Milan are finally on the way up after spending years in the wilderness, courtesy of some poor squad management and various managerial changes.
After a long period of dawdling and protracting, Silvio Berlusconi ended his 31-year association with his beloved AC Milan, selling 99.93% of his stake to a Chinese consortium – the biggest Chinese investment in a European club.
Milan enjoyed a period of unprecedented success under Berlusconi, winning eight league titles and five European Cups, including the Champions League. However, things began to go south and an almost endless period of chaos engulfed the club after their title triumph in 2011. Veterans like Andrea Pirlo (32), Gennaro Gattuso (33), Clarence Seedorf (35) and Pippo Inzaghi (37), were all in the twilight of their playing days and as we have seen over the years, poor succession planning has often resulted in clubs being left broken.
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Something similar happened with the Rossoneri and fast forward six years, they’re still struggling to reach the lofty heights they scaled so wonderfully in the past. However, Milan’s prolonged sale has sparked a wave of unseen optimism and to an extent, relief amongst the fanbase – the sense of relief stemming from the collective riddance of the confusion around the club since the past six years.
Additionally, the new era kicked off with an amazing comeback by Milan in the Derby Della Madonnina, which added an awful lot to the celebratory mood of the fans. However, the new ownership has a lot to take care of if they’re serious about taking Milan to where they belong.
For some days now, fans of the club have been speculating about the players they could sign in the upcoming transfer window, now that an inoculation of cash is almost inevitable. Deals for Matteo Musacchio and Sead Kolasinac are said to be close to completion and big name like Cesc Fabregas, Matteo Kovacic, Andrea Belotti and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have been flung around recently.
It is safe to say that after years of mediocre and poorly planned recruitment, Milan are finally looking at players of a calibre they deserve and need in order to compete with the likes of Juventus and Roma domestically.
The inflation in the transfer market is at an all-time high and if Milan are serious about recruiting targets like the ones mentioned above, they will have to show immense ambition and spend huge sums of money.
However, the first test of their ambition will be the contract extensions of indispensable players like Suso, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Giacomo Bonaventura and Mattia De Sciglio – all of whom can play a momentous part in Milan’s quest to achieve relevance and glory in the years to come. Moreover, these players have been Milan’s best performers this season and securing their futures will provide a solid foundation for the club and owners to build upon.
The situations regarding two bright prospects at the club are a bit complicated though. The youngsters in question are Gerard Deulofeu and Mario Pasalic. The former arrived at the club in January on loan from Premier League outfit Everton and has been absolutely sensational for the Rossoneri.
The disappointment which ensued after Mbaye Niang’s strange regression and eventual loan to Watford was dwarfed by Deulofeu’s instant impact at the San Siro. The 23-year old’s pace and directness has given Milan’s attack a new dimension and fans hope that the club can seal his signature on a permanent basis.
But, a buy-back clause in his contract included by his parent club Barcelona will prove to be a massive obstacle, should the Catalan giants opt to activate it. Pasalic, who is on loan at the club from Chelsea, finds himself in a similar position too. Although not a regular starter, the Croatian has huge potential and would eventually be a cornerstone of the Milan midfield for years to come.
Eventually, though, the final decision rests with the players. While Pasalic’s agent has hinted that his client would like to stay at Milan once his contract expires, Deulofeu’s case isn’t as simple. The lure of playing for Barcelona may prove to be a tad too resistible for him and in case he doesn’t stay put, Milan needs to find other alternatives.
One might wonder what is it that can keep the aforementioned players and lure potential targets to the club without Champions League football. For years now, there hasn’t been a solid project in place at Milan. Managers have come and gone like dawn and dusk, while the club has been embroiled in all sorts of economical issues.
However, for the first time in a while, there seems to be some kind of stability at Milan. They have new owners, a reliable manager and a squad littered with supremely talented prospects. There is a project in place, there is cash to spend and there is an opulent past and prestige to boast about.
Manager Vincenzo Montella has come in and silenced a lot of his doubters at the club. A section of the fans didn’t quite fancy him and questioned his tactical astuteness initially. Ironically enough, Montella, through his tactical solidity and fluid game plan has won over the Milanistas very quickly. There is a distinct coherent look to how Milan try to execute their playing style, which quite frankly had been missing for some time now.
The former Fiorentina manager has deployed a defacto 4-3-3 formation, with Manuel Locatelli sitting in the defensive midfield spot and Juraj Kucka along with Bonaventura occupying the right and left central midfield spots respectively.
Their full backs – Davide Calabria on the right and De Sciglio on the left, push high down their respective wings with the outside central midfielders falling back on the first receiver line alongside Locatelli.
Despite not having superior technical abilities, Kucka has managed to keep his place in the starting eleven by maximising the use of his physical abilities. The Slovakian’s combativeness, relentless energy and physicality enables him to press the oppositions midfielders and force them to play the ball back to the defenders or shift in wide in a much less dangerous position.
Alessio Romagnoli’s make complete use of his wand of a left foot by initiating attacks from defence with penetrating passes. Locatelli slots into his position to provide cover when the centre-back pushes forward.
In attack, Suso adds layers to Milan’s attacking threat by cutting in and delivering incisive balls into the box for the striker to attack. More importantly, his trickery and movement causes defenders to vacate their traditional space which is then exploited by Carlos Bacca or Gianluca Lapadula.
One of the criticisms of Sinisa Mihajlovic’s Milan was a distinct lack of dynamism and creativity in the final third. This is where Deulofeu has come in and solved one of Milan’s biggest issues. His direct running, pace and quick thinking has added a very important layer to the team’s attacking play.
Montella has had to operate with a shoestring budget in the transfer market and didn’t get the players he wanted. That he’s taken such challenges in his stride and made a very randomly constructed team click, is testament to how much he’s grown as a manager and gives us a glimpse of what he could achieve in the future.
The red and blacks’ surprising defeat against strugglers Empoli might have just cast a cloud on their Europa League chances, with neighbours Inter and Montella’s former team Fiorentina lurking perilously close in terms of points. However, given how he’s managed to pull his team through adverse situations throughout the season, it seems as though Milan will finally be back in Europe next season, which is an important step in their period of renaissance.