Grading the Likelihood of Transfer Targets Linked to AC Milan
The season is over for AC Milan. After a terrifying start that saw them flirt with the relegation zone in the first month, Massimiliano Allegri guided his charges to a fantastic comeback, making an unlikely run to third position and a berth in next year's Champions League playoff round.
The Rossoneri will likely be favored to win most any matchup they are faced with in that round, meaning that the likelihood of three Italian teams in the group stage is high. But in order to successfully navigate going through both the Serie A and Europe's premier competition (as well as the Coppa Italia), team vice president Adriano Galliani is going to have to bring in some reinforcements.
Milan has a lot of front-line talent, but they're short on depth—a dire weakness when trying to compete in three high-level competitions at once. The team also has a few holes to fill, particularly in defense.
After years of big-money spending, Milan is trying to become a team that builds through youth. How Galliani and president Silvio Berlusconi handle this transfer window will go a long way towards building off the gains made this season with the likes of Stephan El Shaarawy, Mario Balotelli and Mattia De Sciglio.
All the potential transfer candidates you see here will be graded on a 0-10 scale of how likely it is that that deal will go through—10 being certain, five being neutral (and often needing more information) and zero being a flat "Heck No."
Who is most likely to be brought to the San Siro this summer? Let's look at some of the candidates and how likely it is that they play in red and black next season.
Current Club: Barcelona
Goalkeeper is an area that is in need of an upgrade from aging incumbent Christian Abbiati. January's announcement that Victor Valdes will not be renewing his contract with Barcelona (he has one year remaining) has put one of Europe's better netminders on the open market for Galliani to poach.
Last month, insidefutbol.com passed along a Sportmediaset report that the Rossoneri have entered the fray for the keeper along with Arsenal, Russia's Anzhi Makhachkala, and Brazil's Sao Paulo. According to the report, Milan was willing to offer €5 million for the keeper's services if they successfully qualified for the Champions League—a goal they have now accomplished.
The likelihood of this move is going to depend on whether Galliani decides to get young in goal and keep Abbiati as a stop-gap for one more season, or go for an established star now and bring a youngster up along with him. That option seems more likely now that the 35-year-old has signed a one-year extension with the club.
Milan has the prestige to attract Valdes away from upstarts like Anzhi, and it's tough to see the player leaving Europe, so the notoriously tight-fisted Arsenal may be the only real competition. It's also worth noting that the two clubs do have a good working relationship, with players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Bojan moving between them over the last few years. Still, Abbiati's new deal makes this look less likely than it might have a week or so ago.
Current Club: Sampdoria
Until recently, it was considered a foregone conclusion that Andrea Poli would be moving to Juventus in the summer. But reports from Football Italia have now come in that said Milan have thrust their nose into negotiations and are competing with the champions for his signature.
Italian site tuttomercatoweb.com has reported a €6 million deal between the two clubs, but that report can't be confirmed anywhere, so as of now he should still be considered a Sampdoria player. Football Italia reports that even Poli himself said as late as last Thursday that he knows nothing of any deal.
Still, all the momentum in this deal seems to be with Milan. Samp wants to cash in on their young midfielder before his contract runs out next year, so he will almost certainly be wearing a new shirt in August, and Football Italia claims Juve seems to have directed their attention to other players such as Poli's Samp teammate Pedro Obiang. This looks like it will end up going through.
Current Club: Barcelona
Yes, Bojan spent the last season at Milan—mostly as a substitute—but the La Masia product is in an odd situation.
He transferred from Roma to Milan, and Milan have the option to buy him, but Barcelona's buyback option from his move to Roma is still in effect until the end of the coming transfer window, so he could be heading back to Spain depending on how the Blaugrana want to handle their transfer activities.
Milan's buy option is, according to Galliani, "lower than the one Roma had," so the financially conscious Milan side is likely more than capable of making the buy. Goal.com claims Max Allegri was high on him in November, saying he "could be spectacular" with the club, and ESPNFC reported the player's father has recently stated that his son is happy with life in Milan.
