Seedorf left with a massive Milan pineapple to peel
One phrase that AC Milan coach Clarence Seedorf may have learnt during his recent stint playing in Brazil sums up the task he faces in Italy: He has an enormous pineapple to peel.
The saying, based on the idea that pineapples are prickly and laborious to peel, is used when somebody is left to resolve a huge problem not of their own making.
Seedorf, who is in his first coaching job, has found himself with an especially large and unwieldy pineapple following Tuesday's drubbing by Atletico Madrid and consequent Champions League elimination at the first knockout stage.
The Dutchman has inherited a muddled, confused team, created by two years of rudderless administration at the seven-times European champions, and there is no clear indication from the club leadership as to how they will sort out the mess.
"We've played some big games in the last few weeks and we've nothing to show for it," Seedorf told the club website (www.acmilan.it) after Tuesday's 4-1 drubbing ended Italian interest in the competition. "That kills the ability to react.
"Our fans have definitely suffered for too long but I'm sure they have black and red hearts and when someone falls, they have to get back up. The players are working with commitment and they're trying to get out of this situation."
Milan, however, will need far more than just commitment to get themselves back among Europe's and even the Serie A elite. Seedorf's side are tenth in Serie A, nine points adrift of a qualifying place for the much-maligned Europa League.
The floundering giants have been left standing by domestic and international rivals who have better youth programmes, sharper scouting and clearer philosophies of how to run their club.
Milan's difficulties began at the end of the 2011/12 season when they decided it was time to balance the books and sold talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and key defender Thiago Silva to Paris St Germain.
Other long-time servants also departed, including defender Alessandro Nesta and tough-tackling midfielder Gennaro Gattuso.
The club hailed a new philosophy based on finding and developing talented young players, but then did exactly the opposite as they splashed out on players who were either out of favour at other clubs, past their best, or both.
Just over one year ago, they signed Mario Balotelli from Manchester City. The maverick striker was hounded by Atletico defenders on Tuesday, unable to cope, he repeatedly lost possession, comparing very poorly to his opposite number Diego Costa.
In the summer transfer window, Milan then hired players in the middle or latter stages of their careers.
They splashed out 11 million euros ($15.25 million) on striker Alessandro Matri who has a respectable scoring record but is something of a journeyman. The 29-year-old failed to settle and was loaned to Fiorentina in January.
Slovenian midfielder Valter Birsa was signed from Genoa on a free, while Kaka, 32, returned to the club after four injury-prone years at Real Madrid in a classic case of what Italians call "reheated soup" (minestre recaldati).
In January, they plucked 31-year-old Michael Essien out of Chelsea's reserves.
Milan promised to stick with coach Massimiliano Allegri until the end of the season, but lost patience with him in January and brought in Seedorf, who was finishing off his playing career in Brazil with Botafogo.
The Dutchman had spent 10 years of his playing career at the club and his arrival had a galvanising effect as they won four Serie A games out of six.
But a 1-0 defeat at lowly Udinese, coupled with Tuesday's embarrassing defeat, has sent them back into crisis mode.
"From here until the end of the league and we'll have to do the best we can. It's over now and we have to react," said Seedorf.
"We have to play as well as we can for the remaining 11 matches in the league and then start thinking about next season."
Those plans, however, will depend on club president Silvio Berlusconi, his daughter Barbara and chief executive Adriano Galliani, and for the time being they remain a mystery.
Like his predecessor Allegri, Seedorf could simply find himself left to pick up the pieces and pay the price if he does not get results.