The year 2011 was envisaged and identified as the year zero for Milan; the year to make a clean break and start a new winning cycle. A bright young manager, some stars, couple of old hands and one unknown were brought in to help. The result was a resounding success, ending Inter’s hegemony on the Scudetto. The triumph is as much of the players and the manager as of the transfer experts – Adriano Galliani and his right hand man Ariedo Braida. In 2012, however, as many as 11 players will be out of contract, and for reasons of age, many would leave. Hence this transfer season is more important than even last summer’s. A few more right moves will set Milan on the correct path for this decade. While many of the big clubs of Italy are struggling with rebuilding, Milan may be able to achieve success while rebuilding for the next generation.

As the season was ending, Galliani & Braida needed to do two important things – ensure that the team was not entirely decimated of experienced players whose contracts were expiring and get correct reinforcements for the team. The renewals of Alessandro Nesta, Filippo Inzaghi, Flavio Roma, Massimo Ambrosini, Mark van Bommel and Clarence Seedorf were thus a step in retaining the experience. The one that got away – Andrea Pirlo, was more an indictment of how the club thinks it should play. Galliani has also secured reinforcements right throughout the lines – on loan Marco Amelia was signed permanently from Genoa, the defense was bolstered with free signings Taye Taiwo & Philippe Mexes, Kevin Prince Boateng was signed permanently for €7m. The youth was not neglected either with Milan taking on full ownership of a bunch of players who were co-owned with Genoa, notable among them is Alberto Paloschi, the heir apparent to Pippo Inzaghi. On top of all these deals, Milan also secured Thiago Silva, arguably the best defender in the world for five years, one of the best deals done so far in the season.

The Contract Renewals

In the past, these renewals would have sparked another talk of Milan being a retirement home. But Galliani has offered each player a one year extension and reduced their salaries by at least 30%. This entire exercise, along with Pirlo leaving, has had a total annual wage saving of €14m. Individually Nesta, Pippo and Seedorf may be in their last competitive season. This allows them one last crack at Europe and they would cherish that. Ambrosini and van Bommel would rotate as the regista. The most important renewal though was of Thiago Silva. He is a future Selecao and Milan captain and getting him on for five more years will ensure no silly Barcelona/Madrid rumors.

Verdict: All the important players retained. Wage structure brought down. Clear guideline set for future contract renewals of 30+ players. The future Milan captain retained for 5 more years. – 9/10

The Free Signings

Phillipe Mexes is one of the reasons for Roma enjoying one of their best decades in club history, is a top defender in the league and #1 centre-back in the French national team under Laurent Blanc. But some fans are still polarized over his signing, pointing out to some mad rushes leading to evictions and goals conceded. I think this is an excellent deal and a combination of his experience of Serie A, age (28) and being a national team regular (which he wasn’t during his Roma stint) will benefit Milan immensely. The player too will benefit from the Milanello atmosphere; working with some of the stalwarts of defense will make sure that his adrenaline rushes are kept to a minimum. With Nesta renewing, it will be him and Nesta rotating to play beside Thiago Silva. Anybody doubting this deal should check how much a top national team centre back of less than 30 years and 7 years of Serie A experience would fetch on the market. Milan got him for free – no brainer.

Taye Taiwo is our second free signing and this is an interesting one. Since the advent of the one and only Paolo Maldini, the left back role has been the least populated by foreigners. In fact of all the foreign players to play left back after Maldini came on, only Brazil has had more than one contender. Now Nigeria joins the ranks. Taiwo would be the 2nd Milan left back of Nigerian origin after Taribo West who had a 6 month stint after coming from Inter. He played 4 matches and scored 1 goal and is more remembered for his hairdo than anything else. Taiwo has been more successful in the national setup already, has a booming shot, is quite pacy and can take a free kick or two.

 

Taiwo has better hair. Can he have greater impact though than West?

Signing Taiwo takes away Milan’s sole non-EU spot for the season. This is a positive development given the lack of promising left backs in Serie A.

