Italian club A.C. Milan are back… or are they? Even though A.C. Milan have made some important steps to recover their status as a European powerhouse, they still have to prove it on the pitch. It’s true that they look to be moving in the right direction, but they may need some time to mold. Still, there is so much to be excited about. Let’s take a look at Milan’s current situation and what we should expect from them this upcoming season.
Since 2013, A.C. Milan have found themselves in a place that just doesn’t seem right. Multiple consecutive seasons finishing outside of the top six has seen them lose following around the world and has their status as a great club somewhat diminish. There were a few reasons for this fall from grace, including the loss of finances under the ownership of former Italy Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his family. Until now, A.C. Milan have not qualified for the Champions League or the Europa League since the 2012-2013 season. However, this past year featured a great improvement as Milan were in 3rd in December and ended up finishing in 6th which gives them a spot in the playoff rounds of the Europa League. These Europa League games come at the end of July and early August and will determine if Milan will take part in the Europa League group stages. A return to Europe was much needed, as Milan were falling too fast and seemed to be fading away. A 6th place finish is not necessarily bad when you are competing against teams like Juventus, Roma, Napoli, Lazio, Inter Milan and Fiorentina, and they finished ahead of the last two.
There is a lot to be excited about because A.C. Milan have finally been sold this April to Chinese owners, bringing to an end the ongoing story of delays and failures since 2014. Berlusconi did not originally want to sell, but with the influx of money pouring into teams that have been sold to rich eastern ownerships, A.C. Milan could no longer compete in the market. It is unfortunate that a club has to sell its identity, as Italian clubs are almost always run by Italian owners, but this was also the only way to keep Milan from falling completely off the map. These new owners are headed by Yonghong Li and David Han Li, who have promised to invest hundreds of millions of euros into the club. So far, they have made good on their promise and have started a new project of spending power to acquire important players. New Milan CEO Marco Fassone and Sporting Director Massimiliano Mirabelli have seemingly been successful as they have been the ones dealing with other clubs and agents to bring new players to Milan as well as in working to let some players that don’t belong or do not seem good enough to move away from Milan. They have made numerous strong purchases already and Milan have also been linked to some great players.
Milan coach Vincenzo Montella had a positive first season, even if he seemed to struggle in his tactics when Milan started accumulating injuries to key players. However, Montella proved during his time as coach of Fiorentina that he could finish in the top four spots, even with a team that was not expected to finish there. Despite only being in the Europa League and also being a huge outsider to challenge Juventus, Milan are attracting top players because of their history and pedigree as one of the best clubs in the history of the sport.
Two of Milan’s biggest problems these past few seasons were that they didn’t have a proper centre back to partner the young Alessio Romagnoli with, and the Milan midfield has been very weak in lacking pace, prowess and creativity. Fassone and Mirabelli have been working hard to fix these problems and to improve certain positions. Milan have signed former Villarreal defender Mateo Musacchio, who has impressed in La Liga for the past few seasons. He seems like a great improvement to the failures Paletta, Zapata and Ely. He and Romangoli are a promising partnership with another young centre back in Gustavo Gomez ready to replace either one of them as he has shown potential. In the left back position, the once promising Mattia De Sciglio has been steadily declining each season and looks set to leave Milan after one too many poor seasons. Ricardo Rodriguez has been signed from Wolfsburg to improve the left back position. He has been regarded as one of the best left backs in Europe for the past few seasons and even though Wolfsburg had a horrifically bad season, Rodriguez was not completely at fault as he was forced to play centre back, a position which he has never played regularly.