ESPNFC claims Milan may end up facing competition with Bundisliga club Hamburg, who see the player as a potential replacement for the soon-to-be-leaving Heung-Min Son, further complicating the player's situation.
Bojan's numbers have not lived up to his potential, but if Robinho leaves the team as some expect, Milan may endeavor to keep the Spaniard for depth purposes. Barca will look to spend big this year, and he is probably not going to be able to force his way into their plans. The chances are good for him staying at the San Siro, although the Germans may have something to say before it's over.
Current Club: Barcelona
Another Barca link, Puyol was linked to Milan in early May, but Goal.com reports he vehemently denied the rumors.
Given Puyol's track record and Milan's critical weakness in central defense, it's a rumor that could make sense—but would be taken more seriously if it were 2008. For a team that has focused in the last year on getting younger, buying a 35-year-old who is increasingly injury prone—he's barely played since he injured his knee against the Rossoneri in the second leg of the Champions League round of 16—doesn't make sense. According to Goal.com, Galliani has said as much, saying: "Veteran players are not part of our plans...we are thinking of youngsters."
This is one that isn't going anywhere.
Current Club: PSV Eindhoven
A versatile player who can operate as a deep-lying playmaker, a holding midfielder or a box-to-box type, Kevin Strootman is likely to be in high demand this season. The Express reports he has said recently that he is willing to listen if a team has an offer.
Interest in the next great midfielder from the Netherlands has been festering in the Premier League for quite some time, and Milan has been linked to the Dutchman by talkSPORTS as well. Indeed, last December, The Express reported that Milan would beat Arsenal and Manchester United to a winter signing for him this past December, although that report obviously never proved true.
However well he played in the latter half of the season, Matthieu Flamini and Sulley Muntary are not as good as Strootman. The youngster could fill an important role in midfield to allow Kevin-Prince Boateng's role to become more settled—or take it over altogether.
There was speculated interest from teams like Everton and Man United, of course, before the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and subsequent promotion of David Moyes. Everton hasn't replaced Moyes yet, either. The point is, the transfer policies of these teams may shake up as new coaches settle in and install new systems, so it could be that one of these English sides drops out of the Strootman sweepstakes.
Strootman would be an appealing fit for Milan, which has a history of doing well with Dutch players like Marco van Basten, Clarence Seedorf and more recently, Mark van Bommel. It would be even more likely if Urby Emanuelson—whose loan to Fulham will not be made permanent—leaves the club in the summer. He may even turn into an incentive in the deal if Milan don't want to pay Strootman's full transfer fee, believed to be somewhere between €12 million and €17 million.
Still, more things have to shake out before this can be talked about definitively.
Current Club: Torino
The Granata had a good return to the Serie A this year and stayed up with plenty to spare. They may, however, finally be losing their best player, center-back Angelo Ogbonna.
The Italy international was linked to Milan before the winter window by Forza Italian Football, and there is no reason why with Milan's deficiencies in the middle they would not revisit the best option that could be had on the market.
Torino chairman Urbano Cairo reportedly values Ogbonna at €20 million, but it's doubtful that he'll actually go at that price—although not necessarily much less.
Milan have become immensely money-conscious the last few years, but central defense is their biggest need and Ogbonna is only 24, making him a sound long-term investment.
There will be no shortage of competition for the Italy international, though. Other clubs reported to be interested in his signature by FTBPro.com's George Buckle are Liverpool—who must replace a retiring Jamie Carragher—and Bayern Munich, who will likely need someone to partner with Dante after Holger Badstuber re-injured his right ACL last week.
Manchester United were also considered to be contenders, although as said before, nothing can be guessed about their transfer strategy until David Moyes assesses his new situation.
It's not often you see players in the national team setup move away from Italy, and it's hard to see Ogbonna doing it. For Milan he'd fill a huge need in the back, and there's no reason to think that he won't be a top priority for the Rossoneri this summer.
