AC Milan has been in doldrums for some time but their spending spree this summer suggests the winds of change are blowing at the San Siro…
By the end of 2001, AC Milan had appointed their ex-talisman Carlo Ancelotti as their manager. Ancelotti was inheriting what was a recently trophyless team in Milan, as the Rossoneri had floundered domestically and in Europe since their last Scudetto victory in 1999. But 8 seasons later, the Italian had a team built on his concrete tactics with numerous titles on the table.
His success at the San Siro was often complimented with comparisons of his time with Diavolo’s dominance in the early 1980s to the 1990s. He emphasised on possession and attacking play that was both effective and aesthetically pleasing. In that sense, Ancelotti’s Milan was very much a side that embodied their manager.
One of his vital contributions was Andrea Pirlo’s transformation into a transition midfielder from an attacking one. Pirlo was someone Ancelotti looked to build his team around, giving him the keys to the midfield and letting the totemic Italian maestro dictate the pace of the game, playing at the bottom of the midfield diamond.
The good old days of Italian football saw a lot of superstars in the AC Milan dugout
Until Cafu’s arrival in the mid-2000s, Ancelotti constantly switched between this diamond-esque structure and a 4-3-2-1, i.e. the Christmas tree. This was partly due to Filippo Inzaghi’s recurring injuries and, more importantly, the introduction of Kaka.
Off the field though, Milan struggling with boardroom anarchy and legal troubles with match-fixing and corruption charges that were constant companions of the then owner and four-time Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Since parting ways with Ancelotti in 2009, Milan has had eight different managers including the incumbent Vicenzo Montella. Once touted as one of Europe’s super clubs and regulars in the later stages of the Champions League, the Rossoneri have been reduced to mid-table mediocrity in a unipolar Serie A dominated by Juventus. Ancelotti’s name was so synonymous with Milan that the combination of the two was enough to attract to retain some of the best players in the world. In many ways, he was the captain, keeping the ship afloat in choppy waters. His departure coming as it did at the height of their financial problems, was followed by that of many of the stars including Kaka, who was sold off for big money to balance the books.
However, until the summer of 2012, the club hosted numerous world-class players. The likes of Ronaldinho, David Beckham, Alexandre Pato and Robinho came in while the club let many legends slip away. Pirlo left the club on a free transfer, only to become a vital part of Juventus in years to come.
Other greats like Alessandro Nesta, Gianluca Zambrotta, Paolo Maldini, Clarence Seedorf and Gennaro Gattuso retired without being replaced by suitable youngsters. Thiago Silva signed a new deal with the club in 2012, only to leave for PSG 11 days later with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The departure of the backbone players saw a great depression for the club.
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Once under Massimiliano Allegri, the club provided a return to happier times when they brought back some quality players to the San Siro. This saw the arrival of Fernando Torres, Mario Balotelli, domestic star Stephan El Shaarawy, the resigning of Kaka and more, but, with the dip in finances for transfers and a rift with the board, Allegri opted out in favour of a move to their arch rivals, Juventus. Milan recaptured the Scudetto in the 2010–11 Serie A season, first since the 2003–04 campaign and 18th overall. However, that proved a false dawn as the club has failed to qualify for European competitions since 2014.
Fininvest, the holding company of the club also signed a preliminary agreement with Bee Taechaubol to sell a 48% stake in the club for €480m in 2015, after a net loss of €91.3m in 2013-14. However, the deal collapsed.
In August 2016, a new preliminary agreement was signed with a Chinese investment management company Sino-Europe Sports Investment Management Changxing Co. Ltd. to which Fininvest sold its 99.93% stake for €520m, plus the refurbishment of an inter-company credit-line of €220m from Fininvest to the club.
In April this year, the deal was completed and Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux became the new direct parent company of the club. Just like the Glazers’ acquisition of Manchester United, this sale did not go down well with Milan’s faithful. But once the bitter season was over, the Chinese tycoon began his trade of players.
The new players look to be capable enough to begin and eventually, bring a transformation to the sleeping giants of Europe
Having retained Montella, AC Milan has since gone on a spending spree since the last week of May, having purchased as many as 10 players with a couple more strongly linked. The Rossoneri have already spent €215.5m in the window and are still looking for a striker having been linked with Torno man Andrea Belotti and Chelsea’s Diego Costa. With these moves, the 7-time European winners will have a very neatly assembled squad that is led by the right man.
To build a champion team, it is a must to have a lethal leader of men. Someone who is fierce, young and knows the importance of winning. One of the best defenders in the world, 30-year old Leonardo Bonucci is unquestionably the bargain signing of the summer – joining AC for a fee around €40m from serial Serie A winners Juventus. A born winner and a warrior on the pitch, the former Vecchia Signora man will be an invaluable addition to the San Siro side next season.
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Given that Milan’s Gabriel Paletta became officially the worst disciplined player in Europe last season, picking up five red cards across the campaign – the club is in need of a cool head at the back. Mateo Musacchio has impressed in La Liga for seven seasons with Villarreal and has matured as a player over the years. Bonucci, meanwhile, could prove an ideal mentor for the defender.
Despite being coveted by a number of Europe’s top sides, Andrea Conti chose to remain in Italy and move to Milan from last season’s surprise package, Atalanta. At €25.5m, Conti was by no means a cheap fix for the club’s defensive weaknesses. The 23-year-old excelled in Serie A last season, making him an immediate challenger for Ignazio Abate’s starting spot.
Another signing in the name of Ricardo Rodriguez is a blockbuster. Strong, fast and hell-bent on tearing down the wing on a regular basis, Rodríguez will certainly provide a shot in the arm for AC next season.The left-back is also highly proficient from dead ball situations, earning a name for himself with a vicious left peg.
The Rossoneri’s new-look squad is a formidable one © The Corner-Sourav Bose
Moving to the midfield, they have added the likes of Hakan Çalhanoğlu, a Turkish international natural playmaker and a free-kick specialist as well as Franck Kessié, a 20-year-old Ivorian who is a powerful box-to-box midfielder.
Upfront, AC Milan relied too much on Carlos Bacca last season, who was the club’s top scorer with just 15 goals in all competitions. The €38m signing of André Silva may have raised the eyebrows of some fans, however, the potential of the 21-year-old Portuguese international is unquestionable. The former Porto star already has eight goals in 13 appearances for his country and has proven himself an agile and versatile predator when facing the opposition goal.
Elsewhere, Fabio Borini has come in on loan from relegated side Sunderland until the end of the season. The 26-year-old former Chelsea youth player is yet to live up to the hype that he generated as a young prospect, putting in uninspiring stints at Liverpool, Sunderland and Roma during his career.
Having already played some friendlies, the new Milan have put in some solid performances against some of European football’s elite. Despite losing to Dortmund, Montella will have been pleased to see his new signings gelling as a unit and working hard on the pitch.
Let’s make no mistake Juventus remain miles ahead of the competition in Italy, despite Milan’s audacious and ongoing spree. Regardless though, the Rossoneri faithful have a season of much promise to look forward to. While challenging the Old Lady’s supremacy remains the ultimate goal, they should expect to be in contention for a return to the Champion League next season.
The club’s new owners have wasted little time in showing their ambition to see Milan return to the pinnacle of domestic and continental football. More importantly though, with all the off-field controversies laid to rest, here’s hoping that the club will now make the news for all the right reasons, as they begin their journey on the long road back to the top.