Milan have also strengthened the midfield with the signing of young star Franck Kessie after dominating the midfield at Atalanta in his very first season in Serie A. The Ivory Coast native adds much needed strength and his ability to both attack and defend makes him an important asset to the team. Maybe the most impressive signing so far is the young Portuguese attacker Andre Silva of Porto. His release clause at Porto was around 60 million euros, but Mirabelli was able to sign him for around 35 million – a steal. He has been dubbed as Cristiano Ronaldo’s heir by Ronaldo himself. He is able to hold up the ball well, can dribble skillfully, links up well with other players and is a good finisher of the ball. He brings more elements to the game than someone like Carlos Bacca who, while being an expert finisher, doesn’t offer much else. If Bacca stays at Milan, the two could form a much more deadly partnership as Bacca was too often left isolated in the attack, meaning that many games saw him barely touching the ball. Milan have also acquired Fabio Borini from Sunderland to add some depth to the attack, although he almost certainly won’t be a starting player. Milan announced a grand signing in Hakan Çalhanoğlu of Bayer Leverkusen, who is a master of the free kick and is quite versatile on the pitch. He also adds that missing creativity to link the midfield and the attack and will bring a lot of attention and jersey sales. Milan recently announced yet another major signing in right wingback Andrea Conti, who joins Kessie from Atalanta. Conti was the highest scoring defender out of anyone in Europe’s top five leagues this past season. He is very gifted in the attack, and his defense and would be a considerable improvement on the declining and currently injured Abate.
With these signings alone, Milan have greatly improved. However, recent events have also brought two huge new signings on top of the aforementioned acquisitions. Lucas Biglia will arrive at Milan from Lazio and will be the new centre defensive midfielder. He is exactly what Milan need, showing strong defensive play, with an additional skillset with the ball at his feet as a playmaker. The centre-defensive midfield position has been a problem at Milan for years, as Montolivo has been an utter failure and constantly sustains long term injuries, meaning teenager Manuel Locatelli has been forced to take responsibility and play a role that may be too much to bear for a young player. Jose Sosa has also been deployed there, but he is much more useful in an attacking role. Defensive midfield is a position that Franck Kessie can play, but he is stronger as a central midfielder. Other midfielders that have been linked for a move to Milan include Grzegorz Krychowiak (PSG), Fabinho (Monaco), Julian Weigl (Dortmund), Kevin Kampl (Bayer Leverkusen), and Milan Badelj (Fiorentina). Once again, any of those additions would probably be an improvement compared to last season’s Milan midfield options such as Montolivo, Poli, Kucka, Bertolacci and Sosa.
Incredibly enough, it seems that Milan have acquired Leonardo Bonucci, who is widely regarded as one of the world’s best center backs. Bonucci leaves Juventus after about seven years with the club, and joined Milan for only about 40 million euros, which is cheap considering what most people think he’s worth. Chelsea and Manchester City have previously tried to sign Bonucci for much higher prices, but it seems that Bonucci really likes Milan’s project and sees great potential in them. Bonucci joining Milan happened seemingly out of nowhere. It is impossible to explain this turn of events as Juventus selling their star defender to a direct rival doesn’t make much sense, especially for that price. The strangest aspect may actually be that the entire saga ended in less than two days. It came about as a single report that wasn’t taken seriously at all, but just a few hours later, more and more reports were coming out that were later confirmed by Bonucci’s agent. The next day, Milan and Juventus agreed on a fee and Bonucci headed over to Casa Milan to meet with Fassone and begin his new journey with A.C. Milan. It does seem very strange that Bonucci would leave the perennial top team in Italy only to join a team that isn’t even in the Champions League, but Milan fans won’t care as they have added a world class player to their squad. It seems that Bonucci had a bad relationship with Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri and possibly a few of the players. In any case, the squad just improved immensely with this addition which also brings Juventus down a notch.
Despite all of this, Milan are not done yet as a couple more players will be signed in the coming months. Fassone has most recently said that there is still more to be done this summer and that might include a surprise player or two. Milan will also likely obtain a new striker and winger by the end of the transfer window. Strikers that have been linked to a move to Milan include Andrea Belotti (Torino), Moussa Dembele (Celtic), Nicola Kalinic (Fiorentina) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Dortmund). Any of those players will almost certainly guarantee that Milan score more goals this season. Milan has been missing the goalscoring touch that they had when they started Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the striker. While Calhanoglu can play as a winger, he is more suited to an attacking midfield role which means that Milan will likely need another top left winger if they want to guarantee an improved finish to last season as Bonaventura will be the only left winger on the team. However, he is probably better in attacking midfield or centre midfield and is still out due to injury. Milan have been linked to wingers Rachid Ghezzal (Olympique Lyon), Jesus Corona (Porto), Lucas Moura (PSG), Papu Gomez (Atalanta), Keita Balde (Lazio), Emil Forsberg (RB Leipzig) and Oyarzabal (Real Sociedad).
