MILAN (Reuters) - It is not always pretty to watch, and few expected it would be, but AC Milan are showing signs of a revival under their fiery former midfielder Gennaro Gattuso.
A 0-0 draw against Lazio on Wednesday in the Coppa Italia, which followed a 2-1 league win over the same opponents three days earlier, extended their unbeaten run to six games in all competitions, reversing an alarming pre-Christmas slump.
After Sunday’s win over Lazio, Gattuso allowed his players to slap him on the head in the middle of the pitch in an unorthodox celebration.
“I just want to make my squad happy, especially the players who are angry with me because they are on the bench,” he said.
Gattuso had not coached a Serie A team before he was rushed into the job in November after Vincenzo Montella was sacked. But he has clearly succeeded in transmitting the fighting spirit he was renowned for as a player.
“Perhaps I am the worst coach in Serie A, but I always want to win, even playing in the garden with my son,” he said after a Coppa Italia win over neighbours Inter in December.
Gattuso spent 12 seasons playing for Milan, winning two Serie A titles, two Champions Leagues and one Club World Cup, and was known as one of Italy’s toughest players.
His coaching career has been a mixed bag including short stints at Swiss club FC Sion and Italian Serie B side Palermo, six months at Greek side OFI Crete and then a move to Pisa where he won promotion from the Italian third tier.
“I never doubted that he could transmit his soul, his character and his grit to the players,” former Real Madrid, Juventus, Milan and Chelsea coach Carlo Ancelotti told Corriere della Sera in an interview on Wednesday.
Ancelotti also voiced his admiration last month when Gattuso celebrated his 40th birthday.
“I look at you on the Milan bench and you act like a lunatic, you scream, you shout, you incite your players. I think you’re the right person in the right place,” he wrote in an open letter.
“There’s a need for your passion, your character, your spirit of sacrifice, to overcome obstacles. There’s also a need for your joy to defuse certain tensions and some of your rage to wake up someone who is sleeping.”
Milan, who visit Udinese on Sunday, are still a long way from qualifying for the Champions League, the minimum expected of them after a 230-million-euros (£201.1 million) spending spree in the summer, and their play lacks the sophistication of Napoli, Juventus and Lazio.
Yet at least new signings such as Hakan Calhanoglu are finding their feet and the San Siro crowd are again behind them.
“He’s given me motivation and he shows interest in me,” Calhanoglu said. “He told me clearly that the problem was in my head, not in my feet. He told me to be free and relaxed, and from that moment on I’ve been playing much better.”
Writing by Brian Homewood in Zurich; Editing by Toby Davis