It has been a year to forget for Serie A giants Milan, currently sitting in 10th place, no fewer than 42 points away from top spot. With no possibility of Champions League football next term, and even a Europa League berth looking unlikely, next season is also doubtful to be a memorable one for fans of the Rossoneri.
Two-time champions Juventus have clearly made a huge leap over the rest of the clubs on the peninsula, the benefits of owning their own stadium bringing rich reward to the Turin side. However, what will cause those who care about Milan the most pain is that they now trail Napoli, Fiorentina and Roma in terms of both off-field management and the quality of their team.
With even Inter making sweeping managerial changes—a subject discussed in depth here—there is a very real possibility that the red and black half of the city is being left behind by Italy’s other big clubs. Yet if that is a frightening worst-case scenario, there are also some very clear signs that the future could be very bright indeed for the San Siro club.
After some early struggles, the Clarence Seedorf era has already seen a marked upturn in fortunes, their loss to Roma this past weekend coming after five consecutive wins. In addition, Stephan El Shaarawy is almost ready to return to action, and his partnership with Mario Balotelli has the potential to be among the very best in world football.
The squad around them contains some names—such as Cristian Zaccardo and Kevin Constant—who must be moved on if the Rossoneri are to enjoy real success. But hidden in the midst of them are some extremely talented youngsters who the club should make central pieces in their plans for the future.
Chief among them are homegrown duo Bryan Cristante and Mattia De Sciglio, a pair of players who grew up in the club’s youth system and have already grabbed the limelight from their far more experienced team-mates.
Versatile full-back De Sciglio only made his first-team debut two-and-a-half years ago, but he has since gone on to earn a place in Italy’s squad at the Confederations Cup and was named to last season’s Serie A Team of the Year. The 21-year-old has proved to be equally adept on either flank, and his injury problems this season have been a major factor in the side’s struggles—the players taking his place have been nowhere near the required standard.
While he has been limited to just 12 starts this season, last year he averaged 2.9 tackles, 1.5 interceptions and 4.1 clearances over 33 matches according to stats site WhoScored.com. He established himself as an excellent defender by being neat in possession—dispossessed just 0.6 times per game—and making intelligent use of the ball when it came to him.
Averaging 45.2 passes per appearance and completing 84 percent of them, he also connected with 1.4 crosses per game, making him a constant source of creativity from either side of the pitch. His quality when joining the attack was highlighted constantly as he notched two assists, creating 29 clear goalscoring opportunities according to the same source.
De Sciglio has a very real chance of heading to Brazil as part of Italy’s World Cup squad if he can prove his fitness over the remaining games, showing he is clearly among the finest options in his position available to Cesare Prandelli. Meanwhile, Cristante has yet to even establish himself at club level, making just four appearances since his first-team debut back in 2011.
That match—in which he came on as a late substitute for Robinho—made him the youngest-ever player to represent Milan in the Champions League, coming four months before he turned 17. Despite his limited minutes since then, he has proved he has all the tools to be an effective modern-day midfielder at one of Europe’s biggest clubs.
His 240 minutes of action this term have shown just how big an impact he could have—he notched a superb goal in his first league start (against Atalanta) and registered an assist in January’s loss to Sassuolo. He turned the ball over just twice in that time, according to WhoScored’s statistics, averaging 28.7 passes per game and completing 84.9 percent of those attempts.
Showing a superb range of passing as he completed 10 of his 12 attempted long passes, Cristante is similarly excellent without the ball. In averaging 1.7 tackles and showing an intelligent ability to read the game, the 19-year-old has proved himself ideal for a berth in the double-pivot midfield of Seedorf’s 4-2-3-1 tactical framework.
With his fellow young star proving an equally perfect fit at full-back, it is clear the two men should be major protagonists in the rebuilding of the fallen Milanese giants. They may not bring the glamour of a signing such as Ronaldinho or Kaka, which club owner Silvio Berlusconi continually craves, yet both have been compared to other legends from the club’s storied history.
The young defender is regularly looked upon as the next Paolo Maldini, while his midfield colleague has been described as a combination of Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso. Those views of them as new incarnations of past heroes may be lofty, but in Bryan Cristante and Mattia De Sciglio, Milan hold two very important pieces of their future.