Many players will likely be departing Milan this summer with the influx of new players are coming in. Goalkeeper Diego Lopez is gone after Donnarumma solidified himself as the new starting goalkeeper over a year ago. Midfield flop Andrea Poli has just moved to Bologna on a free transfer. Promising young striker Luca Vido has been sold to Atalanta for one million euros, but Milan have a buy-back option for him. Juraj Kucka has been sold to Turkish club Trabzonspor for around five million euros. The once very promising Hachim Mastour, the flop Keisuke Honda and the forgotten Nnamdi Oduamadi have all seen their contracts run out with no renewal on the table, meaning they no longer play for A.C. Milan. None of these players seem like they will be missed by Milan fans. Others that have a moderate to high chance of departing include strikers Lapadula and/or Bacca, especially if another striker is brought onto the squad. Lapadula may be used in an exchange to bring in another player and Torino, Genoa, Atalanta and Sampdoria are all interested in him. Bacca could be sold for a high transfer fee as he seemed to lose his way this past season and Sevilla, Marseille, PSG, Arsenal, Everton and West Ham are all interested in his services. Antonelli and/or De Sciglio have been linked to moves away from Milan with Juventus looking like the most likely destination for De Sciglio. Centre backs Paletta and/or Zapata may be on the way out. Paletta is almost certainly leaving, with Torino, Valencia, Atalanta and Sassuolo interested. Bertolacci will most likely be sold or at least loaned out, especially if another midfielder is added to the squad. M’baye Niang will likely be sold with Everton or Torino looking like possible destinations. Plizzari is being loaned out to Ternara but will most definitely not be sold to them. Milan have decided not to purchase any of the players they had on loan this past season, which means that Mati Fernandez, Mario Pasalic, Gerard Deulofeu and Lucas Ocampos are all returning to the teams that own them.
What’s Up with Donnarumma?!?!?!
The general positivity and excitement surrounding Milan took a big hit when it was announced that teenage wonderkid goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma would not be renewing his contract and this meant that he would likely be leaving for much cheaper than if he renewed or if he would be benched this upcoming season and leave for free next summer. The reason that this news was so enormous was because of the way it all went down. Donnarumma is already one of the best goalkeepers in Europe at age 18 and has the potential to even surpass the likes of goalkeeping legends Gianluigi Buffon and Iker Casillas. He has already appeared for the Italian national team and is expected to be the best goalkeeper of the next generation. He was given his chance by Milan at age 16 and Milan made him the starting goalkeeper after he showed great promise. He has always claimed to be a Milan fan and spoke of his love for the club and city many times. He kissed the Milan badge after the Juventus game during a time when many people were saying he would replace Buffon at Juventus. This seemingly showed that he was not interested in leaving and wanted to be like Buffon, staying at his club for many years at a time. Milan sent him a new contract offer that would make him the highest paid player on the team and guarantee that he becomes the captain of Milan within the next few seasons. Milan fans have always supported him, and he is definitely a fan favorite as he was seen as someone who would become an A.C. Milan legend. With all of this love and the incredible new contract, it seemed almost a matter of time before he signed the extension.
The only other factor that likely influenced Donnarumma not to renew his contract was his agent Mino Raiola. Raiola is probably the most notorious player agent in the world as he represents many superstar players with unique and larger than life personalities including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mario Balotelli and Paul Pogba. He is famous for trying to sell his players to a club for an enormous transfer fee, which he receives a large portion of. Donnarumma did not give an answer to the contract offer before the deadline given by the club. Donnarumma did not give his answer until days after the deadline. Raiola is thought to have convinced Donnarumma to leave because Milan did not want to include a release clause in the contract and if they did, it would have been something like 100+ million euros meaning no one would probably be able to purchase him. Raiola is thought to have convinced Donnarumma not to renew so that another club would buy him in this transfer market and Raiola would hugely profit off of the deal because Milan would have to sell him since his current contract ends next year. Real Madrid, Juventus and PSG were immediately linked and it is thought that Real Madrid offered 30 million euros to get him, which is an immense amount for a goalkeeper with only one year left on his contract. However, Raiola’s sinister plan backfired after it was thought that Milan were not going to sell him even though he only has one year left on his contract, because they would rather see him rot on the bench this season and leave for free than see Raiola win and make millions of euros.
