While the likes of Juventus and other top Serie A squads have been enjoying a comfortable transfer market thus far, AC Milan’s mercato remains staggeringly stagnant. In a time when other Italian clubs are beginning to spend and build projects aimed at Champions League success, Milan fans are left wondering if and when a Chinese ownership will purchase a majority stock and reinvest in the club. Unfortunately for Milanistas the lack of clarity in early August over ownership and restructuring has left transfer market dealings relatively bland for the Rossoneri. So far Lapadula and Vangioni’s introductions to the team were overshadowed by the warmer welcome for new coach Vincenzo Montella. With less than a month to go before the transfer window closes, is it too late for Galliani and company to acquire the players necessary for a Champions League place? The question marks that loom over the ownership negotiations definitely leave fans wondering.
Last summer AC Milan purchased Bertolacci and Romagnoli, and it started to look as if those past quotes from Berlusconi about rebuilding an ‘all Italian’ Milan were coming to fruition. Bertolacci was added to a midfield that already included Montolivo, Poli, and Bonaventura. Meanwhile Romagnoli joined Abate, De Sciglio, Antonelli to solidify an Italian defence. With Donnarumma assuming the goalkeeper position, this team seems to have all the makings for a strong Serie A side with a national identity. One could only imagine what would transpire if Milan were active enough on the current market to acquire Saponara, Valdifiori, or perhaps even both. Having already missed out on Giaccherini and Soriano, and uncertainty looming around the future of Carlos Bacca, Galliani is forced into a weak negotiating position for a quality Italian midfield reinforcement. In addition to an upgrade in the middle of the park, the current squad also needs one quality finisher, especially considering the possible departure of Colombian no. 9.
Depending on whether Montella chooses to play with one forward or two, a forward list of Niang, Lapadula, and Luis Adriano is less than convincing. L’Aeroplanino’s teams of the past have often been oriented in the style of midfield possession and score more ‘team goals’, making them less reliant on a large contingent of strikers. Nonetheless, Luis Adriano has been inconsistent and Lapadula yet to be tested on this stage. A loan move for Zaza of Juventus would perhaps be the best case scenario for an Italian forward, or a late coup for Genoa’s Pavoletti. But with Milan’s ongoing frustrations and confusions regarding a Chinese takeover, transfers of this magnitude remain difficult.
Rather than a massive Chinese takeover and all the dreams that come with building a new stadium and a European powerhouse, perhaps Milan need look no further for restructuring advice than the team that beat them out to Europa League qualification last season–Sassuolo.
Sassuolo’s roster includes no more than five non-Italians, and even with a seemingly dwarfed budget the club still managed to finish in sixth place. With a focus on young Italian talent (Berardi and Zaza being the most influential thus far), Sassuolo coach Eusebio Di Francesco accredits his team’s success to ‘hard work and sacrifice’. Past success with Fiorentina shows Montella’s ability in a similar fashion, but without some help from Galliani he currently lacks a balanced squad that can compete against the likes of Juventus, Napoli, and Roma. And this is what Milanistas around the world will expect. Dating back to the departures of Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to PSG in 2012 in combination with the generational lapse as a result of change in the old guard (Maldini, Gattuso, Pirlo, etc.) in the years before, left AC Milan with serious decisions to make about their strategy going forward.
There were the confrontations between Galliani and Barbara Berlusconi that became public, with the former supporting a continuation of the old ways while Barbara wanted a more progressive approach that would reunite long time Milan hero Paolo Maldini with the club in a directorial role. Had the proper decision been made at this time, perhaps Milan would have been able to escape their current debacle. The past three years of coaching changes and lack of consistency is an accurate representation of the cloud of uncertainty that continues to hang over the Rossoneri. Players and agents alike want to see a proper project with support from top to bottom, and the current situation prohibits Galliani and Milan from making the signings they need.
Fans can only wonder where they might be now had the club been restructured, Galliani removed, and a fresh start with Maldini established as a director like Barbara proposed it the first time. There is no doubt Maldini has a better football sense than most of Milan’s current directors, not to mention the charisma and affection for the club that can recreate the identity that has been lost. Consider how effective Pavel Nedved and Antonio Conte were for Juventus in their rebuilding after consecutive seventh place seasons in ‘09 and ‘10. A restructured Milan led by Maldini, with intelligent and efficient investment would offer the potential to attract the people needed to restore Milan to its former glory. Even without exponential foreign investment, Milan had plans for their own stadium before reversing course. Perhaps this is another issue that needs to be revisited going forward.
The road ahead for AC Milan is a long and difficult one, and the lack of a resolution over its sale could not have come at a worse time. As the transfer window begins to close, there remain more questions than answers. Much of the pressure will fall on Montella throughout the season, but the club’s lack of preparation in making an intelligent business takeover at the right time should be blamed just as much, if not more. Until the club can find some stability, not only will Milan tifosi suffer, but in a broader sense so too will the Serie A. Let us hope that the AC Milan atmosphere that provided entertainment via the likes of Van Basten to Baresi to Maldini and beyond, will be recreated soon.