Scouting AC Milan Transfer Target Franco Vazquez

Blair Newman@@TheBlairNewmanFeatured ColumnistJune 10, 2016

FLORENCE, ITALY - MAY 08: Franco Vazquez of US Citta di Palermo reacts during the Serie A match between ACF Fiorentina and US Citta di Palermo at Stadio Artemio Franchi on May 8, 2016 in Florence, Italy.  (Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)
Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

The ownership situation of AC Milan remains unresolved as club president Silvio Berlusconi continues to discuss with a Chinese consortium over a potential sale. But, despite the ongoing negotiations, the Rossoneri continue to be linked to players, including Palermo’s Franco Vazquez.

According to Corriere dello Sport (h/t Football Italia), clauses are delaying the takeover talks. However, with a June 15 deadline, time is running out for both parties to sign a preliminary agreement.

Vazquez has been crucial to Palermo's Serie A survival.
Vazquez has been crucial to Palermo's Serie A survival.Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images

Despite this, Milan are considered to be at the forefront of the race to sign Vazquez. Indeed, citing Gianluca Di Marzio, James Benson of the Daily Express reports that: “The Italy international will be offered a move to the San Siro once an impending takeover is completed.”

Signing the player would prove to be a coup for the club, especially considering, as Benson’s report states, that there is competition coming from the likes of English Premier League giants Manchester United and Champions League qualifiers Tottenham Hotspur.

Vazquez has established himself as one of Serie A’s finest players over the last two years and, at a time when Milan are in desperate need of quality to reinforce their squad, his sophisticated brilliance would bolster the team’s attack.

Arriving at Palermo in January 2012 from Argentinian club Belgrano, whose youth academy he came through, for a fee of £3.38 million, he initially struggled to settle in Italy.

Viewed as the Rosanero’s long-term replacement for Javier Pastore, who had departed for Paris Saint-Germain the previous summer, Vazquez had a hard time living up to expectations at first. And, after failing to make an impact in his first six months, he was sent out on loan to Rayo Vallecano.

When he returned from his La Liga sojourn, he did so to find a Serie B team and a coach in Gennaro Gattuso who didn’t value his skill set. Languishing on the outskirts of the squad, he found hope in the appointment of Giuseppe Iachini as head coach.

Promoted back into Palermo’s starting 11, Vazquez helped to fire the club back into Serie A, with four goals and five assists. Then, back in Italy’s top flight, he adjusted with ease, striking up a strong partnership with Paulo Dybala.

Vazquez formed an effective partnership with Paulo Dybala, now of Juventus.
Vazquez formed an effective partnership with Paulo Dybala, now of Juventus.Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images

Looking back in early 2015, he credited his turnaround in fortunes to Iachini, telling Sport Week (h/t Forza Italian Football):

In January a year ago I thought I’d give it all up.

I had decided to return to Argentina where I had already shown what kind of player I was, and where I knew I would find a club willing to take a chance on me.

Then came Iachini and it changed everything. What was said? A couple of words at the end of the second day of training: "I saw you and I cannot explain how you have not played before. You remain at Palermo."

No coach ever told me that, and at that moment I realized that my future was here.

Dybala got much of the attention for Palermo’s 11th-placed league finish in 2014-15, but Vazquez’s scheming dribbles and subtle passes were integral to the 22-year-old Argentinian’s effectiveness and, subsequently, helped propel his move to Juventus last summer.

Without their star striker, the Rosanero looked set to struggle last season, but few saw the campaign being as chaotic and uncertain as it turned out to be.

Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini changed head coach nine times as the club flirted with relegation. Eventually, however, Vazquez helped to drag his team to safety, scoring the opener in the crucial last-day-of-the-season 3-2 win over Verona to ensure Serie A status.

Without Dybala to combine with, the 27-year-old wasn’t quite as productive, scoring eight goals and assisting just six in comparison to the previous term’s respective tallies of 10 and 11. But, once again, he showed himself to be one of the finest trequartisti in Italy.

Per WhoScored.com, Vazquez completed more dribbles per game (3.5) than anyone else in Serie A. He was also fouled significantly more times—5.5 times each match on average—than any other player.

Those statistics are telling; he was not only the man Palermo looked to for attacking inspiration, he was also the man opponents felt compelled to stop by any means necessary. Evidently, everyone in Italian football had become aware of the player’s gifts.

A smooth technician, Vazquez’s languid style is deceptive; he is difficult to dispossess. And it is those qualities that mean he would be a welcome addition to any Serie A team’s squad, particularly Milan’s.

Milan struggled to open up weaker sides last season.
Milan struggled to open up weaker sides last season.Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

The Rossoneri often struggled last season to prise open defensive sides. This problem was frustratingly clear against smaller, supposedly weaker teams, namely those in the throes of a relegation dogfight.

In the face of determined defences, Milan lacked cut and thrust. The most glaring consequence of this was a number of deeply underwhelming results against teams near the bottom of the league, including a pair of goalless draws with Carpi, a 1-0 home defeat to Bologna and a 0-0 draw with Atalanta, also at the San Siro.

In total, the Rossoneri failed to score in 11 of their 38 Serie A fixtures, leading to their lowest goals-for tally since 2001-02. The team is in need of a boost in creativity, which is something Vazquez’s arrival would provide.

Naturally at home in a free role behind a striker, the principal doubt concerns exactly where he would fit into the starting lineup. In this sense, it’s worth considering that Milan must first decide upon who will be head coach for 2016-17.

Cristian Brocchi was brought in to replace the dismissed Sinisa Mihajlovic until the end of last season, though whether he will continue on in the job remains unclear. If he does indeed stay, he may try to persist with the 4-3-1-2 system he re-instituted upon his first taking charge.

In that shape, the most obvious position for Vazquez would be the role behind the strikers, though this would mean pushing Giacomo Bonaventura, Milan’s best player last season, into a more conservative spot in the midfield three. Perhaps, then, a more enticing option would be to opt for a 4-3-2-1 shape, with both Vazquez and Bonaventura floating behind Carlos Bacca.

Bonaventura could line up alongside Vazquez behind a lone striker.
Bonaventura could line up alongside Vazquez behind a lone striker.Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Either way, the move would put pressure on Keisuke Honda, although the Japanese playmaker has admitted he doesn’t know if his future lies with the club, telling Sky Sport (h/t Calciomercato.com): "I’ve been playing for Milan for two-and-a-half years, but I’m not satisfied (with) my performances. I am not sure that Milan want to keep me and I am not sure to stay: at the moment I can’t tell what my future will be."

Per Calciomercato.com, Zamparini is unwilling to sell Vazquez for anything less than €25 million (£19.6 million). Resultantly, it seems implausible that the Rossoneri, without European football for a third straight year, could afford the player’s transfer fee without a cash injection. And as yet, it appears uncertain whether the necessary investment will come, as Berlusconi and the Chinese consortium continue to discuss the idea of a takeover.

But if that change in ownership does indeed go ahead, Milan may have the funds required to sign Palermo’s star man and, in the process, significantly enhance their creative options.

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