Verdict: 2 quality signings, both lynchpins in their national setup, one of them having 7 years of Serie A experience. The free transfer though somewhat offset by the huge wages offered especially to Mexes. – 8/10

The Genoa Pacts

In the last season, most Calcio watchers were making fun of the fact that Genoa let Kevin Prince Boateng go to Milan after buying him. Given the impact The Prince has had and Genoa’s performance over the season, there’s no doubt they are at the laughing stock. While acquiring Boateng, Milan had also handed over a clutch of young primavera stars to Genoa on co-ownership. Alberto Paloschi, who was co-owned with Parma, was also sent to Genoa in the winter market. Galliani’s objective in meeting the Genoa President Enrico Preziosi was thus to ensure Boateng remained at Milan and get the youngsters back in fold.

Two other players involved in this deal were Marco Amelia who was on loan at Milan and Socratis Papasthopoulos whom Milan had bought outright from Genoa. In the end, Galliani had a perfect meeting; buying Boateng wholly for pre-agreed €7m and getting full rights on Alberto Paloschi, Rodney Strasser, Gianmarco Zigoni, Nnamdi Oduamadi. Genoa took Sokratis back while Milan bought Amelia outright. Only the co-ownership deal for Giacomo Beretta was continued and he would play for Genoa next season.

Verdict: An absolute stunning performance from Galliani in keeping Boateng’s price at €7m and getting full rights on the next generation of Rossoneri stars, while letting Sokratis, the flop of the season for Milan, leave and buying an adequate backup goalkeeper in Amelia. 10/10

Future Moves and Mr X

Before going into new acquisitions, we should look at two Milan defenders who are on co-ownership presently and letting that continue may be the smart move. Davide Astori has already broken into the Azzurri while playing for Cagliari. Letting him continue there to get him more match time and maybe buy him next season when Nesta would most probably retire would be the best move. Matteo Darmian is an ex-Milan Primavera captain and is co-owned with Palermo. He hasn’t made strides like Astori yet but playing with arguably the best set of Italian fullbacks would surely help him progress in future. Expect another continuation of his co-ownership.

Already Milan have a set 1st team and a backup but there is a Pirlo shaped hole in the team which would rear its head when we look for creativity. Allegri however prefers a hardworking midfielder who would be equally adept in defense and attack and will be able to play in the left of midfield. Considering that a generation of Milan midfield might be gone in 2012, Galliani really needs to invest wisely. Many a name has been associated with Milan but what may be crucial is where Allegri places Boateng – as a trequartista or on the mezz’ala role. The presence of Urby Emanuelson, who can play in most roles on the left flank, also makes the choice of the newcomer interesting.

Another factor that would influence market moves is how the FIGC treats the number of non-EU players that a club can sign from abroad. Presently Taiwo occupies the only non-EU spot available. However sometime in middle of June, this might be extended to 2. Even if it is not extended, there is a chance that Taiwo might get an EU passport from the French authorities by July 1, when he formally signs for Milan. In any such scenario, expect Milan to sign Paolo Henrique Ganso, who has the potential to be the next great trequartista of Milan.

One player who would be able to fit into Allegri’s model of midfield perfectly is Kwadwo Asamoah – young, energetic, Serie A proven and available for negotiation. The marquee names of Marek Hamsik, Cesc Fabregas, Bastian Schweinsteiger, would enrich any midfield in the world, but may be out of Milan’s range. With the ageing midfield, Galliani also needs to look at fresh blood and links to Axel Witsel would point in that direction. Galliani would also do well to look at two Italian midfielders who might be available on the cheap – Marco Parolo and Andrea Poli. All successful Milan teams of every era have had a rich Italian midfield base and Parolo & Poli might add that bit of panache and steel.

Verdict: Galliani has been playing the media well with Mr X stories and Allegri has also joined in. The links though are with the right kind of players so far – ones who can lead Milan in the new decade. 7/10

– Debopam Roy

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