Donnarumma and Locatelli exploits highlight how AC Milan can restore San Siro glory
Jamie Clark | 30 October 2016
It doesn’t matter what side your San Siro bread is buttered; neither Inter nor AC Milan fans have had much cause to celebrate of late. That is until Rossoneri youngsters finally got a chance.
When it comes to AC Milan tips, football pundits have understandably been hesitant recently and here’s why. You’ve got to go back over five years for the last time any major silverware sat in the Rossoneri trophy cabinet.
Shadows of their former selves
AC Milan have won just one Serie A title since the Carlo Ancelotti era that saw them reach three Champions League finals in four alternate years (2003, 2005 and 2007).
This coming summer marks a decade since the Rossoneri last ruled European football. So sharp has Milan’s decline been and their status within Italy diminished since that this is the third successive season without Champions League football for them.
Massimiliano Allegri managed to squeeze one more Scudetto out of the core of Ancelotti’s Rossoneri side in 2010/11, yet within a year of that triumph almost all of the magnificent Milan vintage was gone.
First Azzurri playmaker Andrea Pirlo was let go, along with left back Marek Jankulovski, in the immediate aftermath of that Serie A success. The following summer saw the mass exodus; elegant all-round defender Alessandro Nesta and wing back Gianluca Zambrotta were done for starters.
Midfield was decimated as fellow faithful servants Gennaro Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf joined Mark van Bommel in departing. Positionally sound centre forward Filippo Inzaghi finally hung up his boots, but worse still Milan became a selling club.
Centre back Thiago Silva and star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic were prised away by PSG to the tune of a combined €65m, and the Rossoneri have paid for that ever since.
Lose so much in the space of 12 months and, as Milan are learning the hard way, it can take many years to get back to the blinding heights they once occupied.
That being said, it’s not as though they haven’t thrown money at the problem; or rather several problems thrown up by perhaps letting Ancelotti’s awesome but ageing ensemble go on a bit too long.
Colombia hitman Carlos Bacca does look a worthy replacement for great Rossoneri forwards of the last generation like Ibrahimvoic, Inzaghi and Andriy Shevchenko, but how many others charged with stepping up have flopped?
Golden Boy award-winning duo Alexandre Pato and Mario Balotelli blew hot and cold, as injuries and attitude respectively made them mercurial talents rather than consistent performers that could be relied upon.
Luiz Adriano, the Brazilian poacher recruited from Shakhtar Donetsk when war in Ukraine made playing football in Eastern Europe less appealing despite big wages, has also disappointed to date.
He may yet still come good little more than 15 months into a five-year contract, but remains behind Bacca in the pecking order. Adriano is also in the shadow of other more established Samba stars who played in Milan during years past. Ever heard of Kaka, Leonardo, Rivaldo, Robinho, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo?
The Rossoneri even tried other domestic options besides Balotelli up top in Giampaolo Pazzini and Alessandro Matri, but their averages were down on those who came before them.
Wide attackers and supporting cast members such as Stephan El Shaarawy, Jeremy Menez and Keisuke Honda either proved in or out of favour and/or form. All but the Japanese ace were moved on this past summer.
As noted above, where once Milan possessed a midfield that had spent years training and playing together, successive summers in 2011 and 2012 turned Gattuso, Pirlo and Seedorf from mainstays into memories for fans.
It was always a tall order to replace the right level of onfield aggression in grizzled Gattuso, that eye for a pass Pirlo possessed and the silky skills of Seedorf.
Milan scoured home and abroad to tackle perhaps their trickiest test; but, if replicating the right blend is the aim, then head to one of the San Siro’s cafes. At least the coffee is smooth.
Riccardo Montolivo broke a leg to the detriment of club and country before the 2014 World Cup. He’s not really been the same since, so the Rossoneri raided Fiorentina again this summer to bring Chilean counterpart Matias Fernandez in on loan.
Meanwhile, Nigel de Jong and Antonio Nocerino proved no less blunt than, but not quite as adept in the dark arts as Gattuso. Milan’s current anchorman Juraj Kucka is little better in this regard.
Andrea Bertolacci showed box-to-box ability at Genoa, but the goals dried up after the big money move to the San Siro. Andrea Poli sounds as his name suggests; a pale imitation of Pirlo in deep-lying areas.
Ghana trio Sulley Muntari, Michael Essien and Kevin-Prince Boateng (twice) all came and went too. That leaves Giacomo Bonaventura as the only qualified success in Milan’s midfield, but he often seems shunted to the left wing.
Locatelli among AC Milan tips for future
Vincenzo Montella, the fifth different permanent Rossoneri boss since January 2014, is left with little choice but to look to youth for inspiration.
Teenage talent Manuel Locatelli provided that by rifling in a recent winner against Juventus – the side who have dominated Serie A as Milan declined.
He’s scored two goals and made just eight Rossoneri outings, but already there’s hype around Italy Under-19 captain Locatelli, who is 13/8 to net anytime against Pescara on Sunday, October 30.
A poll of Milan fans came out as him reminding them of Demetrio Albertini, the British tabloids report.
Elsewhere, premature comparisons to Pirlo are already being made, while Montolivo is Locatelli’s hero. It doesn’t particularly matter which of these he may be moulded into or who he ends up most being like, what’s important is this player excites Rossoneri supporters.
Seeing an academy graduate come through is a soothing tonic for all the disappointments and failed transfers.
Since defensive and iconic trio Franco Baresi, Alessandro Costacurta and Paolo Maldini became Milan greats alongside Albertini, the only notable names to come through are full backs Ignazio Abate and Mattia De Sciglio.
Donnarumma the real deal among Rossoneri youngsters
Rossoneri fans have a fourth ‘one of their own’ to cheer on in the current first-team picture, though, and he’s between the posts. Gianluigi Donnarumma is now the heir apparent to most-capped Azzurri international Gianluigi Buffon, with 15 clean sheets in his first 43 Serie A games.
Outshining the legendary goalkeeper in Milan’s 1-0 victory over Juve, such is the confidence in teenager Donnarumma that Montella was prepared to loan out Diego Lopez back to the stopper’s native Spain.
When it comes to protecting the posts, the Rossoneri have been well-stocked by first Dida and then cult hero Christian Abbiati, whose penchant for fisting away balls into the box should go down in Milan folklore.
Donnarumma would give either a run for his money and, if fulfilling his massive potential, may easily eclipse either. Abbiati thinks even Buffon’s achievements may be surpassed.
“I know them both well,” said Abbiati in a recent interview. “Gigi is the greatest, but Gigio can do even better.”
If Donnarumma, Locatelli and young Alessio Romagnoli in between them at centre back remain with Milan and develop apace, then Montella will have the makings of a spine with the kind of longevity Ancelotti enjoyed.
Much more is needed of course to help the Rossoneri return to that lofty perch in Lombardy they once occupied, but this could be the start of something special.
The Little Aeroplane, a moniker Montella earned during his playing days due to a diminutive stature and goal celebration, needs to fly others into Milan, but it’s with a sense of relief rather than irony that he’s looked inside the club to address issues instead of solely importing names.
Which Rossoneri youngsters are you excited to see come through? Have your say in the comment section!