Left to right: Musacchio, Kessié, Rodríguez, Silva. And that’s just the beginning…
9 April 2016. AC Milan, lined up with Donnarumma, Abate, Alex, Romagnoli, Antonelli, Honda, Kucka, Montolivo, Bonaventura, Bacca and Balotelli lose 1-2 at home to Juventus. A grave error by Rossoneri’s centre-backs in the first half cancels their early lead, when Mario Mandžukić pounces on Morata’s layoff. On the other end of the pitch, the other ‘Super Mario’ tries to pull off Diego Maradona and score a tap-in with his hand – in vain. Eventually, it’s Paul Pogba who decides the outcome, as he outmuscles Abate and converts Claudio Marchisio’s corner kick. Three points go to to the Old Lady, who extends her remarkable run of 21 wins and one draw in 22 matches since October 2015.
At the same time, San Siro is in the eye of the storm. The team hasn’t won a league game in six weeks; at sixth place, they’re forced to reconcile themselves with the lack of Champions League football all over again – and that’s the fourth time in a row. On April 12th, Siniša Mihajlović is sacked which ends the Serb’s 301-day long spell in charge. The former Lazio centre-back leaves his team set up in a 4-4-2 shape and with several, suspicious, out-of-form individuals in the squad. The faith put in a £18.5 million signing of Andrea Bertolacci from Genoa did not pay off; neither did Mihajlović’s attempt to revitalize Riccardo Montolivo. The club’s crisis, dating back to 2012, has just reached it apogeum.
9 April 2017. AC Milan, lined up with Donnarumma, Calabria, Zapata, Romagnoli, De Sciglio, Kucka, Sosa, Pašalić, Suso, Bacca and Deulofeu beat Palermo 4-0 at home. An excellent, early free kick from Suso and his subsequent assist to Pašalić pretty much decide the result long before the 30-minute mark. While this victory takes ACM to 58 league points and another sixth place. The next victory, this time scored off the pitch and four days later, promises the club something more than just Europa League stagnation. After eight months of price haggling, detail negotiations, delays and legal manoeuvrers, Silvio Berlusconi has finally sold his
soul beloved club to Li Yonghong’s Investment Group.
As usual with the Asian investors, the following summer kicks off with a bang. Less than a week after it’s rise to ascendancy, Milan hire Massimo Mirabelli as their sporting director. The man, who’s been convincing the likes of Brozović, Perišić Murillo and Gabigol to play for Inter just a year ago, has been handed the task of attracting similar, or bigger names – this time, for Nerazzurri’s sworn enemies. With him, a war chest speculated to be around £100 million was confirmed. The objective? As usual: reverse the five-year long, negative trend and join back the race with Napoli and Roma for an unofficial ‘2017 Biggest Threat to Juventus’ trophy. As of today: a gap of roughly 25 league points stands in the way:
Mirabelli opened the spending spree with the signing of centre-back Mateo Musacchio, finally addressing the clubs’ notorious difficulties at finding a suitable partner for Alessio Romagnoli. Last season, that job belonged to either Cristian Zapata or Gabriel Paletta. Ever since joining his current club, the Colombian had major problems with injuries, with 2016/17 season being no exception. Paletta, though fit and ready to play, picked up five (!) red cards last season and has been recognized more as a reckless wacko than a solid defensive choice.
Musacchio brings a bit different type of quality to the table. Not as well built as his predecessors (180 cm, 73 kg), he offers more in the tackling and blocking department, in which he’s no worse than the very best Serie A centre-backs like Fazio, Caldara or Koulibaly. With him on the pitch, Villarreal have picked up nine La Liga clean sheets in 23 games last season – including the ones, taken from the grounds of Espanyol, Sociedad, Celta, Betis and Atletico Madrid. In those big, away games, the new Rossoneri in town has been VCF’s worthy heir to Eric Bailly.
Even bigger boots to fill next season for him. Five years down the line, tifosi are still looking to find their new Alessandro Nesta. And, in order to fulfil those expectations, the Argentinian lad will have to step up – because at the moment, he’s a some way off, compared to his Roma, Juventus or Napoli counterparts:
What Musacchio’s missing in terms of athleticism should be more than enough compensated by Franck Kessié. Few weeks ago, the Ivorian midfielder has been tracked by Manchester City, Chelsea and Roma; today, he’s training at Milanello, after a business masterstroke, which involves a 2-year loan with an obligation to buy – all for an initial price that barely exceeds £6 million. Even though Milan will surely be forced to add much more to that modest fee, it’s still a great tradeoff, as they are getting 20-years old, powerful player, who’s already proven himself by scoring six goals and assisting three in 30 Serie A games for Atalanta last season.
