One of Italy’s most decorated clubs AC Milan enter the new season carrying the tag of being favourites to defend the league title. Club owner Silvio Berlusconi and Vice-President Adriano Galliani are fairly happy with the job handled by Massimiliano Allegri who achieved the long nurtured dream of the club to reclaim domestic supremacy in his very first season replacing cross-town rivals FC Internazionale as the champions of Italy. The management decided to invest heavily at the beginning of the previous season, especially on the attacking front, and the results immediately showed. Club’s highly fancied acquisitions Ibrahimovic and Robinho played a very crucial role in guiding the team to the summit in the league table and more importantly, cementing the place there till the end of the season.

However, despite splurging the cash reasonably well, the squad’s shortcomings to contest in Europe could not have been more apparent. Against Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham Hotspur, who were contesting in Europe’s premier continental competition after remaining devoid of a chance for close to five decades, Max Allegri’s men failed to pull strings together and were ultimately knocked out from the first knock-out round over the two legs. The European disappointment soon got overshadowed with the rediscovered joy of being crowned the Italian champions but for a club of Milan’s stature, it is very vital to re-establish the similar authority in Europe too sooner rather than later.

With this agenda in mind, Adriano Galliani has got a pretty tricky task to execute ahead of himself. The key areas where reinforcements are required have been perfectly identified and some smart moves have already been exercised. The re-engineering process of the squad that initiated a year back is still an article in progress and the upcoming season is going to be one of the most crucial chapters in determining Allegri’s mettle as a big club manager. In order to reach closest to the set targets, if not exactly meet them, it is hardly a secret Milan need to buy smart in more than one positions.

The approach so far has remained rather passive and a couple of deals that were touted to be potential ones to change the club’s fortunes have not been handled in the best possible manner and thus haven’t yet successfully materialized. However, one of the positive aspects of the transfer activities so far has been that of adjusting many of the co-ownership and loan deals primarily with Genoa, which would substantially raise the playing time for many of the promising Milan youngsters who upon their return may add muscle to the already potent squad.

TheHardTackle dissects the manner in which the transfer activities have been carried out at the Milanese club and what more must be executed by the man who is considered to be one of the shrewdest and smartest brains in the European football circles.

The Additions at the Best Bargains

The shift in the approach over the transfer policies became ever so apparent during the last summer when Milan bought beyond the fans’ expectations capturing the signatures of some of the biggest names in Europe. However, the cash hasn’t been exactly doing the talking this time around especially when the team is beginning to look increasingly strong to reclaim the lost reputation. The very first move that Milan made in the market was in the form of two free transfers, which secured the signatures of Taye Taiwo and Phillipe Mexes from Marseille and AS Roma respectively. Both the players have proven their worth and boast of exactly the attributes Milan are looking for to strengthening their already disciplined defence.

 

Taye Taiwo

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Taye Taiwo, the Nigerian who is considered to be the first choice Left Back for the next season can be deployed as a wing-back too, with appropriate alterations in the formation. Given his pace and physical attributes, his candidature is surely far superior to that of Luca Antonini or Gianluca Zambrotta. Phillipe Mexes, Milan’s second signing in defence, is a no-nonsense, conventional Centre Back who has of late reserved a place of his in the French national team too. Mexes may not find as much of first team action as he may have found during his years in Rome but is one player who is expected to take the baton from the great Alessandro Nesta in a season’s time or two. Thiago Silva, who is arguably the best Centre Back in the world today would automatically select himself in Allegri’s setup but Mexes will remain a vital cog in the wheel given Nesta’s age and his proneness to a variety of injuries.

Milan have added youngster Ricardo Ferreira from FC Porto at an undisclosed price. However, the Portuguese is only expected to warm the bench and aspire for some playing time in the Coppa games. There is a bright chance he may be loaned out to less ambitious clubs in Serie A or Serie B during the winter transfer in order to condition him by offering more playing time.

The Contract Extensions Offered to the Veterans

Ever since the culmination point of the last season was nearing, there were concerns raised over the alarmingly high average age of the squad and that the management was contemplating getting rid of few of the big names who they found had no longer got the legs to survive in the most demanding conditions. The doubts over the veterans’ future at San Siro were soon shelved when contracts of as many as six players were extended for one year. The list includes Alessandro Nesta, Clarence Seedorf, Mark van Bommel, Flavio Roma, Filippo Inzaghi and club captain Massimo Ambrosini. Thiago Silva, the trump card of the Milanese defence, who was once heavily linked with a move to Barcelona, is now Milan bound till 2016.

 

A Rossonero - One More Time

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One of the causes for fans’ agitation despite winning the much sought Scudetto, was the club did not choose to extend the contract for fans’ favourite Andrea Pirlo. Milan’s chief source for creativity over the years, Pirlo almost symbolized the modern generation of players in the Rossoneri colours but failed to feature into Allegri’s plans where a more defensive and solid player ahead of the defensive line was required. To add insult to the injury, bitter rivals Juventus successfully signed Pirlo on a free transfer. Among others who failed to receive any generosity from the club are veteran defenders Marek Jankulovski and Nicola Legrottaglie who were deemed surplus to squad’s defensive requirements. Both are presently free agents and unattached to any club. The Greek defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos, who could never find his feet in the Milanese back-line, has been sold out to Genoa at an undisclosed price.

