5 potential replacements for Gennaro Gattuso at AC Milan
Background image: Bogdan1971, CC BY-SA 3.0
The 2018/19 term proved to be a real disappointment for AC Milan. The Rossoneri, under the new ownership of Elliott Management Corporation, targeted a top-four finish. Agonisingly, they finished in fifth place, missing out on Champions League qualification for the sixth consecutive season. As a result, Milan icon Gennaro Gattuso resigned from his managerial position. New Chief Executive, Ivan Gazidis, formerly of Arsenal, must find a manager to lead a Rossoneri renaissance. Here are five potential candidates to take on the job opening.
Eusebio di Francesco
The first candidate is Eusebio Di Francesco. Currently unemployed, the 49-year-old’s managerial reputation blossomed at Sassuolo between 2012 and 2017. Di Francesco won promotion to Serie A in 2012/13 and stabilised the Black and Greens. A sixth-placed finish in 2015/16 brought Europa League qualification. The capital came calling in the summer of 2017 with a move to Roma. Di Francesco finished 3rd in Serie A in 2017/18 and reached the Champions League semi-finals - topping a group including Chelsea and Atletico Madrid before eliminating Barcelona in the quarter-finals.
Despite his dismissal by the Giallorossi earlier this season, Di Francesco remains highly regarded. There are links with the Sevilla job, although, the vacancy at Milan may appeal more. At Roma, Di Francesco successfully integrated youth into the Roman legions. Nicolo Zaniolo, Patrick Schick, Cengiz Under and Justin Kluivert were all regulars; fitting the Milan hierarchy’s brief to inject youth into the club’s veins.
However, doubts persist, last season’s botched campaign being the major one. When pressurised, di Francesco struggled, at Milan, the intensity would likely be greater given the minimum demand for a top-four finish in Serie A.
Mark van Bommel
The next candidate is a former Rossoneri playing hero, Mark van Bommel. As a footballer, the Dutchman was known for his fierce tackles and frequent yellow cards. Van Bommel landed his first managerial role with another former club, PSV Eindhoven, last summer. Whilst Ajax emerged triumphant in this season’s Eredivisie, van Bommel’s boys kept them honest. The Farmers finished with 83 points from their 34 games, boasting an impressive +72 goal difference - finishing only three points behind the Amsterdam outfit in the process.
As a crucial member of the 2010/11 Milan who emerged triumphant in Serie A, van Bommel is still widely liked by Rossoneri supporters. His 18-month stint at San Siro as a player means he knows both the league and the lingo. PSV showcased some fine young talent under van Bommel such as Hirving Lozano, Steven Bergwijn, Donyell Malen and Angelino. This fits the aforementioned brief of rebuilding Milan with young talent.
Two obstacles, however, block the path. The first of which would be a compensation fee as the Dutchman is contracted until 2021 with Eindhoven. It is unknown how much Milan would have to pay to buy out van Bommel's contract. The second may be van Bommel’s lack of experience. Who can forget Frank de Boer and his disastrous spell at Milan’s fierce rivals Inter, therefore, he may choose to stay in Eindhoven to continue developing as a manager.
Erik ten Hag
The third option for AC is van Bommel’s compatriot, Erik ten Hag who needs no introduction. The 49-year-old is currently amongst European football’s hottest coaching prospects after guiding Ajax to the semi-finals of this season’s Champions League, while masterminding a domestic double. Ajax’s amazing youngsters such as Matthijs de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong and David Neres lit up the latter stages of Europe’s elite level competition thanks to the confidence given to them by ten Hag.
As a future Rossoneri gaffer, Ten Hag would tick all the boxes. Plays talented youngsters, has an eye to spot bargain purchases such as Daley Blind and Dusan Tadic and sets up in an attacking style. Despite Ajax’s success, Milan is still a historically bigger club playing in a more prestigious league. If Ten Hag was to receive an offer from Milan, it would be difficult to say no.
However, just like with their ex-star van Bommel, there is the complication with compensation. The other difficulty, Ten Hag is hot property at present and there may be more coaching jobs alongside Milan available this summer. The Rossoneri may need Ten Hag more than he needs them.
The next option is a left-field wildcard, Marco Giampaolo. The 51-year-old is seen amongst media outlets as an early favourite for the vacancy at San Siro. Until 2015, Giampaolo had an unremarkable career, a journeyman manager who never stayed anywhere too long. Then in that summer, he succeeded Maurizio Sarri at Empoli, who left the Tuscan outfit for Napoli. Giampaolo finished an impressive 10th place, and after just a solitary campaign, left to manage Sampdoria. Three consistent seasons with the Blucerchiati under Giampaolo have seen two 10th and one 9th place finishes. However, there are rumours that Giampaolo is set to think over his future in the next week hinting at strong interest from the Rossoneri.
Giampaolo may be an unheralded name compared to legendary figures at Milan who have sat in the hot seat, such as Flippo Inzaghi, Cristian Brocchi and Gattuso himself. Nonetheless, he has far more managerial experience than any of the aforementioned three have had during managerial reigns. Plus the rumours of Giampaolo thinking over his future could be a sign he is about to hand in his notice, which of course would save Milan a compensation fee.
However, Giampaolo may not be high profile enough for Gazidis and the Milan board. The Italian has done a steady job at both Empoli and Samp, however, the Rossoneri is a different kettle of fish altogether.
The final candidate is Shakhtar Donetsk manager Paulo Fonseca. The 46-year-old Mozambique-born Portuguese achieved a stunning 3rd place in 2012/13 with Pacos de Ferreira in the Portuguese top flight. This qualified the modest Northern outfit for the Champions League for the first time. Despite a disappointing campaign at Porto the following term, Fonseca rebounded well by leading Braga to a Portuguese Cup triumph in 2015/16. Shakhtar then swooped in to land Fonseca to replace legendary Romanian gaffer Mircea Lucescu. Under Fonseca, Shakhtar displayed domestic dominance; winning three consecutive titles and earning qualification through to the last 16 of the Champions League in 2017/18 highlight this.
After rebuilding his reputation following his Porto dream turned sour, Fonseca may now fancy his chances again with a higher-potential club. The Moles are one of Eastern Europe’s strongest forces, however, they are not Milan. Fonseca would be intrigued by the challenge of rebuilding the Rossoneri into a European force. Furthermore, arriving at the San Siro now would represent good timing despite Milan’s current difficulties. Napoli has not progressed as expected under Carlo Ancelotti, Juventus have big shoes to follow post-Massimiliano Allegri and city-rivals Inter are also undergoing turbulence at present.
Despite Fonseca’s impressive achievements, Serie A represents a far tougher and less forgiving environment than at Shakhtar. The Moles, alongside rivals Dinamo Kyiv, exert an Old Firm-esque domination in Ukrainian football. In Italy, the presence of Juve, Inter, both Roman clubs and Napoli mean more competition and more pressure. Fonseca has only coached in Portugal and Ukraine where a huge gulf exists between the elite and the rest. Furthermore, Shakhtar can offer Fonseca Champions League football next term, something not on offer at the Red and Black side of the San Siro.