The Rossoneri have been completely revamped under new ownership and the pressure is on, notes Susy Campanale
No team has been transformed more over the summer than Milan. While Coach Vincenzo Montella remains on the bench, Silvio Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani have ended their 31-year tenure to be replaced by Yonghong Li, Marco Fassone and Massimiliano Mirabelli. Over €200m was spent to revamp the squad and Gianluigi Donnarumma became one of the highest-paid players in Serie A at the tender age of 18.
Making predictions for this side is frankly difficult, as we don’t know quite what to expect from a unit that has undergone so many changes. There’s no doubting the calibre of star names brought into the team, first and foremost ex-Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci. The centre-back with the pin-point long passes of Andrea Pirlo has arguably been Juve’s most important player over the six-year Scudetto streak and it’s an absolute coup to not only remove him from Max Allegri, but to reinforce a direct Serie A competitor too.
Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti arrive after a very successful campaign with Atalanta, but that remains their only top flight experience to date. Lucas Biglia needs to be slotted into the midfield following his transfer from Lazio, but Serie A is a whole new world for Ricardo Rodriguez, Mateo Musacchio, Hakan Calhanoglu and Andre Silva. Not only must they adapt to Italian football, but manage that in the midst of a side without stability and under immense pressure to get a Champions League spot straight away.
Montella has a tactical conundrum, as his side never seemed to have a particularly stable structure last season either, but now he has the resources to work with and not a gang of cobbled together loans, free agents and youth team players. Bonucci’s introduction would suggest a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3, especially as Conti and Kessie already played in a similar way for Atalanta under Gian Piero Gasperini. Playing out from the back was no easy feat when Gabriel Paletta was there with a goalkeeper who by his own admission is awful with the ball at his feet, but Montella can finally introduce different approaches to his passing game.
Donnarumma provided probably more drama than the 10 new signings all by himself, first refusing to sign a renewal via agent Mino Raiola, who accused the Milan directors of ‘mobbing tactics’ and then changing his mind. The fact some supporters even threw fake money at Gigio during Italy’s European Under-21 Championship tie seems to have been forgotten, as goalkeeper and fans largely decided to put the whole unpleasantness behind them.
Probably the most important element is the centre-forward and that has been left to the last minute by Mirabelli and Fassone. Many huge names were mentioned, but with Gianluca Lapadula sold to Genoa and Carlos Bacca frozen out by Montella, Milan approach the start of the season with very limited options up front. Andre Silva is new to Serie A and on what we’ve seen so far doesn’t realise defenders will close him down much quicker here than in Portugal.
Teenage hitman Patrick Cutrone has filled in admirably during the summer, particularly with his goal in the Europa League preliminary round victory over Craiova. That second leg at San Siro on August 3 was the perfect example of how quickly the tide can turn around a club. Only two months ago, fans were protesting at the lack of progress in the long-delayed takeover and demanding reinforcements. A flurry of spending later and 65,000 were packed into the stands when most residents of Milan are usually heading for the beach.
If there’s one thing Milanisti have been lacking over the last few years, it has been hope. The prospect of new owners, even if relatively unknown ones, and the influx of talent has convinced many to cast their doubts to the wind and simply enjoy the ride. Others continue to wonder if expectations have suddenly become too high in the circumstances, meaning early stutters could prompt a collapse in confidence for a project that is really just a few weeks old. The talent is undoubtedly there, but how quickly can Montella forge them into a genuine team? He has no time to lose and failure to get a top four finish would be financially disastrous as well as on a sporting level, so the pressure to deliver is immense.
Milan have the quality to contend for the top spots, but there are surely too many new faces to gel quickly enough for a Scudetto push, especially with Europa League commitments too. Getting into the Champions League is an imperative and fans hope Leonardo Bonucci can become the leader they have been missing with experience, defensive stability and the kind of passing not seen in a Rossoneri jersey since Andrea Pirlo.
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