After several seasons of mid-table obscurity, A.C. Milan are looking like they’re on their way back. Despite currently sitting 7th in the Serie A table, Milan are just a few points off the Champions League places. Vincenzo Montella is building a progressive team with young players. The most important youngsters consist of three Italians; Gianluigi Donnarumma, Alessio Romagnoli and Manuel Locatelli.
Donnarumma’s emergence is one of the most intriguing in recent seasons. Siniša Mihajlović was the man that gave the then 16-year-old his debut. After poor performances, Diego López was dropped and Donnarumma was in. He hasn’t looked back since. He’s already made over 50 Serie A appearances, after just turning 18.
Locatelli grew up in Lecce and was part of Atalanta’s set-up, before signing for Milan in 2009 at 11 years of age. After progressing through the Esordienti and Primavera, Locatelli was promoted to the first-team during the 2015/16 season, before making his debut on 21st April 2016, aged 18. Like Donnarumma, Locatelli is a Milan fan and unsurprisingly wants to emulate Andrea Pirlo.
“I had a poster of Andrea Pirlo on my wall, he was my idol. I want to emulate him, I watch his matches to learn from him”
Romagnoli learnt his trade at Roma, even gaining experience of first-team football on loan at Sampdoria in the 2014/15 season before Milan made an offer. €25 million was enough to tempt Roma into selling, which they surely see as a mistake now. Romagnoli has been compared to Milan great Alessandro Nesta, in the way he plays and also the fact that he chose to wear the number 13 shirt when he signed for Milan.
Alessandro Nesta & Alessio Romagnoli both made their footballing debuts at 17 years old, and won their first trophy at 21
Coincidence ???⚫ pic.twitter.com/9r6geWA9pQ
— ItalianFootballTV (@IFTVofficial) February 1, 2017
Under the guidance of Vincenzo Montella, a young manager in his own right, Milan have four gems (including Montella) they need to hold onto no matter what. Not only can they form the spine of the team for years to come, they’re the present as well.
Since Thiago Silva’s departure to PSG, Milan haven’t had a dominant centre back who they can rely on week in week out. Romagnoli can provide the consistency that Milan have lacked so much in recent seasons. Comparisons to Nesta aren’t too far fetched. Romagnoli’s decision making is impressive for one so young and his calmness on the ball is a huge asset to his team. At just 22 years of age, he has many years of improvement to come.
Locatelli’s first goal for Milan is one that most won’t forget in a hurry. With Milan trailing 3-2 at the San Siro to Sassuolo with just under twenty minutes left, they won a corner. Bonaventura whipped the ball in only for it to be headed away from danger. Luckily for Milan, Locatelli arrived on time on the edge of the ‘D’ to hammer to ball into the top corner.
Locatelli has so far been deployed in front of the back four, mainly due to Riccardo Montolivo’s injury and horrible form. Recycling the ball and launching counter attacks is Locatelli’s greatest attribute, but his awareness and positional sense is brilliant for a 19-year-old still learning the role. As well as his goal against Sassuolo, he scored arguably a better goal in Milan’s 1-0 over Juventus in October.
The most impressive of the three has been Donnarumma. Ever since his debut at 16, he’s been reliable in the Milan goal. Inevitably, comparisons to the legendary Gianluigi Buffon grew louder and louder. Despite growing up a die-hard Milan fan, Buffon is Donnarumma’s hero. Shock.
Of the three, Donnarumma probably has the most potential and genuinely looks like the heir to Buffon’s throne as Italy’s number 1. Despite his love for Milan, his agent, Mino Raiola has said that his Milan future isn’t certain.
“Does he deserve a great Milan? No, he deserves a great team. I’m not married to anyone, my job is not to be a fan of a team. I think it is only right for me to see what Milan will be. It is the most important question that you have not asked, you are focusing on renewal and you don’t know what Milan will be.”
Ensuring Milan can keep all three, as well as Vincenzo Montella, fans have good reason to be optimistic for the future. Giacomo Bonaventura has been a fantastic addition in midfield and Davide Calabria looks a promising full-back to take over the reigns from Ignazio Abate. Not forgetting that Suso looks a completely different player compared to his time at Liverpool.
Donnarumma, Romagnoli and Locatelli have to be the main focus for Montella. Their inexperience can be used a positive to mould them into the players Milan need for the next 10-15 years. Their passion for the club will provide the foundations of which A.C. Milan can build upon and their quality and potential will do the rest.
The trio seem destined to be part of the greatest Milan XI in the future, but who currently gets into the prestigious XI…