From the grinner to the growler.
Vincenzo Montella, who became an internet sensation for conducting interviews after poor AC Milan results with a huge smile, has been replaced by the man nicknamed ‘Growl’: Gennaro Gattuso.
The goalless draw with Torino at San Siro on Sunday was the end of the line for the likeable Montella. Despite the lavish, £175million transfer campaign in the summer, the Rossoneri weren’t picking up enough points or playing attractive football. The former Roma striker paid the price.
Gennaro ‘Ringhio’ Gattuso takes over and most fans are thrilled but also curious. The former midfield enforcer, promoted from the role of youth team chief, will bring his irrepressible passion and energy. He is a cult hero to supporters. But it brings the old ‘legends in a tracksuit’ argument back to the fore.
Gennaro Gattuso has been promoted to AC Milan coach after impressing with the youth team
Gattuso is a legend at Milan, a tough, two-time Champions League-winning midfielder; here he grabs then Tottenham coach Joe Jordan round the throat in a touchline bust-up in 2011
Sportsmail’s Martin Samuel once warned of the risks of promoting a club hero to head coach. It can work, look at Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, Real Madrid’s trophy frenzy under Zinedine Zidane, and closer to home, Kenny Dalglish’s first spell with Liverpool in the mid-1980s.
But it can also go awry. Glenn Hoddle struggled at Spurs; Ciro Ferrara was one of Juventus’s greatest defenders but found life in the dugout tricky; Diego Maradona’s World Cup 2010 tilt as Argentina boss was remarkable mainly for his boxy grey suit, silly press conferences and a 4-0 thrashing by Germany.
Pertinently Milan have had a few idols who have underwhelmed with a clipboard in their hands and stopwatch round their necks. After a chaotic 4-3 loss to Sassuolo in January 2014, Massimiliano Allegri was axed and replaced by Clarence Seedorf.
The Dutchman seemed to have it all, a brilliant playing career, cosmopolitan charm, hunger and president Silvio Berlusconi’s backing. But his brief spell became more famous for the choice of music at the San Siro – Guns N’ Roses were replaced by hip-hop – than results.
The team came eighth, and the smooth Dutch icon left in the summer. He was followed by another member of the 2003 and 2007 Champions League-winning squads, Pippo Inzaghi. But the goal poacher turned tactician couldn’t spark a revival.
A patchwork side of bargain buys and stale stars limped to 10th place. SuperPippo walked away looking traumatised. It was a far cry from his heroics on the pitch. Cristian Brocchi (Gattuso’s reserve in central midfield a decade ago) was the most recent ex-player offered the hot seat.
Brocchi stepped in when Sinisa Mihajlovic was dismissed in April 2016, and was told that the position was his permanently, if he impressed. The stocky former midfielder did an adequate job, but 7th place and defeat in the Coppa Italia final wasn’t deemed enough.
Now we await Brocchi’s pal Gattuso. The rambunctious southern Italian had been coaching Milan’s youth teams since the spring. Back in May he admitted he didn’t feel ready to take over the first team. Half a year later he is the latest saviour.
He has served managerial apprenticeships at unfashionable clubs such as OFI Creta in Greece
His temper flared up again as Pisa boss in a match against Foggia in June 2016
One journalist, who has worked very closely with the club for 30 years, says ‘Gattuso is the type of coach who can shake the players up. The club needed someone who could give the team a jolt.’ But the 2006 World Cup winner will need to do more than shout at the under-performing squad.
Gattuso’s coaching CV stands out mainly for the clubs he’s worked at. Perhaps fittingly for a fearless warrior on the pitch, he hasn’t been afraid to go to complicated or embattled teams. He had 11 league matches as player-manager of volatile Swiss outfit Sion before being fired in May 2013. They burned through seven managers that season.
The 73-cap international took control of Palermo for six Serie B games between August and September 2013, but he lost half of them and the Sicilians’ famously trigger-happy president Maurizio Zamparini gave him his marching orders and brought in Giuseppe Iachini.
Next he travelled to OFI Creta in Greece in June 2014, who were crippled by financial problems. The fans loved the prestige of having the Milan and Italy legend on the bench, but the money issues became too much. He resigned in October. However, directors and fans convinced him to stay on. But the testing conditions finally got the better of the Italian in December, and he quit.
