If a winger ended the season with eight strikes and five assists, it would be considered a relative success. A double-figured contribution should be the minimum expectation for a midfielder, but for a defender to achieve such numbers, as is the case of Andrea Conti, is extraordinary. He was the most prolific defender in Europe's top five leagues last term.
Instrumental to how Atalanta defied expectation and secured fourth place in Serie A was the form of Conti. As the league’s surprise package continued to defy expectations in the 2016-17 campaign, it was captain Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gomez and midfield powerhouse Franck Kessie who initially hit the headlines. But neither man performed the role of two players over the course of a gruelling season.
The game has evolved. We are in the midst of a cycle where full-backs are judged on their attacking instincts, with the defensive element less important. Look at some of the world’s best in the position. Brazilian’s Dani Alves and Marcelo have both spent their careers as essentially auxiliary wingers, and with some refining, Conti can be a continued threat going forward once his move to Milan is complete.
The Rossoneri and player will be a perfect foil for one another. Conti fits the ‘new Milan’ direction and has the hunger to develop. Already thriving under the tutelage of Gian Piero Gasperini, now Vincenzo Montella is the ideal Coach to improve the raiding full-back further. Both are advocates of youth and a move to Milan is the next logical step to continue his education. You only have to look at how far Manuel Locatelli, Gigio Donnarumma and Alessio Romagnoli have flourished under their young Boss.
While raw defensively, this will be honed with age. In the mean-time, Conti’s effervescent work-rate will more than make up for any defensive shortcomings.
Any incoming summer signing will be briefed with the club’s one principal goal: to contribute and play a part in lifting the giants back to the top of Italian football. The opportunity could not have arrived at a better time for Conti and he could conceivably make the position his own for the best part of a decade. Current first choice and club stalwart Ignazio Abate will soon turn 31 and can’t be relied upon forever, especially with his record of injuries.
Elsewhere, Mattia De Sciglio’s future remains a topic of debate. De Sciglio only has a year left on his contract and with Juventus circling again, the time may be finally right to part with the versatile defender, with a replacement imminent.
For Conti, signing for the Diavolo will boost his hopes with the national team no end. With respect to Atalanta and everything they achieved last season, Milan ensure greater visibility and will show how he handles pressure.
The Lecco native will form part of a new look back-line alongside fellow recruits Ricardo Rodriguez and Mateo Musacchio, able to play as both an orthodox defender or wing-back. For a Coach, this flexibility is a dream and Conti should develop a formidable partnership with Suso on the right flank, not only doubling up on the opponent, but allowing the Spaniard the freedom to roam and move inside.
The Italian is part of the next generation of Azzurri talent and possesses all the tools to be a success. Conti is technically able, quick and can physically hold his own. If he can replicate or get close to his output for Atalanta, the €25m outlay will be a steal, and the World Cup in Russia will become a realistic aim for the adventurous defender.