Fans were burning Donnarumma jerseys and calling him all sorts of names out of their anger. Even former players and coaches were saying that he was making a terrible choice. This announcement came at a terrible time when Milan looked to be progressing in the right direction, and this could have been a major turning point in the opposite direction for the club, losing its most prized possession and future star. Donnarumma was bombarded with hate and abuse and Milan fans even put up “Dollarumma” signs up behind him at a U21 Italy game while pelting him with fake dollars. Since then, it seems like Mirabelli and Fassone won the fight to keep the talented young keeper, and Raiola took the loss. Raiola openly announced in an interview where thatit wasn’t Donnarumma’s fault and that he was open to negotiating with Fassone again. Raiola’s account of the details consisted largely of nonsensical and contradictory statements, and the ordeal was seen as a failure on Raiola’s part. It was then claimed that Donnarumma would fire Raiola immediately and re-sign with Milan, claiming that he never wanted to leave and it was all Raiola’s fault. Donnarumma put those rumors to bed by tweeting “#Donnarumma #Raiola Yesterday, today, and tomorrow!!” It seems, however, that Raiola wrote this tweet himself or told Donnarumma to tweet it. Donnarumma seemingly then went on Instagram to apologize and say Milan is in his heart and that he would renegotiate the contract but he claimed that his account was hacked an hour later (something I am very skeptical about). Right now, it seems that he will stay at Milan, but fans will not forgive him easily, especially if Raiola remains at his agent. The contract should not be changed to favor Raiola and Donnarumma, and if anything, it should be harsher, including the removal of the guaranteed captaincy, lower wages and no release clause – but it seems like only the first one will change. The new contract offered has reportedly been accepted by Donnarumma. Fassone himself has said that Raiola once again tried to stall the negotiations and change the contract to lower the release clauses that are proposed on the contract. If Donnarumma does indeed stay, it means that Milan will have every position filled with a quality player and they can challenge for a Champions League spot. Donnarumma’s commitment to Milan will be yet another win for Mirabelli and Fassone, who can seemingly do no wrong at the moment. It will be interesting to see if Milan reaps the benefits of all of the actions taking place this summer.
There are many promising youngsters to look out for in the A.C. Milan system, and some of them have legitimate potential to become world class. As for goalkeepers, they have the already fantastic Gianluigi Donnarumma, as well as the promising Alessandro Plizzari who has convinced some that is just as good as Donnarumma. He is largely unproven but did play a game against mighty Uruguay at the U21 European Cup in which he saved two penalties and made many impressive saves during the game. He recently turned 17, so he has a lot of time to grow and if Donnarumma does decide to leave, then he might be the go-to option instead of pursuing another top keeper. For defense, there is fairly experienced 24-year old Ricardo Rodriguez who should improve the Milan defense and their attacking prowess. 25-year old Gustavo Gomez showed some glimpses of quality last season, but didn’t play enough for us to get a full grasp on his ability. This season will likely be the make or break season for him. 22-year old Alessio Romagnoli has already established himself as Milan’s best centre back and as one of the most promising centre backs in the entire league. He is the future of this backline and can still improve his consistency and gain experience. 20-year old right back Davide Calabria had a positive season and should be in the plans for Milan’s future. However, since it looks like Milan will get 23-year old Andrea Conti, Calabria may be forced out on a loan or settle for less playing time since Conti was such a revelation last season.