On the pitch, Kessié looks like a hybrid version of his great compatriot Yaya Touré and the other midfield sensation – Paul Pogba. A good dribbler, he loves to roam forward with the ball and cause some unpredictable danger in the opposition’s third. His 183 cm and 74 kg may not look terribly impressive, but when it’s time to enter a duel, most of the rivals bounce off him anyway. According to his Atalanta coach, Gian Piero Gasperini “In Italy we, are trying trying to catch up with the gap in athleticism. Kessié, in this sense, can become an important player because he has everything”. He probably does: compared to Milan’s main midfield options from the 2016/17 season, the Ivorian lad already looks like quite an upgrade:
Pretty much the same applies to Milan’s new left-back – Ricardo Rodríguez. The Swiss international has spent five long seasons in Wolfsburg, of which four consisted of constant transfer links between him and clubs like Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Inter or Manchester United. At the same time, slowly but surely, Rodríguez’s performance level has been steadily declining. Last year was particularly disappointing: in 12 months, he went from scoring against Real Madrid in a 2-0 Champions League quarterfinal to watching Wolves narrowly beating Braunschweig in Bundesliga’s relegation playoff. It was a long, disappointing ride marked by only a single DfB Cup win. The change was imminent.
In Italy, Rodríguez shall face the not-so-threatening competition from Mattia De Sciglio. The product of Milan’s academy, formerly seen as one of the brightest young prospects in Italy, has just been utterly destroyed by Diego Perotti in a 1-4 defeat to Roma. To be fair to the lad: recently, Vincenzo Montella was using him more like a hole-plugger than a proper footballer; he’d start games as a right-back or left midfielder, as opposed to his regular, LB role. With Rodríguez, Rossoneri are gaining perhaps less flexible, but more attack-oriented player: thanks to his fine crossing abilities and constant offensive involvement, this half-Spanish, half-Chilean left back has picked up 20 Bundesliga assists in the last four seasons:
From August onwards, Rodríguez will be looking to deliver the passes to André Silva. The Portuguese striker was only the third name in this summer’s rumour mill, but as Milan are still too weak to lure Diego Costa away from Chelsea or to bring Álvaro Morata back to Italy – they went with the future prospect. FC Porto have a long story of training world-class strikers nearly from the scratch and there’s a fair chance Silva will join the likes of Luís Fabiano, Hulk, Radamel Falcao and Jackson Martínez in that club. Under his belt, he’s got sixteen Liga NOS goals, four more in the Champions League and seven in just eight appearances for the Portuguese national team.
At Milan, Silva will immediately find himself under a lot of pressure. Compared to the poaching legends like Andrij Shevchenko (£24 million), Filippo Inzaghi (£32 million) or Carlos Bacca (£26 million), he’s been an extremely expensive buy, costing roughly £34 million in a transfer fee alone. And it’s not just about that: by making this huge transfer statement, Rossoneri have pretty much sacrificed the opportunity to hire other promising forwards with far more Serie A experience. Compared with the Portuguese immigrant, the likes of Keita Baldé, Federico Bernardeschi, Patrik Schick and even Giovanni Simeone do come off as decent alternatives – although each of them is at least a year older than Silva:
Mirabelli’s ambitions go much further than those four new names. He’s got still several weeks to work on new deals and with seemingly crazy amounts of money still in his club’s tank – things may get seriously out of control there. It’s only the half of June and we’re are awaiting the news from Rome, where Argentine international Lucas Biglia is considering a San Siro move. After losing Kessié, the sensational Atalanta side are bracing themselves for the departure of the right-back Andrea Conti, who’s just made a deserved debut in the Squadra Azurra. And then, there’s Andrea Belotti’s name getting several mentions. Since 2002 (Nesta, Seedorf, Rivaldo, Tomasson), the club has never seen a summer this busy.
It could also be a matter of days before RB Leipzig’s Emil Forsberg is announced. Milan have reportedly agreed the deal with the Swede’s club and shall now open the negotiations about personal terms with his agent, Hasan Cetinkaya. Since the Bundesliga runner-ups have already hired their leaders’ replacement in form of Galatasaray’s winger Bruma – it’s seems extremely likely that Vincenzo Montella will be greeting another terrific player at Milanello. His soon-to-be-new midfielder has just finished the season with a bang, scoring one goal and assisting nine (!) in his final nine Bundesliga games. Should he play as a number 10 again, he’d surely ease Giacomo Bonaventura’s creative burden.
Is it enough to get Rossoneri back on Italian map? According to bookies, even despite their formidable attempts to build a new dynasty, they’re still behind the current top-three in terms of 2017/18 odds. For now, the objective should rather be to just break 70 points and finish above Inter again. Unless, of course, Forsberg signs and makes one more step closer to Leo Messi’s level. After all, his credentials are already there: