Silvio Berlusconi is the epitome of what people love to hate in politicians. He is a billionaire, has been caught in multiple scandals, and has an ego that would give Mike Tyson's a run for its money.
He also built two of the most successful European club teams of all time as President of AC Milan. The first was the Sacchi and Capello-coached Milan of the early 90s. Who can forget the 4-0 demolition of Barcelona in the Champions League final of 1994?
The second was the Milan of the last decade, which reached three Champions League finals in five years (winning two of them). The club announced Berlusconi's return to the presidency earlier this year.
This summer, with regards to the transfer market, will undoubtedly be the Milan's most critical in over 10 years. Milan finished the Serie A campaign as runners-up to rivals Juventus in what was a close-fought but ultimately disappointing season, thanks in part to a lengthy injury list.
The club has announced it will part ways with many of the players that made it such a dominant force in recent European football, including Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso, and Pippo Inzaghi.
"We will miss these extraordinary champions," said Adriano Galliani, Vice-President of AC Milan, "good men who kept the dressing room the way it should be. It's the end of an era."
Great players, even champions and club icons, will come and go. But clubs remain. Clubs rebuild. Clubs close chapters and begin new ones.
Berlusconi has the ability to rebuild this Milan side into the European superpower it twice was. The club still has plenty of top-class players, but it will be no easy task replacing champions like Alessandro Nesta, easily a top-3 center-back of the modern era, and the pit bull-like Gennaro Gattuso, who was not only a force on the pitch but an invaluable locker room presence.
Which recently-retired icon must be replaced first?
Milan can't afford to fall asleep at the wheel when it comes to the transfer market. Serie A is getting more competitive by the year. Formerly mid-level clubs like Napoli, Lazio, and Udinese had impressive seasons, and Juventus has strengthened its squad considerably, winning its first Scudetto since its stripped 2006 victory.
Money talks these days, and football is no exception. Transfer market dealings can be expensive, but smart business is always possible. Nobody is asking Milan to spend 100 million euros this summer. After all, this is Milan, not Manchester City. However, the club can’t rest on its laurels—it must act, even if this means spending money.
If Berlusconi opens his wallet in the transfer market this summer, the Rossoneri will be on track to rebuilding a squad that is only three or four quality players away from being Champions League-winning material.
First and foremost, Milan needs to bring in a world-class replacement for Alessandro Nesta. His experience and ability to read the game are matched by few, if any, defenders on the planet. How many defenders in recent history can say they've stopped Leo Messi?
Furthermore, Milan needs at least two or three new quality midfielders. The recent signings of Riccardo Montolivo and Bakaye Traore are a good start to bolstering an aging (and retiring) midfield, but these hardly instill a sense of true confidence upon the Milan faithful. Milan has also recently signed Brazilian goalkeeper Gabriel, who, at just 19 years old, looks to be a good long-term signing, but his quality remains to be seen on the European stage.
It's a start, but these signings are hardly eyebrow-raisers. Milan must purchase further reinforcements, preferably of world-class ability, to strengthen the squad by the time the season begins come August. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.
But Milan has Berlusconi back.
He's built two world-conquering teams in his previous tenure—there's no reason that Berlusconi's return to the helm can't bring glory back to the red and black half of Milan. He's done it twice before, and as they say, third time's the charm.