A new era begins at AC Milan

New era begins

By many people’s admission, Silvio Berlusconi is the most successful president in European football. During his 30-year stewardship, AC Milan won 28 trophies. Extended periods of success put the Italian club on the world map. In 1986, when Berlusconi descended from a chopper to redeem Milan, the club was grappling with bankruptcy. Today, the seven-time European Champions are one of the most decorated teams in the world, a true footballing behemoth.

A group of Chinese investors operating through a management company have signed a preliminary agreement to purchase 99.93% of the club for €740 million, which includes €220 million in debt. For all practical purposes, AC Milan has been rebooted after three decades of Italian ownership.

The new management is expected to make sweeping changes, starting from the top of the organisational pyramid. Silvio Berlusconi will remain as the president, although in an honorary capacity. Adriano Galliani is expected to oversee the transition phase and hand over the reigns to Marco Fassone. Several names have been thrown into the hat for the ‘Director of Sport’ position.

The unambitious attitude and bizarre decision-making of the former higher-ups led Milan fans to adamantly demand a change in leadership. With the debt being absorbed and a war-chest of €350 million being set aside to build the team over the next three years, Milanisti around the world have much to look forward to. However, this transfer window might be relatively quiet, as adequate funds haven’t been sanctioned to bolster the squad.

According to reports, €15 million is presently available for transfers. €85 million will be released in the next 30 days or so, preparing Milan to raid the market in January. Meanwhile, the rumor mill is making all the right noises.

Milan’s failure to secure Marko Pjaca has led them to obsessively pursue Juan Cuadrado. The Colombian winger has abundant Serie A experience, clocking more than 160 appearances in seven seasons. His goal/assist tally though, is painstakingly worrying, averaging a goal every six games. Nonetheless, he would be an instant upgrade over Milan’s current crop of right-wingers.

Milan Badelj, Fiorentina’s Croatian regista might move from Florence to San Siro this summer. His arrival will immediately displace Riccardo Montolivo from the first-team, relegating the much-despised Capitano to the bench. Mateo Mussachio is the primary target to reinforce the defense, and rightly so, as Gustavo Gomez may require a full season to be inducted. In the last 24 hours, Milan are being increasingly linked to Isco. Worryingly, Simone Zaza seems to be the striker of choice in case Carlos Bacca is sold.

Squad trimming is currently in play at the club. Jeremy Menez, Kevin Prince Boateng, Philippe Mexes, Alex, Mario Balotelli and Christian Abbiati have departed over the summer with Alessando Matri possibly heading to Sassuolo. The players being targeted are a certified upgrade over the outgoing batch and will inject quality into the squad.

Milan’s goal is to qualify for Europe this year. Inter, Roma, Napoli and Juventus remain better teams and overtaking them may prove to be a daunting challenge.

Failure to qualify for Champions League football next season might not be entirely problematic. The Chinese will invest regardless. So, brace yourselves, for Milan rises from the dead.

Follow Rajath Kumar on twitter. You can read some of his other work on Sportskeeda.

Gustavo Gomez joins AC Milan from Lanus

Gustavo Gomez
A strange sense of excitement beckons among AC Milan fans, when the club signs a quality centre-back. Take for instance, the summer of 2015/16. Milan paid top dollar for Alessio Romagnoli and spent a higher amount to acquire Carlos Bacca. Social Media was abuzz with chatter and some overexcited loyalists prophesied a glorious future for the young Italian defender, even though Romagnoli was, arguably, only the second best young defender in the league in 2014/15 (behind Daniele Rugani). On the contrary, the signing of Bacca, a player of European pedigree, was overshadowed by the failed transfer of Jackson Martinez from Porto.

Similarly, this summer, albeit quiet thus far, Milan fans have eagerly awaited the unveiling of Romagnoli’s new partner. The departures of Alex and Philippe Mexes had left Romagnoli somewhat orphaned in central defense. €7 million later, we are celebrating the arrival of Paraguayan centre-back, Gustavo Gomez from Lanus.

Gustavo Raúl Gómez Portillo, 23, is an unknown quantity beyond the shores of South America. Some research and YouTube viewing suggests that this lumbering giant is actually a decent footballer.

The Paraguayan international appears to be a dominating central-defender, having a heightened awareness about his physical attributes. He is uncompromising in tackles and takes no prisoners while winning the ball. Good in the air and adept at tracking an attacker while running with his back to goal, Gomez is far from being immobile.

Much like young defenders, Gomez seems to have the tendency to be reckless. He can get dragged out of position, which could leave Romagnoli severely exposed. On instances, he also can lose a footrace to a quicker opponent, a concern for consideration if Vincenzo Montella intends to play a high-line of defense. The lack of European experience is another concern. Conflicting styles of football might prove to be a challenge for the youngster.

In a market hungry for quality young centre-backs, Gomez’s transfer to Milan remained uncontested. If he really is as good as they say he is, why didn’t other European teams queue in to sign him?

Milan’s roster isn’t lacking in talented, young defenders. Rodrigo Ely and Jherson Vergera continue to be contracted to Milan. Raw as they may be, the signing of Gomez surely delays their chance of breaking into the first-team. Whether Milan persevere to bring Mateo Musacchio to San Siro remains to be seen. The team requires some experience at the back, particularly with the understandable naivety of Gianluigi Donnarumma and Romagnoli. The next three weeks of the mercato will be crucial for Milan.

Follow Rajath Kumar on twitter. You can read some of his other work on Sportskeeda.

Lapadula, Niang, Adriano not adequate to replace Bacca

Carlos-Bacca-AC-Milan

Forwards win football matches. Winning football matches help teams win football competitions. By order of simplification, it is imperative that ambitious teams have forwards of distinction in their roster. Milan has one such player in Carlos Bacca. But, the Colombian’s eagerness to play in Europe is driving his intent to move out of the club. For all practical purposes, he is as good as gone.

There appears to be no plan to replace him. The prohibitive yet inevitable question is, do Milan need to replace Carlos Bacca? Yes, they do.

Milan signed Gianluca Lapadula on 24th June 2016 from under the noses of Juventus and Napoli for roughly €10m. This was a statement of intent, but also a befuddling recruitment. With M’baye Niang and Bacca stringing together a promising partnership last season and Luiz Adriano waiting in the wings, was it necessary to sign another striker?

Lapadula is a clinical fox-in-the-box type number nine with a terrifyingly lethal left foot. He enjoys arriving onto a diagonal ball or beating the last man when playing against a high-line. Ending last season as the top-scorer in Serie B, Lapadula garnered heavy interest from some of the biggest boys in the peninsula. Milan fans enthusiastically took to social media when they saw images of the 5’10” hit-man signing his contract beside a beaming Adriano Galliani.

Excessive dependence on Bacca’s goal-scoring prowess did limit Milan at times last season. The 29 year-old scored 18 goals and contributed two assists in Serie A, providing for about 46.5% of the team’s goals. Bringing Lapadula to the club might help share the burden on Bacca, as the former Pescara man scored 27 goals and provided 12 assists in Serie B in 2015/16. That works out to 61% of the goals scored by Pescara in Serie B.

However, Lapadula has not played in Serie A before. The journeyman striker has evolved into a fearful force over the last two seasons, devouring defenses in Lega Pro and Serie B. But top-flight football is a different beast and it remains to be seen if Lapadula can instil dread in the defenders playing in Serie A.

Chances of Milan replacing Bacca with a player like Leonardo Pavoletti are very high. Or, Vincenzo Montella might entrust Niang with the responsibility of leading the line of attack. Neither of these options is tantalizing nor do they appeal to the appetite of redemption that a fallen giant is expected to have. Pavoletti will firmly etch Milan into mid-table mediocrity. Niang, although promising in flashes, is yet to demonstrate a penchant for goal-scoring. He is unlikely to boost Milan up the league table by scoring at a level of acceptable consistency.

