Will AC Milan challenge in Serie A again after 'summer of dreams'?
By James Walker-Roberts
Last Updated: 01/08/17 1:50pm
After a spectacular summer in the transfer market, AC Milan will start 2017/18 with almost an entirely new-look side. But who are their new arrivals and are they primed to challenge for silverware again? James Walker-Roberts takes a look...
Having won only one piece of major silverware in the last decade, AC Milan have been making moves to return to the top this summer. Serious moves.
Silvio Berlusconi got the ball rolling back in April when he paved the way for a new era at Milan by selling the club to Chinese investors. Although Berlusconi said he left with "pain and emotion", the sale reportedly required the Chinese consortium to spend 350m euros on improvements, and they have wasted little time in attempting to reach that figure.
Milan are one of the biggest summer spenders in Europe, having splashed more than £150m to sign the likes of Leonardo Bonucci, Andre Silva, Franck Kessie and Hakan Calhanoglu. Goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma has also committed to an apparently lucrative new contract, having appeared to be on the verge of leaving.
"I've never known a summer like this," Milan midfielder Giacomo Bonaventura told Gazzetta dello Sport. "We've bought players who, at the start of the transfer window, you think 'yeah it'd be nice if they came'… well they really did come!"
Even former Inter Milan president Massimo Moratti has been impressed. "Milan are moving very well in the transfer market and, to be honest, I didn't expect that," said Moratti last month.
The transfers appear to have brought optimism back after one of the most fruitless periods in the club's history. Season ticket sales have soared, head coach Vincenzo Montella has called it "a summer of dreams", while new Milan CEO Marco Fassone told Sky in Italy: "To arrive in April after 31 years of the incredible management of Berlusconi and [previous general manager Adriano] Galliani, there was a lot of tension.
"But to see now that our work is giving results, that we hope to see also on the pitch, and the affection that the people share with us every day in the street, online. It means people have enthusiasm for AC Milan."
It’s been, and still is, a summer of dreams. But the beauty is that my dreams have come true, and yet we’re still not done...the club are doing something extraordinary.
Vincenzo Montella to Gazzetta dello Sport
Enthusiasm has turned to expectation. Montella says he wants "to be the one that brings the club back among the top five in the world" and that anything less than qualifying for the Champions League next season will be a failure.
Yet not only does the former Italy international - only recently a year into the job - have his work cut out with so many new additions, but Milan have plenty of ground to make up. They finished sixth in Serie A last season, 28 points behind champions Juventus and 23 behind Napoli in the final Champions League qualification place.
And will it be an entirely new-look XI on the first day of the 2017/18 season?
Donnarumma, 18, is set to stay between the sticks, having signed a new deal until 2021 and then apologised to fans for the furore surrounding his future. "I never had any doubts in my head about staying," claimed the Italy international recently.
Milan CEO Fassone suggested that it was a different story. "It was maybe one of the most difficult things we did. One day we will tell the entire story, quite curious, complex, one of those that gave us greatest satisfaction," he said.
In front of Donnarumma, Montella has said he could play with a three-man defence. "I have so many players, I think they're capable of offering different tactical solutions," he added.
If it is three then they could be Italy international Alessio Romagnoli, Mateo Musacchio, signed from Villarreal this summer, and Bonucci, who is surely the standout signing of the summer in Serie A, maybe even across Europe, having joined on a five-year deal from Juventus.
AC Milan's spending spree so far
|Player||Signed from||Reported fee|
|Hakan Calhanoglu||Bayer Leverkusen||£18m|
|Antonio Donnarumma||Asteras Tripoli||£1m|
|Franck Kessie||Atalanta||Two-year loan|
"Leo is a winner, a pillar of the national team and his arrival is a fantastic thing. I didn't seriously think he'd come," said Bonaventura of Bonucci. "From what I know of him, his character will be very useful in the dressing room which is coming from troubled years, he's destined to become a real point of reference."
Left-back Ricardo Rodriguez has joined from Wolfsburg while Italy Under-21 international Andrea Conti has moved to the San Siro after an impressive season with Atalanta.
Competition for places in midfield looks as though it will be fierce. Kessie reportedly turned down interest from several top European clubs to move to Milan, with Cesena sporting director Rino Foschi comparing the 20-year-old midfielder to Milan legend Gennaro Gattuso.
Kessie was one of the standout players for Atalanta as they finished fourth last season, and he will strengthen the midfield along with Argentina international Lucas Biglia, who has signed from Lazio. Free-kick specialist Hakan Calhanoglu will add more creativity and should be eager to make an impression after returning from a four-month ban with Bayer Leverkusen.
Bayern Munich's Renato Sanches has also been linked with a move to the San Siro in a bid to get more game time, although he would likely again face a battle to get into the starting XI.
Up front there's Andre Silva. The striker scored 21 goals in all competitions for Porto last season and has netted seven in eight matches for Portugal. Cristiano Ronaldo said this about him in June: "When I retire, Portugal will be in good hands because they have already found a great striker: Andre Silva."
Fabio Borini has joined after an unproductive spell with Sunderland, but looks as though he will be a back-up, even though Milan are yet to make a mega-money move for reported targets Andrea Belotti or Pierre Emerick Aubameyang.
Academy product Patrick Cutrone, 19, has caught the eye in pre-season while Suso could improve on his showings in 2016/17 and M'baye Niang might get chances after returning from a loan spell at Watford.
Spare a thought for those making way for all the new arrivals this summer, including Juraj Kucka, Andrea Poli, Keisuke Honda, Gianluca Lapadula, Andrea Bertolacci and Mattia De Sciglio. They are likely to be followed by a few more as Montella continues to trim his squad.
I've never known a summer like this. We've bought players who, at the start of the transfer window, you think 'yeah it'd be nice if they came'… well they really did come.
With such a huge overhaul, can Milan be expected to challenge straight away this season? They raised a few pulses, and expectations, with a 4-0 pre-season win over Bayern Munich, with Kessie and Calhanoglu scoring their first goals for the club.
But Montella has acknowledged Milan are "a team under construction, but not yet complete". "It will be long work, but we have to run quickly toward creating a team with the principles of play I have in my head," he added.
Club CEO Fassone has said "there can be some difficulties linked into putting 10 new players in the same locker room", but added: "The important thing is that the manager knows how to put them together and make them work well in a short time."
If Milan's season is anywhere near as spectacular as their summer business, then success might not be too far away.