The Settlement of Loans & Co-ownership Deals

Though not very visible at the shopping window, Milan have been reasonably active in resolving a number of loan deals and acquiring the full services of players previously on co-ownership deals. Genoa goalkeeper Marco Amelia who was serving a loan period has now been signed for Milan and shall remain a deputy to Christian Abbiati. Veteran goalkeeper Ferdinando Coppola, who has for a larger part of his stay in Milan, remained on loan with lesser clubs, returned after his brief association with Siena in Serie B but was immediately offloaded for another loan period to Turin based outfit Torino.

The co-ownership deal with Genoa surrounding Gianmarco Zigoni and Alberto Paloschi were resolved to fully acquire the services of the two. However, after deploying Paloschi in some of the pre-season games, he has again been loaned out to Chievo Verona with an option to purchase in a co-ownership deal. Nigerian defender Wilfred Osuji who was partially owned by Varese makes a return to add variety to the midfield that lacks energy. American defender Oguchi Onyewu, who was infamously engaged into a brawl with Ibrahimovic, too makes a comeback after serving a brief loan period at Dutch club FC Twente.

Kevin Prince-Boateng has been signed from Genoa after resolving the co-ownership deal and is now a full time Rossonero. Prodigious youngsters like Rodney Strasser and Nnamdi Odumadi, who too were co-owned by Genoa, were bought and have now been loaned out to Torino and Lecce respectively. Odumadi’s loan deal includes the clause to fully purchase the player at the end of the spell. In another deal with Torino, Milan have co-signed young Italian forward Gianmario Comi at an undisclosed price.

Beleaguered striker Marco Borrielo who just completed his loan period with AS Roma has been sold out to the capital club where as Spanish left-back Didac Vila, who was bought from Espanyol during the last winter, has been loaned out back to the Spanish club.

The most exciting signing among the young guns has been that of Genoa forward Stephen El Sharrawy in a co-ownership with his parent-club Genoa. The eighteen year old is believed to be groomed much faster under the tutelage of the best in business that Milan attack boasts of.

The Ouster of Primavera Blood

Time and again Milan have been accused of not promoting the young blood effectively and it appears that the head coach Massimiliano Allegri is planning to breach the traditions. However, it should take some more time before the academy products are directly graduated to represent one of the most prestigious clubs in Europe. But a host of talented academy youngsters have been loaned out or co-signed with lesser teams in Italy who promise to offer them an enhanced playing time to showcase their worth.

Four highly promising primavera youngsters in Alberto Paloschi, Giacomo Beretta, Simone Verdi and Alexander Merkel shall not represent the Rossoneri during the season as they’ve all been scattered out to different clubs in the country. In the co-acquisition of El Sharrawy, Milan have in return dealt Merkel and Beretta to go the other way. Genoa have, in turn, loaned Beretta out to Ascoli in Serie B whereas Merkel would continue to represent the Rossoblu. Simone Verdi, primavera’s highly influential forward is now being co-owned by Torino at an undisclosed price.

Who is Mr X?

Both Adriano Galliani and Max Allegri chose to remain rather playful with the media during the initial stages of the transfer window, while discussing Milan’s shopping plans. The two men to dish out all the information to the media caricatured an imaginary character called Mr X and a buzz was created around the Milan communities that a big signing is on the verge to happen. A series of characteristics including physical attributes about Mr X were discussed in the media but the speculations over unearthing the identity remained.

 

Not Happening!

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Two of the most prominent names touted to be the Mr X were of Brazilian playmaker Ganso and Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel. However, neither of the deal seems to be happening as Benfica has already signed Witsel whereas Ganso appears to be staying at Santos. The much hyped and talked about Mr X still remains unidentified as we are almost on the verge of transfer window’s conclusion.

What’s Ahead?

Milan definitely lack the legs in the midfield and the present crop of players isn’t getting any younger. Especially competing in Europe against the teams who operate at enormous pace, the team needs more flesh and blood in the midfield. So far, none of the proven and established players have been signed in these areas but the names of Alberto Aquilani and Ricardo Montolivo are being associated with the club. Both players have proven their worth in all these years playing in Italy and are part of the national team as well.

Montolivo will predominantly be signed to fill the hole behind the strikers in the trequartista role, raising competition for Antonio Cassano for the position. Aquilani, on the other hand is more of a traditional midfielder known for his passing range and ability to aim at the post from the distance. Currently associated with Liverpool, if he does make a move back to Serie A, Milan will be his third Italian club in four years.

With the time constraints and club’s languid approach this summer, only one of the two signings seems to be happening and the club shall still remain away from that ‘one big signing’ that may turn the fortunes for the better. Adriano Galliani still knows the best and the entire fan base is confident the old man shall keep cracking the best deals at the best prices. The much-coveted move of Ganso that is now almost considered to not have happened for the summer may be on Galliani’s cards for the winter.