Juventus, Napoli, Inter, Roma, Fiorentina, Lazio and Torino outscored Milan in the league last season. Many of these teams have bolstered their attacks, while Milan continue to stagnate in the transfer market. A top-3 finish will linger in the minds of Milanisti as a fanciful dream under the current circumstances.

The world is watching. With Chinese investors lining a takeover of the club after nearly three decades of Italian ownership, many expect Milan to become a European heavyweight again. This perception will take a heavy beating if Bacca isn’t appropriately replaced with a centre-forward of a similar ilk. Even if perceptions count for less, which it shouldn’t, then for footballing reasons, Milan must secure the services of a prolific striker before the mercato closes in August.

Follow Rajath Kumar on twitter. You can read some of his other work on Sportskeeda.

 

AC Milan’s attitude towards top teams must improve

Sinisa Mihajlovic, AC Milan, 2015

Sinisa Mihajlovic has a mountainous task on his hands.

Adriano Galliani reportedly left the stadium last night without visiting the players in the dressing room. AC Milan’s CEO was disgusted with his men in red and black. Milan were soundly beaten by Juventus in Turin. The away side showed plenty of resolve, reminiscent of a plucky provincial team, but little else in terms of ambition and drive.

Sinisa Mihajlovic fielded an attacking trident of M’Baye Niang, Carlos Bacca and Alessio Cerci. On paper, this front-line is somewhat daunting. However, during the game, none of these players attempted to rise above the mediocrity around them. Cerci was particularly awful and Niang inconsistent as ever. Milan’s defense and midfield launched aimless long-balls into the opposition third, expecting Bacca to chase the delivery down the channels.

Milan’s fullbacks, Luca Antonelli and Ignazio Abate rarely ventured past the halfway line. They held their ground and partnered with the rest of the team to stifle the home side. Neither of the fullbacks managed to record a cross during the entirety of the game. Only one through ball was attempted over the ninety minutes. Milan had arrived with the intent to shut shop and wrestle a draw out of Juventus. But, why would they approach the game with an attitude of cowardice, as the opponent had previously struggled against the likes of Udinese, Frosinone and Sassuolo?

On the day of his appointment as head coach of AC Milan, Mihajlovic’s words were, “Milan have always been a side to be feared and I want that Milan side back. I want my Milan team to instill fear in other teams. We will be like our motto – a team of devils, red like fire and black like the fear we will instill into our opponents. I am convinced that we can achieve good things this season.”

Full points for drama. That is an applause-worthy speech to get the fans on-board. These words, though, have failed to translate into performances on the football pitch. Milan have perennially looked afraid and inferior when facing relatively tough oppositions. The mentality is fragile and zeal nonexistent. This team has suffered humiliating defeats at the hands of Fiorentina and Napoli. Games against Genoa, Torino and Sassuolo revealed gaping problems in the squad and in the tactics.

Milan are currently 7th on the table having lost to four teams in the top six. Milan barely beat Sassuolo (placed 5th) and are yet to face Roma (positioned at 3rd) this season. In the four defeats, Milan have managed an average possession percentage of 43.5%, an average of 1.75 shots on target per game scoring only one goal across four games and conceding eight goals in exchange. These statistics are dreadful for a club of Milan’s stature.

Ever since Carlo Ancelotti passed the baton to Leonardo, the club has signed coaches incapable of imparting confidence and belief to the squad. Mihajlovic was hired to whip the dormant bunch back into life. Although his no-nonsense attitude has helped infuse life into the inert legs of several players, his stratagem shackled the team from taking flight. Ultimately, it’s not defeat that annoys fans, but the manner of defeat that agitates the Milan faithful.

With Silvio Berlusconi openly condemning the coach and taking repeated jabs at him in the media, Mihajlovic is tasked with immediately altering the perspective of the squad. Before reminding the players about the sanctity and legacy of the jersey, Mihajlovic must be reminded that he no longer coaches Sampdoria. He is the head coach of one of the biggest football clubs in the world.

