Do AC Milan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic need each other?
Background image: Delfort, CC BY-SA 3.0
AC Milan continues to struggle despite several attempts to arrest their near-decade-long slump. The Italian and European heavyweights remain locked in mediocrity. Their last trophy was the 2010-11 Scudetto. Zlatan Ibrahimovic led the line that season, scoring 21 times in all competitions. Nine years later, the big Swede may return to San Siro.
Financial problems highlight Il Diavolo's fall from grace, a result of mismanagement and poor planning for the future. After settling for a place in Europe’s second-tier competition, the Europa League, in the last few campaigns, Milan spiral down the Serie A table this term.
On their third manager in two seasons, the club doesn't look like finding its foothold anytime soon. Gennaro Gattuso's departure in June presented an opportunity to start afresh. After some much-needed investment in players, the remaining piece of the puzzle was to employ a manager capable of taking the club back to the top. Appointing Marco Giampaolo was always the wrong choice. The Swiss-Italian did a relatively good job at Sampdoria but Milan was a step too far. At a time when rivals Inter and Juventus went for two of the best managers in Europe at the moment, Milan attempted an experiment doomed to fail from the very beginning. Giampaolo was fired just three months into the job.
Once again, it was back to square one. Former Inter and more recently Fiorentina boss Stefano Pioli replaced him, bringing the number of permanent managers appointed to seven in six years. Inconsistency is rarely a recipe for success.
Pioli's current crisis is goals. Acquired from Genoa to lead the line and fire the team back to reckoning on the continent, Krzysztof Piatek started life very well at San Siro, scoring important goals for the side after his January move. Having already hit 13 goals in 19 appearances for Genoa at the start of last season, he added another nine in 18 games for the Rossoneri. Unfortunately, the Pole is nowhere near those numbers this term, finding the back of the net three times in 13 outings.
Worse, he remains the club's top scorer with those numbers. Young Portuguese forward Rafael Leao, brought in from Lille in the summer to add bite to the attack has scored just once in 10 games. Ante Rebic has done even worse. The Croatian forward is yet to register his first league goal for the club despite featuring seven times. If ever there was, this is a job for Zlatan.
Fresh off a successful spell at La Galaxy, the 38-year-old is without a club. He loves scoring goals. Thirty-one strikes in 31 appearances plus a further eight assists in the just concluded Major League Soccer campaign demonstrate that Ibra is one of those players, like Alessandro del Piero, for whom age is just a number. His time at Milan under Massimiliano Allegri was the Rossoneri's last hurrah but hardly his. He went on to be the man at three more clubs, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United and the Galaxy.
There isn't a better time for Milan to take a chance. In 12th before the weekend's action, they have nothing to lose. There is no harm in discovering what Zlatan has left to give. His goals and overall contribution to the side as a leader can propel the team back towards the European places.
There is no denying the Rossoneri are in dire need of a magnetic personality on the pitch and in the dressing room. Younger players like 20-year-old Leao and Piatek will benefit from playing alongside him, even if it's for only six months. If that's the extent of the deal, he can walk away with the satisfaction of helping to get his former side out of jail. If there is more in the tank, however, San Siro will enjoy his talismanic presence in 20120-21. It's the perfect win-win situation.