AC Milan Must Give Playing Time to Their Young Stars

Bobak AbdolmohammadiFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2014

AC Milan forward Mario Balotelli touches his eyes during a Serie A soccer match between AC Milan and Parma, at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Sunday, March 16, 2014. Parma won 4-2. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Luca Bruno/Associated Press

Fresh off a fourth straight defeat in all competitions to Parma, AC Milan are again firmly entrenched in a tough slump of form.

While the losses to Juventus and Atletico Madrid (in the first leg) displayed improvements in the side's form, Milan have regressed back to the unimaginative, ineffective side they resembled throughout the first half of the season.

Manager Clarence Seedorf deservedly earned applause for the early work he did in reviving Milan's fortunes, as the Rossoneri earned victories against Hellas Verona, Cagliari, Bologna and Sampdoria in Serie A competition.

Worryingly, Milan have lost every match they have played since the February 23 clash against Sampdoria, meaning they will have gone an entire calendar month without having picked up so much as a point come Sunday against Lazio.

It has been clear for a few years now that Milan need a revolution in many aspectsthe playing squad, management, transfer strategy.

The club outlined a plan to refocus their efforts on developing youngsters within the Milan system and there have been some early rewards.

Mattia De Sciglio appears to be a keeper at right-back and promising midfielder Bryan Cristante as well as forward Andrea Petagna have been in the senior squad much of the year. 

Unfortunately, their progress has been blocked by many players who simply do not have a role to play in the rebuilding of Milan. 

The discouraging aspect of this is that many of these players blocking the youth from getting on the field have been brought in over the past few years as cheap stopgap solutions to the issues Milan face. 

One such signing was the import of Michael Essien from Chelsea this January. While Essien represents a nice depth option on a successful team such as Chelsea or Real Madrid, he cannot be counted on to play a large role on a rebuilding team.

As such, Milan are stuck with Essien and, crucially, his wages through the end of next season. For a team as financially limited as Milan at this moment, mistakes such as this can be very difficult to overcome. 

Milan have made many other high-profile mistakes on the transfer frontthe signing of Alessandro Matri, failing to offload Robinho, Philippe Mexes, Daniele Bonera, the loan deal for Matias Silvestre, etc.but the most worrisome aspect of these failings is the way these players have blocked the natural progress of Milan's youth.

Cristante and Petagna have not yet reached their 20th birthdays, yet both have undeniable talent and Milan should be playing these two more often as they prepare for life out of Europe next season.

Of course, Cristante is injured at present, but he has only made four appearances all season. Petagna has made three appearances and Riccardo Saponara, another promising option, has made six appearances in all competitions.

Robinho, meanwhile, has appeared in 28 matches this season. Essien has played in seven matches since January. Bonera has made 14 appearances. The list goes on.

Seedorf must use the remaining time this season to blood the youth and play those who will be needed in the future to build the next quality Milan side. Adil Rami and Adel Taarabt deserve time to prove they are worth keeping beyond their loan deals. 

With a European spot no longer a completely realistic optionMilan are 11 points behind sixth-placed Parma, who have a game in handand relegation also a highly improbable outcome, Milan have reached a point in time when they are no longer fighting for much more than pride this season.

This time must be used productively so as to set in motion the events that must take place for Milan to become a force in Italy and Europe again.

The first step is to stick to the plan of allowing the youth at the club an opportunity to prove they belong.