Follow Rajath Kumar on twitter. You can read some of his other work at Sportskeeda by accessing his archive.

José Agustín Mauri – AC Milan’s idle asset

Jose Mauri might be the spark that lights up AC Milan's midfield.

Jose Mauri might be the spark that lights up AC Milan’s midfield.

Sinisa Mihajlovic is feeling the heat. The president of AC Milan, Silvio Berlusconi has openly stated that the results ‘will improve’ starting with the game against Torino on Saturday. The mandate to play possession football has been conveyed to the coach. Media reports are flooding the internet about the various changes in formation and tactics that are likely to be employed going forward. Players are grabbing microphones and are venting their frustrations, only to be reprimanded by the management. Chaos prevails at Milanello while Adriano Galliani faces charges of fraud with regards to FC Parma.

Amidst the disarray, a certain diminutive Argentine is considering his future prospects. He battled valiantly, yet couldn’t save his former team from certain relegation last season. His notable performances though, did not go unnoticed, as Jose Mauri was highlighted as one of the best young players in the league. After nearly losing him to Fiorentina, Milan salvaged him from the debris that was Parma and brought him on board an ambitious project.

Ever since, Mauri has not featured in any of Milan’s competitive games. He remained an unused substitute against Napoli, Udinese and Palermo. Voices of dissent have gotten notably louder, as his agent has declared that the entourage will hold meetings with the club to negotiate a move away from Milan this January. Troubling news, one would say.

Milan recruited two other midfielders this summer – Andrea Bertolacci and Juraj Kucka. Bertolacci seems perennially confused while playing for Milan, not demonstrating any of the dynamism that made him ever so impressive at Genoa last season. Kucka, on the other hand, has probably been Milan’s best midfielder thus far. His immediate impact might have stifled Mauri’s progression within the squad. However, Mihajlovic’s reluctance to play the youngster is baffling.

Mauri was truly terrific at Parma. His playing style, which is likened to that of Gennaro Gattuso, is that of a midfield terrier. He is relentless in his pursuit of the ball and is fundamentally energetic, which, for any regular viewer of Milan, would ascertain is the need of the hour in Milan’s sluggish midfield.

Quite often, Milanisti complain about the transfer of Allan to Napoli. Fair enough. Milan could have done with a player like him. Well, Galliani will suggest that he did sign a player like Allan, even if not entirely of his ilk. During the previous campaign, in comparison to Allan, Mauri made more interceptions per game, made more clearances and was dribbled past fewer times than the Brazilian. Now, this is no indication that Mauri is a better player. What it does indicate, is that Milan had signed an enormously talented midfielder, who would inject drive and robustness into the midfield.

Mihajlovic recently experimented with Nigel De Jong as the right-sided central midfielder in a midfield trio. The experiment was fostered by the coach’s obsession to field Riccardo Montolivo as a deep-lying playmaker. This ploy backfired and Mihajlovic had to revisit the drawing board. Common sense would question the purpose of excluding Mauri from being played in a position more suitable to him, instead of reinventing a 30-year old.

Time is running out for Mihajlovic and for Mauri as well. The team needs to be assembled on the bedrock of youth. Rodrigo Ely’s two attempts of earning a starting spot at Milan might have boomeranged, but that should not stop the coach from putting his faith in Mauri. After all, Davide Calabria is getting the nod at a position that is tightly contested at Milan. Mauri could do with a dose of confidence too.

Follow Rajath Kumar on twitter. You can read some of his other work at Sportskeeda by accessing his archive.

Adriano Galliani is a convenient scapegoat for AC Milan’s on-field problems

Adriano Galliani is having to dodge the blame game.

Adriano Galliani is having to dodge the blame game.

AC Milan were humbled by Maurizio Sarri’s boys in blue on Sunday night at the Giuseppe Meazza. As the tired athletes made their way to the dressing room after ninety minutes of sheer humiliation, they glanced at the scoreboard. Napoli had beaten Milan by four goals and had registered a clean sheet. Multitudes of fans watched on in disbelief and horror. Those ninety minutes were not part of the script.

