Two days shy of the tenth anniversary of AC Milan’s Champions League triumph in Athens, the Rossoneri return to European football after a three-year absence. An unimaginable fall from grace compared to 2007, even worse considering this season’s sixth-placed finish is the best return in four seasons. Milan’s return to Europe is ironically a symbol of how far they have fallen, one of football’s great historic clubs battling for Europa League qualification. So, is this season a sign of better things to come?
Athens 2007 was undoubtedly the high before a long, long fall. Future club legends gracing the pitch in their prime, including Filippo Inzaghi at his very best, scoring a brace. The second being the kind of goal he was synonymous for, running the channels, always on the limit of offside. Vindication for a team humiliated at Istanbul two years earlier. The band would stay together for another year, winning the UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup before time took its toll. Key players retired such as Cafu, Serginho and Paolo Maldini, and those who didn’t retire, left for greener pastures, although Andriy Shevchenko might have a word to say about that. When Clarence Seedorf was asked how he would describe the team in 2007, his answer was simple, ‘uomini’ – men. A short and poignant point for a man usually so articulate.
Since then, Silvio Berlusconi’s refusal to splash any form of cash has crippled the club and its ability to compete in the transfer market. Juventus on the other hand prospered with a mix of superstar and savvy signings. Instead, players out of contract and in their thirties seemed to be the latest craze in the Milan boardroom. In the hot seat, managers were replaced on an almost monthly basis. From Seedorf to Inzaghi, any ex-player with a connection with the club – and who didn’t refuse to return – was odds-on for the job. Berlusconi’s padlocked purse, coupled with a merry-go-round of managers led to a bleak few years for the red half of Milan.
This season, however, there have been signs (and I mean signs, let’s not get carried away) of change. Milan’s famed Primavera youth team has been churning out first-team talent. The obvious names such as Gianluigi Donnarumma and Manuel Locatelli has deservedly cemented themselves in the starting line-up. Under the radar, Davide Calabria has staked his claim for right-back in the coming years with a number of solid performances. Under the wing of Vincenzo Montella, this more organised and solid Milan team has even managed to win silverware this season, the prestigious Supercoppa Italiana…that one.
Even the stubborn old guard of Berlusconi and Galliani have realised it is time to step aside and let Chinese investors inject some cash into the club. However, in what seemed like one last attempt to drag the club down with them, they picked a Chinese investor who had to loan €180 million from a U.S private equity fund just to get the deal closed. Good job guys.
With the takeover finally complete and the debts cleared, Milan have wasted no time in the transfer market. Highly rated defender Mateo Musacchio has agreed on a transfer from Villarreal, with more reinforcements expected in coming weeks. Keisuke Honda has also announced he is leaving, the first player in what will be probably become a clear-out of the team as they look towards climbing back to the top of Serie A. With season after season of misery for the Rossoneri, it finally looks as though fortunes are changing, and for the first time in years the future looks bright.