin Dzeko and Aston Villa frontman Christian Benteke (12/1 to join).
Milan club captain Riccardo Montolivo, out injured until next term, is also in that played under Mihajlovic previously category. When at Fiorentina, the midfielder announced his intention to see his contract through and seek pastures new. Mihajlovic responded by stripping Montolivo of the Viola captaincy.
This is compelling evidence of the commitment he wants from his players, but it is to be hoped that this more did not sour relations between Mihajlovic and Montolivo, who needs regular football to revive his career after a broken leg and other injury issues.
In his resignation speech at Sampdoria, Mihajlovic quoted JFK, most notably the line about time being a tool not a crutch.
If the turnover of Milan managers in recent times (Mihajlovic will be the fourth in 18 months) is any indicator, then he must get the rebuilding job right as more beloved names in Izaghi and Clarence Seedorf were shown no sentiment for their previous sterling service.
Time for the Rossoneri is neither tool nor crutch at the moment, but a rare commodity that will not be on Mihajlovic’s side if he cannot restore the prestige of seven European Cups that surrounds a club desperate to return to that elite.