Much brouhaha was stirred up this summer about the mysterious Mister X whom Adriano Galliani, the last of great transfer wizards in Italy, would snatch up in the hours leading up to deadline. Ganso, Balotelli, Kaka were bandied about as an already done deal.
Last summer had seen a very quiet, speculative Milan swing both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho in a spectacular double-swoop finale and effectively prise the Scudetto from a senescent and schizophrenic Inter.
But this time around they landed softly, picking up Nocerino and Aquilani: two very pragmatic players, to be sure, and hired for a fraction of their real value, but nobody's hurrying to grab one of their jersey. And the comparison to what had been postulated all summer punctured the mood.
Given their patron's predilection for bribes and prostitutes, it should come as no surprise that the problem is more than just financial. In July, Milan’s second civil court of appeal upheld the verdict of the 2009 Mondadori trial, in which AC Milan-owner and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was found guilty of buying a judge. That incident occurred in 1991. 20 years later, the bill comes to just around 500 million Euros. Ouch.
Tangentially, the precarious economic straits that Berlusconi's gotten himself into has implications beyond the San Siro.
A media baron before (and even more unsavorily, during) his appointment to Italy’s top post Berlusconi continues to flex his muscle through his many, many media holdings and, more germanely, his Mediaset Premium pay television station. Scraping for cash and with his prime competitor still in the stocks (being a certain Rupert Murdoch, who's summer has not been kind), Berlusconi sees the television rights to Serie A as his next target.
Acting as the media financier he is instead of the club owner he pretends to be and sensing weakness in his competitor’s office, Berlusconi has presented his low-ball, government-assisted offer and is now pressuring from within the owner's camp
Should this go through it would considerably lighten the pockets of every other owner on the peninsula (except for a flush and freshly reminted Berlusconi), and just as obviously, this is seriously pissing every other owner off.
So that’s another little saga to follow this season, in addition to the fragile truce over the collective contract so recently cobbled together.
Look for Napoli’s pugnacious owner Aurelio De Laurentiis to stir the pot- vicious arguments with other owners, Claudio Lotito of Lazio in particular, have already spilled out onto the Roman streets, where De Laurentiis made his escape on the back of a single-cylinder scooter, helmed by some random 13-year old fan who just happened to be passing in that moment (that kid had better have gotten season tickets for life).
But that doesn’t mean Milan isn’t in fine shape. Allegri has stamped his personality on the team, who have taken up his vision of a possessive, technical game with zest and were playing magisterially by the end of the season.
After Leonardo’s cheerful stewardship of the club, Allegri revealed himself to be the true heir to the post left vacant by a certain Carlo Ancelotti.
Just as importantly, he can still ride off last summer’s transfer wave, with the added boost of Urby Emanuelson, Van Bommel and Cassano, to the UEFA squadlist who had been cup-tied for Ajax, Bayern Munich, Sampdoria (incidentally who went from Champions League to relegation in the space of 9 months), respectively.
Ibrahimovic is, well, still Ibrahimovic- the man who has the league title every single year of his career since Luciano Moggi imported him from Ajax all that time ago.
Abate has developed into arguably Italy’s best option for right-back (though Prandelli still prefers Napoli’s Maggio, who is more of the traditional kind); should he continue to improve, there’s no reason he couldn’t make it to the Euro’s next summer.
Kevin Prince-Boateng’s bustle throughout the pitch has become instrumental to Milan’s movement going forward as he shuttles between the lines of defense and attack very effectively. Pato, when healthy, has flourished.
He’s possessed an evident talent with the ball for years, but he is just now maturing into the show-stopper he could be. His confidence and self-possession was manifest during the 3-0 beatdown Milan inflicted on a scrappy Napoli side making their last clutch at the title. His curling coup de grâce from outside the box sealed the game and, effectively, the season.
Even more hearteningly, it hints at the self-assuredness and sheer ballsyness symptomatic of champion mentalities.
Other where, Milan has settled for retouching vulnerabilities on the cheap. Mexes has been brought on to shore up a thin centerback department; whether he gets on top of the knee trouble that’s kept him sidelined the entirety of his nascent Milan career is another matter entirely.
Cost: $0. Taiwo traded France for Lombardy to plug the left-back role Maldini’s for an era. He’s endured a rather opaque summer, but that’s the immediate cost of not having yet learned the language rather than any kind of technical or tactical deficiency.
Cost: $0. Otherwise, El Sharaawy, and Aquilani bring different shades of creativity to a midfield that lacked it at times last season, while Nocerino is more a blunt instrument in the mold of a familiar “Ringhio” Gattuso.
Losing Pirlo on a free transfer to Juventus will sting for sure, but Allegri has known how to make do without his oft-injured regista for some time now.
Still, one can’t help thinking Milan are missing that little extra something to take them pack to those pinnacles of European football that is it’s natural habitat.
Milan had a passable adventure in Europe last term, perhaps a little hard done in the Tottenham encounters (especially away to London, where they dictated possession for much of the game and were unlucky to not have at least taken it to extra time).
But Milan-and Berlusconi- will want to be in the final, not just the quarters. Should the chief successfully pervert the Italian legal system enough to get out of his massive tab (oh, he’s been trying for some time). he’ll tend to his pride and joy.
A couple of significant installations in the roster and Milan could claim themselves candidates for the “Coppa con le Grande Orecchie“.
