Should He Stay or Should He Go? returns in devastating form with only two weeks of the 2009/10 played. Predictably, it is one of the top club’s new boys to face the glare of our spotlight – Leonardo of Milan.
Milan’s Coach has been under fire following the stunning loss to city rivals Inter last weekend. Talk of discontent amongst the Rossoneri fans cannot be overstated. The club’s hierarchy has also come unstuck as a result of the crushing defeat to the Nerazzurri.
Some will argue that Leonardo lacks the necessary experience to guide such a big club to glory. Other critics have mentioned that he does not have the proper mental strength to deal with big occasions and that he is already at odds with Silvio Berlusconi in terms of tactics. A few experts have even gone as far as arguing that he is being used as a scapegoat by Berlusconi. On the other hand, there are claims that Leonardo will turn out great but needs time and that he is simply doing all he can with the odds stacked against him due to a limited started lineup and few alternatives on the bench. One insider who prefers to remain anonymous said that the Brazilian will continue to have the support of Milan’s leadership since axing him now would mean they erred in hiring him. The more wishful thinkers argue that he has a winning mentality after claiming the World Cup with Brazil as a player.
For starters, most if not all will agree that Leonardo does not have the experience required to lead a team let alone one of Milan’s stature during difficult matches like the Milan derby. While Leonardo’s shortcomings can be overcome in duals against mediocre teams such as Siena, the tougher matches will demand every ounce of knowledge and tactical know-how. The skills of players such as Alexandre Pato can suffice in matches against the lower echelon teams but when playing solid and talented clubs, relying on talent alone can often lead to disappointment. Milan was outfoxed and outhustled by city rivals la Beneamata.
Secondly, critics have claimed that the Brazilian Coach does not have the mental fortitude to inspire his players and keep them focused on the next challenge. They refer to the 1994 World Cup-winning campaign when he was sent off for elbowing American Tab Ramos as further proof of his deficiencies and lack of belief. A more obvious argument is that Berlusconi is already at odds with Leonardo’s choices since he lamented the Coach’s tactical schemes and his controversial use of players such as Ronaldinho. One could take this a step further and argue that the Italian Prime Minister has deliberately approved Leonardo in order to deflect attention and direct the blame towards the former World Cup champion as a means to cover another disastrous transfer campaign. What better way to avoid heavy criticism than actually having a willing sacrificial lamb in the shape of a rookie Coach? The blame-game is often used to confuse those who seek the real reason behind failure whether in sports, politics, or other fields of life.
On the other side of the spectrum, voices have emerged calling for the heads of those who really ought to be blamed like Berlusconi himself and his first deputy Adriano Galliani while exonerating Leonardo due to being stuck with a bunch of aging players past their prime. Undoubtedly, Milan conducted a far from ideal campaign in the market and have only signed two credible players in Brazilian Thiago Silva and Dutch striker Jan-Klaas Huntelaar. In fact, the club’s transfer policy has been a disaster if one is to consider that Brazilian hero Kaka was sold to Real Madrid. Indeed, a ridiculous sum was gained by selling Kaka, but what kind of signal are you sending out when you offload your star man to Los Galacticos? What makes things even worse is the Rossoneri’s lack in depth since any freak injury to Pato might as well doom Milan’s chances of finishing in the top four while a potential absence by defensive lynchpin Alessandro Nesta will destabilize the already questionable defensive line.
Truthfully, Leonardo has inherited a team filled with players, albeit with a few exceptions, that are closing on their retirement pension. For that simple reason, a number of football experts have urged both Rossoneri management and tifosi to be patient with Leonardo and to grant him the opportunity to deliver positive results. After all, a quick glance at the standings and Milan are a mere point behind the Nerazzurri while Juventus are just a loss away from being caught up with. One source, wishing to remain unidentified, has stressed that Milan cannot and will not fire Leonardo at this stage of the season. Such a move will prove that Milan’s management has not just conducted a miserable transfer campaign but also hired an inadequate Coach. That will only add insult to injury for Berlusconi and Galliani who have both been subjected to an array of critical snapshots by fans and experts alike. Finally, a number of idealists have even gone as far as vouching for Leonardo since he has won the World Cup as a player, yet critics can simply counter that by arguing that the Brazilian actually missed the crucial stages of the 1994 glorious campaign while serving a deserved suspension for his foolish elbow against Ramos.
The next few weeks will be crucial in determining Leonardo’s future with il Diavolo. A positive sequence of results and it is almost certain that he will go on to manage the San Siro club for the rest of the season. However, a few more discouraging losses similar to that hammering administered by Inter and he could very well be sacked. Leonardo is now facing a countdown that will pretty much determine not just his job with Milan but the nature of his coaching career. Being sacked before the season ends will certainly put a dent into his credentials as a capable Coach.