Current Club: Real Sociedad
Twenty-two-year-old Frenchman Antoine Griezmann has been a huge part of Real Sociedad's surprise run to qualification for Europe. The team is assured of the Europa League and sits fourth ahead of Valencia on goal difference for Spain's final Champions League spot. Griezmann has had a lot to do with that, scoring eight times and notching three assists in 32 games according to WhoScored.com.
Sky has reported that both Milan and Arsenal are interested in the player. Milan's interest comes as a surprise, as their wings are already set on Stephan El Shaarawy and M'baye Niang. Griezmann has played three games in a central attacking midfield role this season, coming away with a pair of goals and an assist, so Milan may be looking to put him into a trequartista role. That position has been tricky for Allegri in recent seasons, with Urby Emanuelson and Kevin-Prince Boateng manning it with little success.
But it's not even certain that Milan will be playing a formation that requires a trequartista, and with El Shaarawy and Niang ensconced at the wings in a 4-3-3, Griezmann would be buried on the depth chart. It's hard to see this deal happening.
Current Club: Sampdoria
Simone Zaza has been tearing up the Serie B while on loan at Ascoli from Sampdoria. He has scored 18 times this year, good for sixth on a team that will be playing in the Lega Pro next season after a 20th-place finish.
Italian paper La Stampa reported in March that Milan was mulling a move for the player. Big competition could be looming, however. There is also speculation that PSG may be looking for another raid on Serie B.
Still, Milan is probably the favorite to take him at this point, as PSG has bigger fish to fry with their striking force, particularly if Zlatan Ibrahimovic ends up leaving the team.
Regardless of anything else on the field, his hairstyle will certainly fit in at Milan.
Current Club: Genoa
Pescara gave up the most goals in the Serie A this season, but it had nothing to do with 20-year-old goalkeeper Mattia Perin.
The youngster, on loan from Genoa, was incredible and never lost his drive despite who he had playing in front of him. Milan is in need of a keeper of the future, and Perin is the best young goalkeeper on the market. Pescara sporting director Daniele Delli Carri was quoted in an interview with Radio Toscana (via Forza Italian Football) that he is convinced that he will play for Milan or Juve in the near future.
Juventus is probably not his destination, however. Last year's signing of Nicola Leali by the Bianconeri has likely seen to that. That leaves Milan as the prime contender for his signature, although Sky reports Manchester City is also keeping an eye out. With England No. 1 Joe Hart ensconced between the pipes at the Etihad, however, if Perin wanted first-team playing time it would be at Milan.
The odds of a move this year don't look particularly promising. The keeper's agent said in March—another report from Forza Italian Football—that that there would be a "99 percent chance" that Perin would be Genoa's keeper next season. That would mean beating out Sebastian Frey, a veteran of the Serie A who went to the Champions League with Fiorentina, but Perin definitely has the talent.
If Milan flash a large chunk of change in front of Genoa they may reconsider, and the two teams have had a good working relationship recently, evidenced by the transfer of Stephan El Shaarawy.
Perin is likely the future for Milan in goal. Whether the future is now is more of a question mark. Abbiati is aging, but Milan will likely have to wait another year to get their young potential superkeeper.
Current Club: Cagliari
A product of Milan's youth system, Astori went to Cagliari in 2008 on a co-ownership deal that lasted for two seasons before Cagliari bought him outright in 2011. Rumors of his return have been flying for a while, and there were even reports last year from Goal.com that an agreement had been reached to send Astori back to the San Siro, but he remained in Sardinia.
Milan are now making a serious push as Astori is widely assumed to be leaving the nomadic outfit this summer. EPL clubs Southampton and Manchester City are also interested, but given his track record with the club it has to be thought that Milan is in pole position.
The Italy international could be a partner for—or a cheaper alternative to—Angelo Ogbonna in the middle of Milan's defense.
