Milan’s run of bad luck in finding a legitimate candidate to lead the front line needs no further mention. The names? We all know of them. Their struggles? Well documented and nightmare inducing.
After the failed Krzysztof Piatek experiment, Milan reeled in Zlatan Ibrahimovic for a second term in hopes of not only providing this new, vibrant young project a face and veteran presence. The deadly talisman has just signed a one-year contract extension, but there is no denying Milan’s urgent need to find that prolific number nine to see them into the next phase of the project.
Since returning to the San Siro, Ibrahimovic has been nothing short of brilliant, bagging 25 goals in 35 appearances as both a reference point and remedy for troubled attack lacking production.
Among the names topping Paolo Maldini and Frederic Massara’s list for a move to the fashion capital of the world are Torino’s Andrea Belotti and Fiorentina’s Dušan Vlahović.
The 27-year-old Italy international has been linked in previous years to a move up north, most notably in 2017 when former directors Massimiliano Mirabelli and Marco Fassone lodged a substantial player plus cash offer to Urbano Cairo for his services.
Of course, the Rossoneri’s attempt to pry the young Azzurri bomber away from Turin and fulfill his presumable desire to don the famous shirt came up short. Times have changed, however.
Belotti’s crept up in age, Torino are hanging on by a thread in the relegation battle. There is a strong probability that he will not renew his contract expiring in 2022, all factors that may be used as leverage for Maldini in any potential negotiation.
Then there is Vlahović, the athletic Serbian who has erupted for the Viola in a big way this season. In 31 appearances, the 21 year old has posted a strong 16 goals and 2 assists for a side that continues to underachieve relative to their collective quality.
Although the former Partizan standout’s contract is set to expire in 2023, but there is a growing concern in Fiorentina’s camp that he may not be willing to commit long-term to a club that can neither find the right coach nor direction to compete.
From Milan’s perspective, both Belotti and Vlahović would prove to be proper fits. In many ways, the two share similar profiles with the ability to link play, work off the ball and finish within striking distance.
Italy’s second choice is a bit older than most of the signings walking through the doors of Milanello these days, but his track record, longevity in the top flight, and consistency in an otherwise inconsistent side feels like less of a risk.
While he is entering his peak and may not be able to reach the 25+ goal mark from a few seasons ago, the right project could see Belotti build further on his sneaky impressive 12 goals and five assists in the current campaign.
In addition to his boyhood fandom for Milan works to their advantage, the asking price from Cairo which, unlike in the past, would presumably be much friendlier than Vlahović who Rocco Commisso is likely to demand no less than €40m to release. If Milan do identify Vlahović as their primary option to play under idol Ibrahimović, perhaps they structure their offer similar to what Juventus did for Federico Chiesa, a loan with staggered payments of the fee over multiple years.
Milan will go back to the well for a striker this summer, and this individual bears a heavy burden to break an ongoing curse. This candidate must not only score, but understand the weight and significance of the shirt they pull on. Establishing the right successor for Ibrahimovic will be a challenge, and one that must be fully embraced.