Ranking AC Milan's Top 8 Youth Prospects
Despite the club’s failing to return to the top of Serie A last season, AC Milan’s youth academy continues to churn out talented players for the first team.
Gianluigi Donnarumma, Davide Calabria and Manuel Locatelli are the latest to make the leap from Primavera to senior squad and have shown enough thus far to suggest they could be crucial to the team’s chances of success in the long term.
Other youngsters, such as Alessio Romagnoli and M’Baye Niang, were brought to Milan from outside of the club, but their quality has already had a real impact on the Rossoneri.
At a time of uncertainty, when the club is in the middle of takeover negotiations, these players offer hope for the future.
Here, Bleacher Report ranks Milan’s top eight youth prospects.
8. Patrick Cutrone
In an article adapted by Gazzetta World, Vincenzo D’Angelo of La Gazzetta dello Sport described Milan Primavera striker Patrick Cutrone as: “An 18-year-old who can provide an X-factor … a prolific scorer.”
Those words were backed up by the player himself last season, as he found the net 14 times in 19 appearances for the Rossoneri’s under-19s.
Cutrone is fast, physical and clearly has an eye for goal. With those attributes, it might not be long before he is called into the first team, especially considering Milan’s attacking record last season was their worst since 2002.
7. Luca Vido
This July, Italy will take part in the European Under-19 Championship. Milan’s Luca Vido has a lot to do with their participation; he scored all four of his country’s goals in the opening qualifying stage, including a hat-trick in a 3-2 win over Macedonia.
The 19-year-old is a technical live wire who prefers to play in the hole behind the strikers or out wide, where his pace and skill can be used to open up opposition defences.
Vido’s form at youth level earned him a call up to the Milan first team’s substitute’s bench for games against Carpi, Verona and Bologna towards the end of last season, and he will be hoping to make more of an impact in 2016-17.
6. Jose Mauri
Jose Mauri had a relatively inauspicious beginning to life at Milan. Having joined the club on a free transfer from Parma last summer, he didn’t make a league appearance for them until March, when he came off the bench in a 0-0 draw away to Chievo.
The 20-year-old is a voracious runner with willingness to penetrate the lines through direct runs. Dynamic, energetic and assertive, he is a midfielder very much in the mould of Rossoneri legend Gennaro Gattuso.
However, technically he is more function than flair. His passing is simple and not always effective; while his pass accuracy of 90.2 per cent is higher than any of his team-mates, per WhoScored.com, he doesn’t possess the awareness of when and where to distribute the ball.
Mauri may be a rough diamond, but as Gattuso and more recently Juraj Kucka have proved, a lack of polish on the ball can be glossed over by good coaching, tactical awareness and channelling his athletic qualities.
5. Davide Calabria
In 2015-16, Calabria established himself as a capable first-team squad member with Milan. Coming off the substitute’s bench to replace the injured Ignazio Abate during the 3-2 home win over Palermo last September, the 19-year-old adapted quickly to earn a very respectable 7.46 rating, per WhoScored.
He then made his first start for the club in the next fixture, an away win over Udinese, and ended the season by playing in the Coppa Italia final defeat to Juventus, where he showed attacking intent, good speed and intensity on and off the ball.
While he lacks positional nous, he possesses competence in defensive confrontations with opposition players. Indeed, he averaged more tackles than any other Milan player—3.3 per game, according to WhoScored.
Abate is the Rossoneri’s current first-choice right-back but, given he is 29 years of age, there is a high chance that Calabria could be given further opportunities to impose himself upon the role in the near future.
4. Manuel Locatelli
After impressing for the Primavera, Locatelli was promoted to Milan’s first-team squad during the 2015-16 season following the departure of Antonio Nocerino. And it didn’t take the 18-year-old long to make his debut for the club.
Having come off the substitute’s bench in the 0-0 draw at home to Carpi, the youngster started the Rossoneri’s final league game of the campaign against Roma at the San Siro. Unfortunately, it would prove to be a hard night’s work.
Up against one of Italy’s most in-form teams, Locatelli wasn’t given the conditions to flourish. He was deployed at the base of midfield, but with little support from team-mates, few viable passing options and the constant flurry of Giallorossi movement, he struggled to leave his mark.
In the end, he picked up a yellow card and a below par 6.14 rating from WhoScored, but he showed class on the ball in brief moments.
Locatelli must be given more time in the starting lineup in future if he is to live up to the immense hype surrounding him, including former scout Mauro Bianchessi’s labelling him as, “A bit (Andrea) Pirlo and a bit (Riccardo) Montolivo,” per the Guardian’s Paolo Bandini.
3. M'Baye Niang
Niang spent the second half of the 2014-15 season on loan at Genoa. The short-term move appeared to work wonders for the Frenchman, because upon his return to Milan, he was crucial to the team’s attack.
The 21-year-old’s movement, pace and audacious skill saw him secure a regular spot as the foil to Carlos Bacca up front, allowing him to drop back or fan out and drive at defences from deep or wide spaces.
Niang’s creative influence was clear to see. Per WhoScored, his 1.7 average dribbles per game and four assists were bettered only by Giacomo Bonaventura, while he was also Milan’s third-highest league scorer with five goals.
His effect on team performance was visible in their results; in the 16 league games he played, the Rossoneri won seven, drew seven and lost two; in the 22 the player didn’t partake in, they won eight, drew five and lost nine.
2. Gianluigi Donnarumma
Sinisa Mihajlovic was Milan head coach for less than one year, and in that year, he failed to inspire a true revival of a club built on its illustrious past. The football was dull; the results were average. But one thing he did will live long in the memory: He gave a debut to Donnarumma.
At the time, the goalkeeper was just 16, and the decision seemed to be a panicked one made by an under-pressure manager. But, with the benefit of hindsight, it was in fact a masterstroke.
Donnarumma is now 17 years old, but despite his youth, he is fast maturing into one of the finest young shot-stoppers in Europe.
With exceptional reflexes, safe hands and astounding composure, he usurped Diego Lopez as Milan’s number one in 2015-16, making 30 league appearances. Per Squawka.com, he was the sixth-best ‘keeper in Serie A last season, while former boss Mihajlovic described him as, “A jewel for Milan and the future of Italian football,” per Goal's Matthew Rogerson.
While his decision-making and distribution could do with some work, Donnarumma improved in both of these aspects as his debut campaign went on. And, at such a young age, he has plenty of time to further hone his craft and live up to his vast potential.
1. Alessio Romagnoli
Last summer, one of Milan’s primary concerns was solving their defensive issues. Going into the 2015-16 season, the team had conceded more goals than in the prior campaign for four consecutive years.
The problem was solved by the coaching influence of Mihajlovic, who prioritised defensive solidarity and functionality over quality possession and attacking play. But the Serb was aided in implementing this style by the signature of Romagnoli.
The 21-year-old centre-back had enjoyed a positive loan spell with Sampdoria before moving to Milan, where he instantly became a regular starter and a core piece of the back four.
His positional sense and increasingly commanding persona brought a much-needed air of authority to a previously jittery defensive line, and their 43 goals conceded in Serie A was their lowest since 2013.
In addition to his work off the ball, Romagnoli also impressed on it. As the season wore on, he became more influential in building possession from the back, where his refined left foot, close control and passing range marked him out as one of the best young all-round centre-backs in Europe.