If this didn't happen it would be a surprise.
Current Club: Paris Saint-Germain
Yes, we've heard the pining. Yes, we've heard the little snippets that give fans hope.
We've heard Zlatan say that he loved Milan (espnfc) and felt that "This is a club where I could imagine myself going back if I had to choose."
We've heard his agent, Mino Raiola, say of a return to Italy (via skysports) "I'd rule it out today, but maybe not tomorrow."
We've heard PSG director Leonardo vehemently deny (Goal.com) that any possible return is forthcoming.
People, it's not happening. If it ever does, it will be far into the future when Ibra's skills have diminished and he's no longer the wonder he is now. And if he was offloaded to trim the team's wage bill, why would Milan brass put his salary right back on the books a year later?
Don't get your hopes up.
Position: Attacking midfield
Current Club: Palermo
With the Rosaneri falling through the relegation trap this season, team president Mauro Zamparini has acknowledged (via skysports) that it is likely Slovenian midfielder Josip Ilicic will move this summer.
His agent has said that no talks have taken place—the club was hoping to stay up after all—but, in his words, "It is normal that a player like Ilicic pleases a club like AC Milan."
Ilicic would be an interesting fit. An attacking midfielder with creative skill and a great eye for goal, he can even play as a forward in a pinch, although creating chances is his true calling card. He had somewhat disappeared for the last few seasons before surging during Palermo's efforts to avoid the drop. He scored in five consecutive games down the stretch before losses to Juventus and Udinese sealed the team's fate, and he was rested for the remaining two games.
Things will need to develop, but if Milan is looking for a good option at the front of the midfield area for cheaper than the €30 million Zamparini was looking for a few years ago, they could definitely do worse. This has a chance.
Current Club: Lazio
Reports have Brazil international Hernanes high on Milan's wish list this summer, but Lazio president Claudio Lotito recently brushed away reports (via football-italia.net) that contact had been made about the transfer and insisted that the player is "not on the market."
That said, a bid of €30 million or more may force the capitol club's hand. Hernanes was an absolute terror to defenses this season, scoring 11 times and assisting seven in all competitions. Lazio hit a familiar late-season skid that ended up being so bad the team needs to win the Coppa Italia final next week to get into Europe, but it was no fault of the Brazilian's.
This does seem like more money that Milan can realistically afford, especially considering Lazio would be asked to sell to a direct league rival. It's not likely to materialize—but if it does, watch out.
Current Club: Napoli
Swiss international Gokhan Inler is another potential answer to reinforce Milan's midfield.
One of the creative forces that has kept goal machine Edinson Cavani humming at the San Paolo, Inler and Riccardo Montolivo anchoring the midfield would be a frightening sight for most any defense.
With captain Massimo Amborsini and his fellow midfielder Antonio Nocerino likely to leave this summer, Inler would be a prime piece to reinforce the Rossoneri's midfield core. A report in Il Corriere dello Sport (via soccernews.com) says that Milan is keen to bring him to the San Siro. Some say that a swap for Nocerino could be in the offing
Inler seems to have lost his way a bit this year in Naples, but the biggest question is whether or not the Partenopei would sell to a team that is a direct rival for Champions League places.
The player's agent tamped down speculation (via skysports) about a move to Galatasaray in April, adding that the team had rejected an offer from "a top club" several months before.
This is hard to see going through if more for the competitive reasons than anything else. His price tag would be less than Hernanes, but still high for a team like Milan that is trying to reign in spending.
Current Club: Pescara
The up-and-coming Columbian wants out of relegated Pescara, and he irked the Delfini this week when he tweeted a goodbye to Pescara fans despite no sale having taken place.
Quintero has been getting no shortage of suitors, from Juventus and Napoli to Manchester United and Atletico Madrid.
