What We Learned from AC Milan's 2014 Summer Transfer Window

Anthony LopopoloFeatured ColumnistSeptember 4, 2014

AC Milan forward Fernando Torres of Spain watches from the stands during a Serie A soccer match between AC Milan and Lazio, at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Luca Bruno/Associated Press

Their team is better than last year’s. Maybe that’s enough to indicate a summer well spent for AC Milan

They brought in Alex, Diego Lopez and Jeremy Menez on free deals, and all three fill vital roles on a team that lacked good defenders, consistent goalkeeping and pace on the wings.

Adil Rami even paid €500,000 of his own cash to secure a permanent move to the Rossoneri, per Sky Sports. Rami had spent half of last season on loan from Valencia and chose to wore Alessandro Nesta’s No. 13, made famous by his role model. It is good to know Milan still have some cache left.

But then, on the final day, Milan lost a little more. They could not hold on to yet another youth player seeking playing time. Bryan Cristante—who made just three appearances for Milan last year, scoring once and assisting another—left for Benfica on a €6 million deal. 

So often do Benfica come to identify talent for cheap and ship out a complete product for riches. They did it with David Luiz and Ramires, Angel Di Maria and Fabio Coentrao, and they may be doing it again with Cristante. 

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 06:  Bryan Cristante of AC Milan in action during the Serie A match between AC Milan and Atalanta BC at San Siro Stadium on January 6, 2014 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Milan first and foremost do not produce the number of world-class players that a club of their stature should. Cristante may not become the next Pirlo, but they hardly gave him a chance. “The problem with a club like AC Milan,” Umberto Gandini told me last year on Beyond the Pitch, “is that we’ve always been careful of developing talent but we never have enough patience to wait for the talent to develop.”

In the past they let go of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who showed some promise before being sold to Saint-Etienne. “When I was with the Milan youth teams I ran 30 metres in 3.9 seconds, that was official," he told The Guardian," but I've run it in 3.7 seconds too."

Aubameyang is now scoring goals for Borussia Dortmund, playing a pressing game that he first learned from the great Filippo Gali, the head of Milan’s youth sector. 

Matteo Darmian is another one who got away. He played sparingly for Milan, and he left. Darmian is still just 24 years old, and he is a versatile full-back who played in the World Cup with Italy. 

These players left with the skills they learned from Milan. They are a school that does not respect their graduates.

There is talk of a plan at Milan, but there is not much evidence. Barbara Berlusconi spoke to FourFourTwo (h/t Football Italia) of this so-called youth movement:

We place great emphasis on young people, on a structure of scouts able to unearth new talent around the world … The goal is to recruit young talent before they become top players, and before the costs can be, for us, difficult to sustain.

Except that reality is that they sell young talent before they turn into the players they can be. Milan have it all backwards. Their management team says one thing and does another. It is deceit, and it is a shame that a player like Cristante must move abroad—like much Marco Verratti and Ciro Immobile, two components of the new Italy—to see if he can reach his potential. This exodus is alarming and common among young Italians, and it is a problem that extends beyond the bounds of football too.

Milan did scramble to get Giacomo Bonaventura, a 25-year-old attacking midfielder from Atalanta. (Milan now have three Atalanta youth players in their ranks, along with Riccardo Montolivo and Giampaolo Pazzini.) 

Bonaventura lessens the impact of losing Cristante, and CEO Adriano Galliani told Milan Channel (h/t Football Italia) that he immediately reinvested the sum from Cristante for Bonaventura. Bonaventura is a more complete article at this moment, but who knows how far Cristante can go. Milan are quick to poach other youngsters but not patient enough to see their own grow.

Before that, Milan unveiled a player that wasn't really theirs. Parma's Jonathan Biabiany posed for an official photo with an official scarf. Milan had sent defender Cristian Zaccardo the other way, but he could not agree terms.

Milan used to set the standard for professionalism. Not so anymore. They unveiled a player before the deal was even complete. That was probably the worst moment in many summers for this club.

Forget Biabiany. Just find it hilarious that he had already posed for an official photo with a Milan scarf. -AL pic.twitter.com/ZWLfEYdF6t

— AC Milan Club NY/NJ (@ACMilanNYC) September 1, 2014

And before all of this chaos came the biggest transaction, Mario Balotelli sold for €16 million. One research group (CIES Football Observatory) believes he was sold for €16 million less than he should have been. 

Maybe it was not about the money but about a final escape for a player that divided fans during a season already full of turmoil. Balotelli scored 30 goals in 54 games for the Rossoneri but he was never settled. He dealt with racist abuse and he reportedly showed up late for practice, per Sky Sports. He was forced to be a leader when he really isn’t. He had to leave, for his own sake too. 

And perhaps coach Filippo Inzaghi wanted someone more professional. Fernando Torres is not an upgrade over Balotelli but he is motivated. The 30-year-old set a medical record at Milan on his first day, per the Daily Mail. All he lacks is the confidence that once made him one of the best in his position.

Inzagh asked Jose Mourinho for more details. He wanted to know more about Torres the man and not the player. “When they told me he is always the first to arrive at the training ground,” Inzaghi told reporters (per Football Italia), “I had no doubts in giving the all-clear. What a player is like as a man is fundamental and comes before everything.”

Inzaghi is all about hard work. He was not lucky as a player. He did not always rely on instinct. He studied—“he knew his opponents better than anyone else,” former teammate Gennaro Gattuso told La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Football Italia) in June. Here he has a squad that is willing to work for him, and they should finish higher than the eighth position they managed last season.