It was a similar scenario with Pisa. He led the Tuscans to promotion to Serie B in spring 2016, but resigned shortly after due to dissatisfaction with the running of the club. Then, in September he changed his mind and returned. The crisis team were later relegated though, and Gattuso said farewell in May 2017.
Gattuso cuts a suave figure on the touchline, and in a more familiar pose with Fabio Cannavaro
At Palermo, Gattuso is said to be the manager who showed great faith in Paulo Dybala
The notable thing about his management career so far is that he has never had it easy, rarely enjoying the privilege of a tranquil working environment. Naturally, Milan have their own worries and morale is low. But compared to some of Gattuso’s previous employers it is a monument to professionalism and organisation, with winning woven into its fabric.
GENNARO GATTUSO’S GLORIOUS CAREER
Playing position: Defensive midfield
Clubs: Perugia, Rangers, Salernitana, AC Milan, Sion
International: Italy – 73 caps, 1 goal
Honours: World Cup x1, Champions League x2, UEFA Super Cup x2, FIFA Club World Cup x1 Serie A x2, Coppa Italia x1
Clubs managed: Sion, Palermo, OFI Crete, Pisa, Milan Primavera (youth), AC Milan
If Milan need to foster some unity, they might have found the perfect man. Simone Carini was press officer at Palermo for six years, and saw how Gattuso operates. ‘Gennaro knows how to create a real team spirit. He came to us when we had just been relegated to Serie B. And although he wasn’t in charge when we got promoted at the end of the campaign, I believe it was the spirit that he instilled right at the start, which was as crucial as Beppe Iachini’s tactics.
Carini tells a wonderful story of how Gattuso formed such a close bond. ‘After the match at the end of one training session, he made everyone do press-ups. Normally just the losing side had to do them. But he told everybody to get on the deck. All the players, his staff, the kitmen and even me, the press officer. I had never seen anything like it.’
Those who expect Milan to play in their new coach’s combative image might be in for a shock. ‘Gennaro wants to build his teams around quality and skill,’ says Carini. ‘He values technical ability. He has rarely had the chance to work with really skilful players, but he likes them.
‘At Palermo he recognised the excellence of Paulo Dybala. The club had spent £10m on Dybala before Gattuso’s arrival, then got relegated. A lot of journalists thought Palermo had wasted a lot of money on a young Argentine. But Gattuso said “most players have got four gears. Dybala has got five. You wait until he finds his feet here in Europe. He will go right to the top”, and Gennaro was correct – look at Dybala now, leading Juventus.’
AC Milan are struggling in Serie A as Gattuso arrives, despite spending big in the summer
Leonardo Bonucci, with his wife Martina Maccari at an awards ceremony on Monday, is one of the stars Gattuso must inspire
Milan have men with twinkle toes, particularly Suso and Jack Bonaventura, but entertainment isn’t the immediate priority. According to Gazzetta dello Sport’s Luca Bianchin, ‘the words of club directors Marco Fassone and Massimiliamo Mirabelli made it clear: it’s only results that count for now. Gattuso is a pragmatic, solid coach.’
In a delicious twist, Ringhio’s first match as boss is against Benevento on Sunday. They are coached by Roberto De Zerbi, with whom Gattuso almost got into a touchline fight in June 2016.
That was when Pisa met De Zerbi’s Foggia in the play-off. There was no punch-up, but a barrage of salty language and both men were sent off. The pair come face to face in Serie A this time, both desperate for points (Benevento are bottom of the table on zero).
No doubt someone will ask Gattuso about that row with De Zerbi 18 months ago. In a similar vein, the classic photo of him grabbing Spurs assistant coach Joe Jordan by the throat in 2011 has had an airing. His tendency to get carried away now and then is well documented.
But this is a new start. The dawn of his dream of coaching in Serie A. Unlike previous Milan aces converted into coaches, this guy has done his apprenticeship with modest clubs.
Gattuso might surprise a few people. You think ‘Growl’ isn’t ready for his big chance? You might be barking up the wrong tree.