Milan have recorded four losses in seven rounds of football. Sitting uncomfortably in 11th spot, Milan are nine points away from the very top of the table. A haphazard league has saved Milan’s blushes, somewhat. Yet, after shelling close to €90 million in the summer, the team and squad had received more than just a facelift. The management had hired a coach with respectable pedigree and a strong tactical understanding of the game, both of which were alien to Milan’s previous two coaches. This team was built to finish the season in the top 3 spots of Serie A. Currently though, this team is languishing in mid-table.

After last night’s performance, many fans and pundits appeared to have found a scapegoat. His name is Adriano Galliani, and very simply put, he is the man whose KRAs include developing and executing the club’s transfer dealings.

For the first time in many years, this man, who had built dynasties etched in football history, was handed a fat wallet with real bills to dispose off in order to improve the standard of players at the club. He didn’t exercise much restraint, generously disposing of millions of euros to acquire his targets. He brought onboard several players who undeniably improved the team upon arrival. Carlos Bacca, Mario Balotelli and Luiz Adriano are players of international caliber and are proven upgrades over Mattia Destro and Giampolo Pazzini. Andrea Bertolacci and Jose Mauri enjoyed excellent seasons at Genoa and Parma respectively and brought with them immense promise. Juraj Kucka’s arrival is admittedly quite sketchy, as Milan approached him after pulling out of negotiations with Zenit St Petersburg for Alex Witsel. The context does mar the signing, but on its own, Kucka is a very good football player.

Galliani also addressed the defense by splurging on Alessio Romagnoli, increasing AS Roma’s cash-flow by €25 million. Additionally, Luca Antonelli’s signing was made permanent for €4.5 million. In essence, ‘Uncle Fester’ had done his job, albeit he could have done it slightly better.

Fans tend to look at players who have switched clubs over the summer and immediately question why Milan didn’t attempt to sign them. For instance, Allan moved from Udinese to Napoli for €11.5 million. That, on its own, is terrific business by Napoli. But, context is key in this case. Milan never attempted to sign a defensive midfielder. All three acquisitions in midfield were of box-to-box midfielders. Milan’s did try to sign Witsel, (a regista like Allan) and perhaps tried too hard to strong-arm Zenit into selling the Belgian by tabling an unacceptable offer. Galliani tried to use time to his advantage, which has worked wondrously for Milan in the past. However, the ploy backfired and Galliani, ironically, ran out of time to find a suitable replacement.

Mihajlovic was instructed to play with a no.10 and Milan possessed in their ranks a certain Japanese play-maker who has constantly been played out of position ever since he arrived from Russia. Another player quite capable of playing between the lines is Jeremy Menez, an attacker with 16 league goals to his credit last season. Galliani’s reluctance to sign a trequartista, while Honda and Menez remained on the books, seems understandable.

Galliani did well in the mercato. Could he have bargained better? Sure. No reasonable man would sign Bertolacci for €20 million, but lest we forget Silvio Berlusconi’s vision of trying to rebuild Milan with a young, Italian core. Bertolacci fed right into that vision, which might have been the reason behind the management’s approval to acquire the player for such a ludicrous sum of money.

Contrary to people’s accusations, Milan are not struggling because the players are not good enough. Lazio, Torino, Chievo, Sassuolo, Sampdoria and Atalanta are ahead of Milan in the league table, and each of these teams has an inferior squad to that which is available to Mihajlovic.

The problem, with strict reference to on-the-pitch shenanigans, is with the coaching and the tactics deployed. This team is not built for a 4-3-1-2 and Mihajlovic is force-fitting the players into that formation. Bacca and Adriano are penalty box strikers. Expecting two highly similar players to develop a partnership, when both these players are well into their prime, makes little to no sense. Riccardo Montolivo is not a deep-lying play-maker and has repeatedly displayed a torrid disability to shield the backline. Honda has flattered to deceive as a no.10 and should be sold to a club more fitting of his ability and Bonaventura is not a competent deputy.