The Fiorentine midfielder rather brusquely advertised his burning desire to leave Tuscany for greener pastures this summer, alienating club and coach almost immediately.
Unfortunately, no deal came through and now the gifted playmaker’s stuck with egg on his face and will want to get out of an awkward situation at any price: good news for Mr. Galliani’s light wallet.
Furthermore, with the European tournament coming up next summer, Montolivo will want to be playing on as big a stage as possible for Mr. Prandelli to see.
He won’t want a deteriorating atmosphere in the locker room corrupting his play, either.
Of course, Milan did just pick up his doppelgänger in the form of Alberto Aquilani. Both are offensive minded midfielders with an orchestrator’s eye, though they’re more movers and shakers than deep-lying playmakers.
It will be interesting to see the extent to which Aquilani develops over the course of the year, and whether he can return to the golden years at Roma when he first announced his presence.
He was a brighter spot in a very modest Juventus side unwilling to shell out Liverpool’s original 14 million euro asking price (especially since they got Pirlo for free), but his short-lived adventure in Turin was cramped by the mediocre caliber of several of his teammates.
At Milan, with championship types for teammates, he should thrive. So whether Milan swoop for Montolivo in January depends just as much on the Aquilani’s performance as Montolivo’s. But Aquilani’s injury track record and Montolivo’s sheer quality make the midfielder a tempting purchase.
For someone playing out the season in Serie B, Diego Polenta has been attracting interested glances from major clubs, Barcelona and AC Milan among them.
He scored a fantastic goal in the South America U-20 tournament in January, which perked up some ears, but his normally he’s on the other end of the pitch where he marshals the defense as a centerback.
Impressively tall, he’s physical enough to play on the left as well as the center; he’s confident in bring the ball out of his own half and possesses an excellent passing game.
As a defender he’s of the clean-shorts variety who prefers anticipation to forceful intervention. Stylistically, he strongly resembles Milan’s own Thiago Silva, though he’s not quite at that level yet.
Again, should be a cheaper buy.
Genoa, the owner’s of Polenta’s registration card, has done fruitful business with Milan in the past, most recently with the complicated maneuver that saw Genoa buy Prince-Boateng to then loan him to Milan (to get around the limit on non-EU players).
And with Mexes still out and Nesta’s age a liability, a little depth at the back wouldn’t hurt.
Milan were dealt a harsh hand when midfield clean-up man Mathieu Flamini ruptured the ligaments in his right knee after getting egregiously juked by Juventus’ Cristian Pasquato during the Trofeo Berlusconi.
Surgery and rehab predict a six-month recovery period if all goes well, cutting out the a significant chunk of the season.
And while Milan have no shortage of midfield hard men—Van Bommel, Gattuso and Boateng can all play that role effectively- only Boateng shared the Frenchman’s technical ability on the ball.
The ex-Arsenal man played an effective intermediary and warden of the midfield, though sometimes a touch too enthusiastic with his challenges. Plus he wasn’t already in his late thirties like Gattuso or Van Bommel and could withstand the physical duress of a full season.
The arrival of Antonio Nocerino was partly in response to this rectify this exigency, but whether the ex-Juve and Palermo player is of international quality remains to be proven.
A more permanent solution may come from abroad.
Lassana Diarra, currently of Real Madrid, is not thought to be one of Mourinho’s favorites as the Frenchman’s heavy-handed style clashes with the Spanish style of play; of course, this did not preclude a starting spot in several of last year’s Clasicos, throughout which Diarra’s marking of Messi noticeably improved (but not enough to thwart the Argentine).
Lassan comes with no bells or whistles—he’s quite direct, as well as tenacious and can play a decent centerback in a pinch. He also fits into Allegri’s picture of a muscular midfield acting as the ballast for the more fantastic approach to attack.
And crafty as he is, Galliani may take the rift between the player and his current manager as an exploitable invitation to bid.
Milan’s banner signing of the summer hasn’t even been technically signed—he’s still on loan.
Again, in the concentrated effort to spend as little as possible, Galliani and the American owners at Liverpool cooked up a scheme that saw the Roman midfielder move to the Italian champions on loan, with the crucial caveat that over 25 presences would trigger an automatic 6 million euro transfer fee.
Assuming he’s fit, it would seem a no brainer to wrap the whole thing up by January, so the itinerant Aquilani could finally settle down for more than a season.
The sort of player Milan fans were expecting.
At the very start of the summer, the Slovakian’s departure for Napoli seemed assured, having publicly stated his desire to move on, how Napoli would never be a place for champions etc.
He even mentioned Milan specifically as his ideal home.
Of course, Aurelio De Laurentiis took none too kindly to his player’s airing of the dirty laundry and browbeat Hamsik into retracting his statements—not a peep has been heard since.
Napoli will do their best to hold onto their crown jewel; the ownership is extremely serious about elevating the stature of the club internationally, and having a competitive squad means holding onto to your star talent.
And with Napoli’s first Champions appearance in some time—a sort of debut for De Laurentiis’ Napoli, the azzurri would swallow fire before selling short.
However, the situation could be quite different come January, especially given Napoli’s group mates in the draw—Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Villarreal.
Should Napoli fail to get to the knockout rounds, then there is the slenderest chance of cashing in, but still unlikely.