In the midfield, there is now 20-year old Franck Kessie. The best way to prove how much potential he has shown is to list the teams that he reportedly rejected – this includes Chelsea, Manchester United, Roma, Arsenal, Napoli and Liverpool. Milan somehow walked away with him, all the more credit to Mirabelli. There is also 19-year old Manuel Locatelli, who burst onto the scene after the injury to Montolivo when he scored crucial goals to beat Sassuolo and Juventus. He has shown great potential as well and looks like a strong candidate to play a lot this season if he isn’t loaned out to another team to gain some experience. Lastly, in attack there is 23-year old Suso who had an unexpectedly great season, notching many important goals as well as providing countless crosses and passes that led to goals. He is one of the main reasons why Milan were able to finish sixth and win the Supercoppa last season. There is also 19-year old Patrick Cutrone, who will most likely be loaned out but has shown potential as he scored 11 goals in 19 games for the U17 Italian national team and scored many goals for the Milan youth team. New signing Andre Silva is only 21 and dubbed as Cristiano Ronaldo’s heir, and while he doesn’t actually possess the insane talent that Ronaldo has, he can establish himself as a world class player with Milan. He had a wonderful season with Porto as he scored 16 goals in the Portuguese 1st league and scored 4 goals in eight games in the Champions League.
What to Expect Next Season?
The goal next season has to be to finish top four in Serie A to get them into the Champions League. Deep runs in the Coppa Italia and the Europa League should also be goals, but Serie A is clearly the most important. Failure to finish top four would see them struggle the following season, as they would have lost a great deal of expected income and they would most likely not be able to further improve the squad. If they are likely to finish in a top four spot in the second half of the season, then they might want to focus more on the Europa League and Coppa Italia as it would be great to win a trophy in the first year of the new era, especially since winning the Europa League guarantees Champions League play the following season anyway. With the squad that they currently have, it seems like Milan should finish in a Champions League spot, either third or fourth. The additions of Bonucci and Biglia could actually make them contenders for top three and still, they are looking to sign two or three more players before the end of the window which could see them actually challenge for first place. I expect a lot from the new signings, especially Franck Kessie and Hakan Calhanoglu as the midfield must be a huge improvement from the last few seasons as well as for Bonucci to continue his performances and prove that he really is one of the best in the world.
I must stress that Milan need to purchase another top player or two before they can be considered definitive Serie A title contenders. Right now, I would say that Milan have the third best squad in the league behind Juventus and Napoli, and now slightly above Inter and Roma. Roma have just sold many of their players and have not yet replaced them, but I expect them to successfully find a solution by the end of the transfer window. Last year, Lazio and Atalanta finished ahead of Milan, but this upcoming season will almost surely see Milan ahead of Atalanta because they have lost many of their best players already and are set to lose more. Lazio also didn’t participate in Europe last season, making it much easier for them to focus on Serie A. They have not made any major signings and will probably part with Keita Balde by the end of the summer. With Juventus and Napoli looking too strong, I believe the final Champions League spots will be a fight between Milan, Inter and Roma with added some pressure from Lazio and Fiorentina. If Milan find themselves too far from the top four later in the season, this would be a huge disappointment and then they must focus all efforts into winning the Europa League for a ticket into the Champions League. As of right now, I would predict Milan finishing exactly in third place in Serie A, which would be considered a success. They might have a squad seemingly as good as Napoli, but Napoli has had a similar team for many years now while Milan have a completely new squad filled with players that have never played together, some with no Serie A experience.
It’s looking like this upcoming season could be the best season A.C. Milan have had in many years. There is a lot to be excited about. The new owners, Fassone and Mirabelli seem to have created a project that will bring Milan back to the top of Italian football and then to the top of Europe. I expect the fanbase to come out of their shell and show their full support for the team. The stadium will be packed again, more jerseys will be sold and more attention will fall onto everything Milan is doing. However, nothing is guaranteed and this team has a very long way to go before they can say that they are one of the best in Europe. The glory days could be just around the corner; there is much work to be done and this upcoming season should merely be a stepping stone on a longer path to glory. Don’t expect this team to win anything this upcoming season, but just expect them to improve greatly, which is all we can ask for – at least for now. Remember that Inter Milan seemingly improved their squad last season and ended up having a failure of a season. To my fellow Milan fans, take caution but have hope, because this new team has incredible potential.