Mihajlovic and his staff must revisit the drawing board and work on the basics once again. There are ways in which value can be derived from these players. But to do that, Mihajlovic must hit the ‘reset’ button and start over, attempting to build this team differently.

Follow Rajath Kumar on twitter. You can read some of his other work at Calcio. Soccer. Football

Inter vs AC Milan: Derby defeat highlights problems in the final third

Freddy Guarin celebrates with Ivan Perisic after scoring the only goal in the derby

Freddy Guarin celebrates with Ivan Perisic after scoring the only goal in the derby.

Losing a derby can never be easy. For fans involved, watching a rival revel in victory leaves a sour taste and unleashes a torrent of irrational emotion. However, AC Milan’s defeat to Internazionale Milano last night has contrarily given fans of the club something to look forward to.

The team has struggled to convince in their last two outings in Serie A. An embarrassing defeat to Fiorentina followed by an unconvincing win against Empoli had raised questions about the newly constructed team and the newly appointed manager. The performance last night provides much needed encouragement and hope.

Sinisa Mihajlovic decided to play Riccardo Montolivo instead of Nigel De Jong from the start. Montolivo completed the match by staying on the pitch. This was a statement of intent from Mihajlovic. Milan were playing ‘away’, even though they were battling against Inter at the Giuseppe Meazza. Yet, Mihajlovic had no intention of cowing down or playing ‘negative football’ against a team tipped as the favourites by the bookmakers. He opted to play a ball-playing central midfielder rather than fielding a destroyer. Montolivo may not have been extraordinary on the night, but he partnered with Juraj Kucka and Giacomo Bonaventura to dominate the midfield.

Milan’s defense admirably subdued Mauro Icardi and Stefan Jovetic. Ivan Perisic also suffered anonymously on the flanks. Apart from rare moments of magic, Inter failed to truly threaten Diego Lopez’s goal.

Even though the team performed as per satisfaction, there appeared a visible issue during the attacking phases of the game. Mihajlovic is attempting to implement a 4-3-1-2 system at Milan. The formation, albeit outdated, plays directly into Silvio Berlusconi’s obsession of seeing two strikers lead the attack. That may well be commendable, as it implies a more-attack minded mindset demanded from the senior hierarchy, but a certain Adriano Galliani has turned a blind eye towards reinforcing the position behind the strikers. This subsequently affects the efficiency of the forwards.

Keisuke Honda has perennially promised more than he has delivered at the club. Against Inter, he was found wanting on numerous occasions. Statistics indicate that he didn’t attempt a through-ball during the eighty minutes he was on the pitch, which is inexplicable for a no.10. On the contrary, he crossed the ball on six occasions, with merely one cross reaching the desired target. The problem here isn’t that Honda cannot accurately cross the ball, but that he seems to find himself closer to the sidelines, where his potency drops considerably.

Over the years, Honda has proven that he is incompetent to play on the wing, irrespective of whether he is played as a conventional or as an inverted winger. He appears most comfortable in a more central role, yet struggles to impose himself when played centrally. Additionally, off the defenders and midfielders, he was the second least involved player in terms of passes and made fewer key passes than Giacomo Bonaventura and Carlos Bacca, which is unacceptable.

The result might have been different had Luiz Adriano taken his guilt-edged chances or if Mario Balotelli’s long-range effort had ricocheted off the post into the back of the net. Primarily, Milan didn’t secure a result because the attack disappeared into a figurative black hole in the final third. In the absence of creativity, the team had to depend on long-range shooting or world-class finishing.

For Mihajlovic’s system to function optimally, he needs an influential player to play between the lines. The likes of Alessio Cerci and Suso have not inspired when given chances and patience is running thin with Honda. On the evidence of what we have seen thus far, Bonaventura might be the best within a poor set of options available to the coach.

Follow Rajath Kumar on twitter. You can read some of his other work at Calcio. Soccer. Football