Pioli and Milan's Renaissance

Last week, it was announced that Pioli had equalled Ancelotti's points per game record. That's when it hit me how overlooked Pioli's contribution to Milan's renaissance might be. He literally took a team that had been in Year Zero for eight years, with its accompanying poor mentality, and has transformed it into a team that has been smashing records in Serie A and Europe for more than a year now. While people are focusing on the poor results of late that followed an injury apocalypse, Pioli deserves a lot more credit for Milan's renaissance.

Making history at Milan

Coming in after Giampaolo, any coach was going to be an improvement. Those who said he should have been given more time were wrong, as his stint at Torino this season demonstrated. They kept him through January, and are currently only two points above the relegation zone. That is thanks to the improvement under their new coach, Nicola. Pioli came in to clean up Giampaolo's mess at Milan after four losses in seven games. He was meant to right the ship, but he has done so much more.

That first season, coming in with such a deficit not only in points, but also mentality, made it very difficult for any coach to bring this team back into the Champions League in one season. Milan were literally just above the relegation zone, and Pioli brought the team up into sixth place and Europa League qualification. His record in his first eight games wasn't much better than Giampaolo's, with three losses and two draws in his first eight games. But the losses were to Roma, Lazio, and Juventus, and the playing style was so very much improved, it was unbelievable.

Great with the young players

Pioli's Milan would only lose three more matches the rest of that season, one coming less than 24 hours after Gazidis unfairly fired Boban. Once COVID shut everything down, Pioli stayed in touch with his players, and helped them to train at home. When they came back to training, he was finally able to have a "preseason" with him, and build their mentality as well as create a better sense of unity. Pioli seems to do his best work in crisis, and a global pandemic was certainly a crisis.

Everyone knows what happened after the break. Milan were undefeated in the league from June of 2020 through January 3, 2021. An incredible run of form. But it wasn't just form. Pioli had chosen the ideal formation and tactics for this team, and they were playing some great football, too. Milan had the youngest team in Serie A and at times in Europe, and they were unstoppable.

There's a reason they sing "Pioli's on fire"

Pioli led them through an apocalyptic level injury crisis, where injuries and COVID-19 saw an average of 5 starters out every single game for months straight. Since January, that has caught up to the team, and they have lost five league matches out of 15. Pioli is being criticized for recent form, yet Milan are still in second place. He took a team from 16th to second in 18 months. And people are criticizing that? He tied Ancelotti's points per game, the highest ever at Milan, with 1.97 points per game, and people are giving him a hard time? This is the top 5:

1️⃣ Carlo Ancelotti 1.97 points per game
2️⃣ Stefano Pioli 1.97 points per game
3️⃣ Massimiliano Allegri 1.92 points per game
4️⃣ Leonardo 1.84 points per game
5️⃣ Rino Gattuso 1.81 points per game

We discussed this record on the latest podcast, and how given the injuries, COVID-19, compacted schedule, and more, Pioli's accomplishments are actually incredible. None of the other four coaches on that list had to coach through a global pandemic, nor did they have the number of young players Pioli has, etc. Milan played an extra 13 games in the Europa League, more than any other team has this season. Yet we are still second in the league. What Pioli has done is absolutely amazing.

He survived the evil Lord Gazidis and lived to win some more

The feat becomes even more amazing considering the past eight years at Milan, the ownership and management changes, as well as the sheer number of players in and out each season. Pioli was handed a team in shambles, with a negative mentality, and has brought Milan to new heights, with performances that were unthinkable under any of the other coaches in the past eight years. Even more amazing that all last year until August, the media talked incessantly about how he was going to be replaced by Ralf Rangnick. Pioli quietly kept working, producing impossible results, until his results finally shut Gazidis and the press up. 

He has taken a team in ruins and created a family

I'm not sure why Pioli was ever under fire, what he was doing was so unbelievable. I'm also unsure as to why he hasn't gotten any recognition from the league or his peers. Taking a team from near relegation to second place in 18 short months is not something that just any manager can do. It took the heart, the belief, and his unshakable mentality to take this young team and create such an amazing run. He has them believing in themselves and in each other like no coach in recent memory has. He has them performing so well in spite of all that has been stacked against them. From injuries to a global pandemic, from management changes to a compacted schedule, yet he has created longterm success. Pioli is responsible for Milan's renaissance.

This post inspired by the music of David Bowie's "Changes"

Our next match is
Serie A Week 30
Parma vs. Milan 
Saturday, April 10 • 18:00 CEST (12noon EDT)

Pioli and Milan's Renaissance Pioli and Milan's Renaissance Reviewed by Elaine on 11:42 PM Rating: 5
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