Vincenzo Montella has already written his name in the Milan history books by lifting the Italian Super Cup in Doha, beating Juventus on penalties following a 1-1 draw. It is meant to be the last hurrah for President Silvio Berlusconi before the sale to Chinese investors Sino-Europe Sports finally goes through. The repeated postponements mean there will be no funds available for the January transfer window, leaving the Rossoneri wedged between ambition and reality.
This month was meant to be the start of a new era, when a huge war chest would be flown in from across the globe to begin building a world class team. Instead, Montella finds himself stuck with the same painfully thin squad that was put together on a tiny budget and is asked to hold on to a top three spot. It’s a recipe for disaster, as once again Milan fans see their hopes raised and dashed.
CEO Adriano Galliani made it very clear that this would be a ‘zero-cost’ transfer window, so any new signings must be paid for with sales. There is certainly some dead wood to be chucked out, including Luiz Adriano, Keisuke Honda and Jose Ernesto Sosa.
The real problem with this current selection of players is the lack of alternatives. It has been obvious that when some first-choice picks are missing or Montella tries to rotate the squad, the results are dismal. Gustavo Gomez may well need more time to adapt to Serie A football, but Leonel Vangioni hasn’t played at all since his arrival, so it’s safe to say the Coach knows something we don’t.
A perfect example of the issues affecting Milan is Andrea Poli. He is, in theory, the man who can fill in several different roles, from central midfield to winger or even full-back. Unfortunately, he does a pretty bad job in all of them. Squad rotation becomes a dangerous game in these circumstances and even newly-promoted Cagliari can say they have more options to choose from. We saw what happened last season when Fiorentina were flying high under a new Coach with emerging young talents, then the wear and tear inevitably took its toll and they plunged down the table. Milan are in a not dissimilar position.
There are some downright irreplaceables in Montella’s side: Gigio Donnarumma, Alessio Romagnoli, Gabriel Paletta, Suso and Jack Bonaventura. Andrea Bertolacci has finally put his injury problems behind him to give another midfield option, while it’s anyone’s guess which version of Mattia De Sciglio we’ll see in any given match. Ditto M’Baye Niang, who manages to be both a striker who can’t aim and a winger who refuses to cross.
Milan desperately need to bring in some reinforcements to give the squad more strength in depth than, say, Crotone. Most of the focus has been on finding a midfielder and the first choice is Fiorentina’s Milan Badelj, who would consolidate the ex-Viola colony at San Siro. If Mati Fernandez and Bertolacci do manage to avoid injury for longer than a week, then that might not be necessary.
My biggest concerns are at the back. Romagnoli and Paletta form an excellent partnership, but there are no reliable back-ups. Cristian Zapata has barely played for a year, Gomez is still acclimatising and Rodrigo Ely seems to be on the way out too. The choice of full-backs is also very limited, especially with Davide Calabria side-lined for several months. Udinese centre-back Thomas Heurtaux would be a great addition at an affordable price and bring his strength in the air too. At left-back, Italy Under-21 international Adam Masina of Bologna shows great promise and is still young enough to be snapped up on a bargain.
It’s amazing a club targeting a Champions League spot should be so utterly reliant on a 17-year-old goalkeeper. The plan is to bring in Marco Storari from Cagliari, but there’s a reason he was dropped by the side with the worst defensive record in Serie A.
An ideal addition in January would be Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gomez, as the Atalanta winger would do wonders in Montella’s system, acting as the counter-point to Suso on the left. He’d take some pressure off the ageing full-backs too, doing most of the leg-work, allowing Bonaventura to move back into midfield. Sadly there is a growing queue of clubs pushing for Papu and Milan’s lack of funds rule them out of a bidding war.
Instead, the Diavolo appear to be pushing for Gerard Deulofeu on loan from Everton, a right-sided winger who plays in the same role as Suso and one imagines won’t be too happy at being back-up to another Spaniard for six months.
If Milan are to qualify for Europe, they need fresh legs to maintain their early season momentum and start building a squad for next term.