Milan's Mentality Bleeding Out: The Black Knight Theory

Everyone is talking about what is happening at Milan right now. We are five matches without a win, but more importantly our performances have demonstrated an absolute nosedive in mentality. I wrote about the club's "no excuses" policy being harmful to the players after the Lecce match. We discussed more of the complexities leading to this sudden psychological crash on the last podcast, as well. Having watched the spiral deepen during the loss to Lazio, I've coined the visible bleeding out of Milan's mentality "The Black Knight Theory." My theory takes its name from a famous comedy sketch from the legendary movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail known as "The Black Knight." 

Mentally bleeding out for so many reasons

The sketch details an encounter with a very brave Black Knight, who is defending a bridge. While he easily conquers one knight, his bravery is no match for King Arthur, who quickly cuts off an arm. The Black Knight, appropriately wearing red and black, says "Tis but a scratch," as the blood flows freely from his torso. King Arthur cuts off the other arm. "It's just a flesh wound" the brave knight says. After his right leg is lobbed off, he cries, "I'm invincible! The Black Knight always triumphs!" King Arthur cuts off his one remaining limb and says, "Alright, we'll call it a draw." But as King Arthur leaves to cross the bridge and continue on his journey, the Black Knight, limbless and helplessly bleeding out, taunts him and cries "I'll bite your legs off!"

Much like our players, the Black Knight has been... disarmed through injury

Pioli and the players have the courage of the Black Knight, and have beaten many foes. They even won the Scudetto last season, in spite of injuries, lost points due to referee errors, and more. But these injuries have plagued them for three years now. When there are so many injuries at a single club, it becomes both a physical and a psychological issue. Not only does it create a fear of injury, causing players to play more timidly, but it can actually lead to more actual physical injuries, as well, or a culture of injury. Plus, there is the physical and mental strain of simply having to cover for so many missing players, particularly the younger, less talented players covering for the more experienced starters who have been out for so long.

This would be hard enough to deal with, but the club has been unwilling to talk about the injuries in the press. They have had a very strict policy about making "no excuses." It is one thing to be classy and put your best foot forward, but it becomes ridiculous after three years to ignore the elephant in the room. Let alone the herd of elephants that has taken out up to a third of your squad at a time, often for months at a time. That is not an excuse, it is a serious issue and a burden. A burden that has been carried primarily by the players. Those players who, like the Black Knight, have fought bravely, but are now left mentally and sometimes physically limbless and bleeding out. Not talking about it is like the comical denial and false bravado of the Black Knight.

We have missed so many appearances from so many leaders on the pitch

Having Maignan out for four months alone has been so costly. Watching Tatarusanu against Lazio was such a painful reminder of this. We do not just miss Maignan's lightning reflexes and brilliant saves, or even his powerful and accurate distribution, but especially his leadership and vision from the goal. Remember how he was always coaching his teammates and conversing with Pioli during the match? We haven't had that. Or all of the other players like Ibrahimović, Florenzi, Kjaer, Rebić, and or captain, Calabria, whose experience and leadership have been sorely missed.  Injuries are not the only burden that they have had to bear, either. There is also the loss of Kessié, who was never replaced, and who was a tremendous part of our Scudetto-winning defense. Losing him was like having an arm cut off. Not "Just a flesh wound."

Speaking of transfers, the club has been heavily criticized for their summer transfer window, but no one seems to remember the part where the club was sold. Milan won the Scudetto, then turned around and sold the club. Who does that? But we never speak of that, no excuses, right? (Even though that same sale is currently under investigation now for possible embezzlement charges for someone involved. But hey, no distractions, right?) Yet you cannot ignore the drama with Maldini and Massara's contracts not being renewed until 11:59pm on June 30th. Or the fact that the sale of the club did not actually close until shortly after the mercato window closed, both of which significantly impaired not only the cashflow, but the timing and ability of the technical and sporting directors to actually act on transfers. Milan's transfer window never really had any legs to speak of.

