“I didn’t expect AC Milan to struggle that badly ( this season) if I am honest with you. I thought they would blossom but I’ve always had my fair share of doubts because it is never easy when you change so many players and when the owners of the club live so far away from the reality[ Yonghong Li in China).
“The owners and sporting directors are new too, thus it is difficult to hit the ground running but I am not hiding that I expected Milan to be better.”
Gianluca Vialli is well-placed to discuss the misfortunes of AC Milan as he not only used to face them season-in, season-out in Serie A during his playing career with Sampdoria and Juventus in the nineties but on top of it, he now works as a pundit for Sky Sports Italia and analyses the Rossoneri’s matches on a regular basis.
The former Chelsea boss, who has lived in London since marrying an English woman in 2003, was the first Italian to manage in the Premier League.
The 53-year-old had sealed every possible trophy in club football by the time he moved to London in 1996. In 1991 he played a key role in helping Sampdoria to their first ever Serie A title before he moved to Juventus and added another domestic trophy and the Champions League to his impressive cabinet.
In those years his sides ended the 1990-1991 and 1994-1995 seasons above star-studded AC Milan sides that had players such as Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini and Roberto Donadoni in their ranks. A different epoch for Italian football, back then the go-to league in Europe.
Due to his pugnacious style of play and his indomitable spirit, Vialli won the fans’ hearts and cemented his place among the best ever foreign Premier League players.
He remains equally distinctive today. When we meet at a lounge at the Hotel Courthouse in central London ahead of the Fifa 2017 Best Awards at the London Palladium, Vialli is dressed in a pink shirt, a khaki coat and boat shoes with no socks.
So when Vialli scrutinises Milan’s performances, he does so with a rare perspective. He knows what AC Milan mean to Italian football, he knows that Serie A has lost appeal since the Rossoneri’s fall from grace six years ago, he also knows that for Juve winning the league without facing the mighty competition of AC Milan isn’t the same.
When he insists that Milan need time to get back to trophy-winning ways he does so because he genuinely thinks it, and not because he used to turn out for their biggest rivals Juventus.
On social media, numerous Milan fans have voiced their discontent, accusing him of bias but, truth be told, he totally came off as impartial during our interview.
Milan stunned the footballing world last summer by going on an unprecedented spending spree and snapping up thirteen new players in little more than two months.
Thus, whether the squad overhaul would bear fruit or not was immediately questioned by the club’s demanding fans, their rivals and some experts including Vialli himself.
And rightly so as Milan have already lost four of their opening ten Serie A matches with manager Vincenzo Montella rightly risking the boot should an upturn in performance not take place before long.
Milan face Vialli’s former club Juventus on Saturday evening and the performance as much as the result could determine Montella’s fate with former Fiorentina gaffer Paulo Sousa waiting in the wings.
However Vialli believes that “Montella should stay for some more time” before relieving him of his duties.
“It is difficult to perform when your morale is low and when the first defeats come your way,” Vialli reiterates.
“Personally, I prefer not judging the new players as it is too early.
“But I am very surprised by Fabio Borini who came for a bargain price.
“Apart from that, I don’t think Milan will cement a place in the top four but I hope they can surprise me.
“This season, the league is very balanced and everything can happen.”
The proof that Vialli is impartial came when he revealed that “not Juventus but Napoli will win the league.”
Featured photograph: Wikipedia