When Stefano Pioli took the microphone to speak one last time in front of the fans at the San Siro as the last of three 2022 scudetto heroes that were bidding farewell to AC Milan, the reception from the stands was visibly mixed.

On the one hand, the words said by the coach, which followed Simon Kjaer and Olivier Giroud‘s emotional speeches, evoked memories of a wonderful title-winning campaign that saw the Rossoneri win Serie A for the first time in 11 years.

Yet, while applauding as energetically as they could, the fans could not help but feel torn given the context in which everything was taking place. A 3-3 home draw against rock-bottom Salernitana seemed the appropriate culmination of a second consecutive season without trophies marked by initial promise, deception and an eventual feeling of resignation.

To put it as a banner hanging from the Curva Sud did for the opening 45 minutes, “there’s no positive season without trophies” for an illustrious club like AC Milan, which prompts us to ask how Pioli‘s legacy should be considered in the light of both his scudetto win and the following troubled seasons that saw the Rossoneri fail to live up to the expectations of a fanbase that was growingly hungry for success.

Pioli’s path at AC Milan

Starting his stint on a bumpy path which was marked by an infamous 5-0 defeat at Atalanta in December 2019, Pioli took Milan to unthinkable heights by shaping a cohesive and modern team based on innovative technical principles that made resilience, enthusiasm and energy their main qualities.

The high-pressing side that stunned then-reigning champions Inter in 2022 displayed a mix of freshness, technique, intensity and speed, persuading many that the foundations for a winning cycle may have been laid.

It was Pioli‘s inability to follow that season up with further improvements that left most supporters disappointed.

Rafael Leao and Stefano Pioli embrace. (Photo: AC Milan)

Two seasons after reaching the peak of his time at the club, the coach failed to build on that initial success as today’s Milan seems a long way from the Serie A title despite transfer windows that, at least on paper, looked promising. The gap to Inter come the end of the 2023/24 season was 19 points.

Although they can be extremely hard to face on their best days, especially when presented with open spaces to attack, Milan‘s lack of consistency, their defensive vulnerabilities and their difficulties in imposing their dominance through possession-based football hindered growth.

Pioli’s legacy at AC Milan: Raising the bar again

With the chant “Pioli‘s on fire” echoing in the San Siro for the last time, Milan fans primarily wanted to thank the man who reawakened a sleeping giant, restoring them to their winning tradition.

As much as the decision to call time on Pioli‘s time at Milan seems legit from a sporting perspective, the ownership and management should know that sporadic wins are not something an ambitious fanbase like Milan‘s will settle for.

For them, Pioli will be remembered as the man who raised the bar again – it is now up to the club to take his good early work and put it in safe hands.

The appointment of the new coach, with Paulo Fonseca very close to arriving, as well as the strategy in the upcoming transfer market, will be the first crucial steps the club will take into a new era in which the fans demand success, as well as entertainment.