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Possessed


Much has been said about Montella’s style of play that he is working to instill in the team. He wants them to play a possession-based game, with the ball always at their feet, dictating the game. Abate even said that they hadn’t worked with the ball so much since Leonardo (and he barely lasted a season.) But for all of the talk, we’ve simply not seen it on the pitch yet. And I know, it’s preseason, it takes time to instill the coach’s style of play, etc. But is it even wise to try? Did Montella look at the players he had at his disposal and decide on a playing style that suits them? Or is he trying to impose his playing style on them? It kind of seems like the latter, which means that rather than the team playing with meaningful possession, he’s going to simply seem possessed.

Is Montella going to be able to inspire possession? Or just be possessed?

No one cares about this sort of thing when we win. Which is why I’m going to take this opportunity to talk about it now that we have a loss and people are looking for someone or something to blame. First of all, while Montella’s been attaching the ball to the players’ feet and trying to teach them to play his way, Milan are making the same mistakes we’ve been making for years. Losing possession, conceding goals with poor midfield & defense, lapses of concentration, etc. The midfield is still poor and can’t hang onto the ball. Most importantly, the mentality of this team hasn’t changed at all.

Well actually, there is something different: everyone supposedly just loves training. They’re so happy that they’re just playing with the ball and not necessarily getting properly fit or building as much stamina. Plus, they’re basically allowed to eat anything they want. There aren’t any banned foods. So with easier, more enjoyable trainings, and being able to eat anything they want, things should go just great, right? Especially when the poor results start to stack up again. That has always been helpful. And along with the still weak mentality that doesn’t seem to be being addressed, I’m going to take a wild guess that the discipline problems will return, too.

Is this a good sign? Or a sign of continuing mentality and discipline problems?

I wasn’t convinced when I heard Montella linked with Milan. Not that he was terrible, but I didn’t see him as the right coach for what we need right now. And I don’t know if anyone could possibly be the right coach at Milan right now, to be honest. But then came all of his talk about possession and ball handling, and I was really surprised. Imagining Montolivo actually maintaining possession was intriguingly amusing to me. Or Poli, the sweet headless chicken that he is, actually keeping the ball as he runs to and fro. But the concept was compelling, even if I felt that it was the Bizarro World style of play from the strengths of the players we have. Well, and of course, at that point, people were still hoping for a massive infusion of talent from the mercato.

I’ve always felt that a great coach takes inventory of his players, their strengths and weaknesses, and even just how many players he has at each position, and then decides a system and playing style that suits those players. Those coaches are great because, like a sculptor who studies his stone before he begins to chisel, he takes a team and makes them champions. As any sculptor who has produced any work worth discussing will tell you, if you try to impose your own vision on the stone, it rarely works out at all.

Leading by example, he has the ball at his feet even while talking

So, I’m hoping he proves me wrong, but this possession-based style of play seems more like a personal choice of his, as well as a definite request from Berlusconi. It is being imposed on a group of players whom no one even intended to still be together at this point, let alone a squad that has the skillsets to pull it off. And so far, even in a 2-1 win over Bordeaux, a penalty win over Bayern, and the 2-0 loss to Liverpool, we haven’t seen them dominate with possession or dictate the game.

Against Bordeaux, we had 53% possession over the 14th place Ligue 1 team. So maybe we will do better against Serie A’s bottom half of the table this year? Somehow, that doesn’t convince me. We had 38% possession against Bayern, ended up with a 3-3 draw at the final whistle, and had to go to penalties. But again, we never looked dominant, nor did we dictate the game, we were more lucky and capitalizing on their errors than anything else. Finally, in the Liverpool friendly, we showed a little progress: 40% possession against the 8th place Premier League team. That is a whopping 2% increase in possession. At this rate, we might actually dominate a game by the end of Montella’s contract.

Montolivo interpreting well the coach's desire to always be on the ball

For me, those are just numbers. As we saw with Brocchi’s ridiculous 73% possession vs. the now relegated Frosinone, only to draw that match 3-3. Or Mihajlovic’ clinical 34% possession vs. Napoli, to also draw, but 1-1 with the team from the top of Serie A last season. Possession is nothing, it’s what you do with it. Milan being able to keep the ball and dictate play is a lovely fantasy. But one of these mornings, it just seems like Montella will wake up from his dreams and actually see the team he’s been dealt.

In addition to the stress around the mercato and the club’s sale, fans have been through a lot in the past four years. Everyone wants a quick fix, but I don’t believe there is such a thing. Even if this possession-based style of football is incredibly suspicious and as likely if not more likely to fall just as short of expectations as Brocchi’s, Mihajlovic’, Inzaghi’s, Seedorf’s, Allegri’s. and Leonardo’s styles of football, it’s what we’re doing, apparently. If the club is ever sold to someone who actually has money and is willing to invest in the team, there’s a chance for change. But that is also dependent on a change of management, specifically an owner who has always liked to coach the team, as well. He fired the best coach we’d had in a long time, the only coach who had actually improved the mentality of the team. Mihajlovic’ possession stats ranged from 34% to high 60’s, but he focused on what actually happened with the possession, and got better results for it. Will Montella do better? Only time will tell. But I’m not holding my breath. Because possession and playing style aren’t the problems in the first place. And also, his coaching style seems a lot less possession and maybe more possessed.


This post inspired by the music of Garbage’s “Empty”


Our next match is a friendly
International Champions Cup
AC Milan vs. Chelsea FC
Wednesday, August 3 • 9:00pm EDT