There was an internal battle that caused a delay in Maldini & Massara's renewal in the early stages of the ownership change

Even without the fact that there was a change of ownership and then a subsequent change of CEO in December, Milan are under the budget constraints set by UEFA. Despite having a 16% increase in revenue this past year and bringing their losses down significantly, they were still given a €2 million fine as well as a suspended fine of €13 million for violations of the former FFP policies. That suspended fine becomes payable if the new financial sustainability regulations are not strictly followed, and there is also the possibility of suspension from European competitions for violations as well. Basically, despite having enormous resources, neither Elliott nor the new owner, RedBird Capital, can just invest and bring in reinforcements. Especially with 31 players already in the squad. Players would need to leave before more players could join Milan. 

The players have largely borne the weight of all of these factors, doing battle bravely on the pitch match after match. Yet the club has been silent in their defense. If there were eight or nine players out, no one mentioned the additional burden this placed on the players, week after week after week. Year after year. When there were no reinforcements sent, or things were difficult off of the pitch, no one really shielded them from the additional weight that these factors placed on their shoulders. They were expected, like the Black Knight, to always win. To stand tall and guard the bridge against all foes, even when all of their limbs were cut off. 

Mentality has always been his thing, but like the players, he has been silenced and sent no reinforcements, either

For three long years, they did stand tall. They fought above their abilities and won against all odds. But now, mentally and metaphorically, their arms and legs have all been cut off. They have been left all alone, without reinforcements. No excuses. The club seem so intent on looking forward and building for the future, they seem to have forgotten to strengthen and fortify the here and now. Neither Pioli nor the club are shielding them from the horrifically critical and even harmful comments from the media and social media. Comments that are often frankly unfair to them, given the burdens they have borne. And with all of that pressure, something had to give at some point. So mentally, they are bleeding out. 

In the Monty Python sketch, the brave Black Knight is left behind, his limbs strewn about, blood everywhere, while he still shouts fighting words that fall on deaf ears to King Arthur, who moves on without looking back. What will happen to Milan? Amidst all of the scandals and potential punishments, at this point, Napoli are moving on without looking back, 12 points ahead of Milan. Maldini pointed out that the situation is not as dire as it seems, as we are in second place and have qualified for the Champions League Round of 16. But the Black Knight had some nice armor, too, before he was left for dead. I'm just sayin'.

They may not have the resources to make changes, but they can speak out and defend the players

Milan have some options to stop the bleeding. Hiring a very good sports psychologist would actually be a very wise decision. The club standing up and taking some responsibility off of the shoulders of the players and publicly acknowledging the injuries, the lack of transfers, and the change of ownership that have clearly impacted the mentality and level of play would probably also help the players, too. The players have not been all together in forever, they used to always travel as a team, at least to retreats and the big games. That synergy has been missing.

Maldini was asked the big question after the Lazio match about his faith in Pioli. Certainly, to save Champions League qualification for next season and finish top four, a coaching change might even be necessary down the road if things continue to get worse. Due to this dropoff in mentality, we already missed out on two of our objectives this season, the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa

Could a breakup be necessary?

But just asking Pioli and the players to keep working hard under the exact same conditions is not the answer. We already saw that two more starters got injured once again on Tuesday in this environment. Maybe getting some key players back like Maignan and Ibrahimović could help. Any change in the transfer window could be refreshing, but Bakayoko refuses to leave. Something needs to change. Something has to be done to stop the bleeding out of Milan's mentality. That something needs to be more than just the continued courage of the Black Knight. Because (spoiler alert) he didn't make it.

This post inspired by the music of Muse's "Stockholm Syndrome"

Our next match is 
Serie A Week 20
Milan vs. Sassuolo
Sunday, January 29, 2023 • 12:30 CET (6:30am EST)

Milan's Mentality Bleeding Out: The Black Knight Theory Milan's Mentality Bleeding Out: The Black Knight Theory Reviewed by Elaine on 6:15 AM Rating: 5
Powered by Blogger.