It's a certainty that Quintero will move from the Stadio Adriatico this year, but where is the bigger question. It was reported in La Gazzetta dello Sport (via football-italia) that Milan had entered talks with the player in February, but nothing has been reported since and Quinter's line of suitors will be long. This is going to be a sales-pitch type deal, with the team that has the best getting his services.
Current Club: Cagliari
Another Cagliari back-liner, Avelar was one of the players La Gazzetta dello Sport reported were on Max Allegri's wish list if he stays at the Milan outfit (story here via rossoneriblog.com).
Allegri had problems finding a good left-back this season and ended up using wunderkind full-back Mattia De Sciglio on the left by the end of the year. The youngster is a naturally right-sided player, however, and the arrival of the Brazilian full-back could mean a move back to the right for De Sciglio—and an exit from the San Siro for Ignazio Abate.
Still, there are too few details to call this as likely or unlikely.
Current Club: Torino
Mercurial forward Alessio Cerci has finally started showing signs of growing up this season at Torino. He has broken through at the national team level, earning his first two caps, and had eight goals and eight assists in 35 league matches this season.
With a target man like Balotelli now in the squad, a crosser like Cerci could be a perfect fit in Allegri's 4-3-3 if he stays—and La Gazzetta dello Sport (via Soccernews) says he is high amongst the attacking options the coach would like to bring in. Twenty six years old next season, he also fits nicely into Milan's preference for younger players.
M'Baye Niang would be a roadblock to him on the depth chart, but Milan is also going to need depth if they are ready for another long Champions League campaign. This is a move that might work out nicely for all involved. If it develops, Mlian fans should not be disappointed.
Position: Attacking Midfield
Current Club: Real Madrid
Desperate for an injection of life to pair with Stephan El Shaarawy in attack this January, Milan fought long and hard to bring Kaka back to the San Siro in an off-again on-again affair extensively reported by the likes of football-italia.com and Sky.
Eventually, the team decided to go with Mario Balotelli—a decision that given the results has proved prudent.
It's hard to see Kaka staying at the Bernabeu much longer. Jose Mourinho said in January (via espnfc) that the "real Kaka" had never really surfaced at Real and that a move to his former club might be the way to get him back in form.
But now with Balotelli in the fold, it's unlikely that the former World Cup winner will be coming back to the San Siro anytime soon. There haven't been any more reports of a move, and it's highly doubtful that there'll be one.
Position: Attacking midfield/forward
Current Club: Fiorentina
Adem Ljajic has only 12 months left on his current contract with Fiorentina, and after a breakout 11-goal, eight-assist year—punctuated by a hat-trick against Pescara—the 21-year-old Serb's future is uncertain.
Sky reports that Fiorentina director Daniele Prade is confident a deal will be done, but the player's agent was slightly more reserved in his assessment of the situation, even if he played down links with both Milan and Juventus. Still, the hesitation to seal a new contract should give La Viola some pause, and Sky Sport Italia (through football-italia.net) says that a bid as light as €9 million could ensure his services next season for Milan.
The team was on the business end of the youngster this season, watching him convert a penalty that drew Fiorentina closer in an eventual 2-2 draw at the Artemio Franchi. The fact that that penalty was drawn on what really was a dive on the youngster's part is neither here nor there—his talent on the field that day was unmistakable. He could be a nice piece to go along with Milan's young strike force, a vital piece of depth in a Champions League season.
Current Club: Catania
Sicilian outfit Catania did better than anyone expected after losing manager Vincenzo Montella to Fiorentina. They were in contention for their first-ever berth in European play until the end of the season—and talismanic midfielder Francesco Lodi had a lot to do with it.
Lodi is a dead-ball artist who can shape passes beautifully and artfully distributes the ball to Gonzalo Bergessio and the rest of Catania's forward line.
If Catania has European ambitions, they will probably want to keep their midfield star, but enough money could pry him away from the middle-market club. That being said, the potential acquisition of Andrea Poli may cancel any need for him—which is why if Lodi leaves Catania, it may not be for Milan.