AC Milan Transfer Speculation: Players Milan Need to Contend with Barca, Madrid
While Milan have had a decent season thus far in Serie A, they haven't dominated opposition like they were doing last year. One thing Milan failed to do was add world-class talent in the summer, and that has hindered them this season. Taiwo, Mexes, Nocerino and El-Shaarawy are the four major signings that resonate with me, and only one of them (Nocerino) has made a big impact on the squad. With time, El-Shaarawy will blossom into a fantastic player and will be exciting to watch for years to come, but what Milan need is players challenging for positions.
When you look at Real Madrid and Barcelona, they consistently add world-class talent to a team that is already full of it. Real Madrid acquired Nuri Sahin when they have a bunch of center midfielders in their squad such as Sami Khedira, Xabi Alonso and Lassana Diarra, and it's only when Mourinho chooses to play with two deep lying midfielders that even half of those players get to play.
Barcelona added Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas this summer while they have, in attack, Messi, David Villa, Pedro and Ibrahim Affelay, yet are still willing to pay close to 40 million euros to get Sanchez. Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets comprise the best midfield in the world, and they still decided to bring in one of the best creative talents in the world in the form of Cesc Fabregas.
With so much competition amongst these sides, players are able to bring out the best in one another because they realize that in order to get onto the team sheet they must elevate their performance. Milan don't really have anyone challenging for positions except maybe left back and center back (Nesta). With the addition of the following players, Milan can finally live up to being a European powerhouse, win another Scudetto and seriously challenge the two omnipotent Spanish sides for the Champions League.
Domenico Criscito, LB, Zenit St. Petersburg
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Domenico Criscito is one of the best left backs in world football. He has been relatively out of the limelight and doesn't get the accolades he deserves because he toils away in Russia at his club Zenit St. Petersburg.
Taye Taiwo has been a liability defensively for Milan, and while he is one of the most powerful players in Serie A, his inability to track back has Milan in some precarious positions. Taiwo has a great left foot on him and can deliver the killer cross as well as take a set piece or two for Milan, but with defense at a premium, especially in the Italian top flight, Taiwo needs to worry more about defending than attacking.
Criscito provides the perfect fit for Milan. Antonini is just not good enough to contend with some of Europe's premier right wingers, while Criscito is. The defensive part of his game is spot on, and he has been the first choice left back for the Italian national team for some time now. He is able to whip in a good cross and can overlap nicely with his fellow teammates on the left.
With the way Allegri plays now, a 4-3-1-2, Milan doesn't really make the focal point of the attack to get out wide and deliver crosses into the area. While Criscito has that dimension of his game as well, the defensive side of the ball is where he flourishes and it is the left side of defense Milan need to sure up.
Also, it never hurts to sign a versatile player, and Criscito has played at center back during his youth and even during his spell at Genoa. It will be difficult to sign a player who just recently signed for Zenit in the summer, but he would be the ideal fit for Milan at left back. The fee would not be cheap, as he was bought by Zenit for close to 16 million euros, and most likely, this wouldn't materialize until the summer at the earliest, but if Milan were willing to splash the cash, they would have the starting fullback duo for the Azzuri.
Riccardo Montolivo, CM, Fiorentina
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Riccardo Montolivo has underperformed of late at Fiorentina, and I believe this is due to the lack of competition in midfield. He has become complacent as one of the first names on the team sheet because he is so talented and has not played to his potential for the past couple of seasons.
Montolivo would allow Milan to have a player in the mold of Andrea Pirlo again, as none of the midfielders Milan currently deploy have been able to give Milan that dimension, except Alberto Aquilani at times. Aquilani, however, is here on a loan, and while I believe it would be downright stupid to not permanently sign him, who knows what Milan's front office will do?
Even if Aquilani is to be signed permanently, the acquisition of Montolivo certainly would be a great one. Though Antonio Nocerino has played fantastically this season, I don't see him holding down a permanent spot in the Milan starting XI after this year, whether it be because a new trequartista has been signed causing Boateng to play in the center of midfield again or because a new, albeit better, center midfielder has been signed. Montolivo can be this player for Milan. He is comfortable playing a holding role, as he did for sometime earlier in his career at the Viola, and he can even play behind the strikers in a more attacking role.
Montolivo can dictate the flow of the game with his gifted passing ability and can spread the ball across the field to stretch the defense. He can play the incisive pass that Pato loves to run onto, as well as provide service to Ibrahimovic. Montolivo would come relatively cheap, as he was linked with a move away from Fiorentina last summer for a fee in the realm of eight million euros.
For a 26-year-old who should be in the prime of his career and can be with the proper motivation, eight million euros is not a lot of money at all. Montolivo does not rely on his pace and can be a mainstay in the Milan midfield until his early 30s, much in the same way Pirlo did.
Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, GK, Borussia Monchengladbach
Marc-Andre ter Stegen is one of the most promising young goalkeepers in world football. Christian Abbiati has done a fantastic job of late as the Rossoneri's netminder, but at 34 years old, even though he is a goalkeeper, he will begin to decline.
Marco Amelia, for me, is not a viable long-term option as I don't rate him highly. ter Stegen, along with teammates Dante and Marco Reus, have inspired Borussia Monchengladbach to challenge for this year's Bundesliga title.
One thing that has always hindered young German players from branching out to join other European sides is the presence of footballing powerhouse Bayern Munich. Luckily for all of ter Stegen's suitors, Bayern Munich signed Manuel Neuer, regarded by many as the world's best goalkeeper, this past summer transfer window. The Rossoneri would not have to compete with Bayern in order to sign their man and that makes a tremendous difference.
He's 19 years old, though he plays well beyond his years, as he outperformed the aforementioned Neuer in the match between the two earlier this season. With a world-class keeper, which ter Stegen is fast becoming, Milan would become a much more formidable side. I've always been a fan on dominant goalkeepers, and though it would take time for ter Stegen to adjust to football outside of the Bundesliga, there's no doubt that he will blossom into a fine keeper and should challenge for the first-choice goalkeeper spot in the German National Team, along with Neuer and Bernd Leno.
Raul Albiol, CB, Real Madrid
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Alessandro Nesta's sensational career is fast coming to an end. Nesta has lost more than a step, yet he still performs admirably at the heart of defense, which is a testament to his character and ability.
Though Milan signed Mexes on a free this past summer, I was never a fan of Mexes. He is extremely inconsistent and has struggled this season with Milan with both form and fitness. Raul Albiol is a very good center back who unfortunately is underutilized by Jose Mourinho at Madrid. While not much of a goal threat on set pieces, he is a stout defender and still young at the age of 26.
Albiol will be undoubtedly frustrated at his lack of chances to breaking into the starting XI and is falling beneath Raphael Varane, the young Frenchman, on the Real Madrid central defense pecking order. He needs to move now while he is entering what should be the prime of his career so he is not simply wasted on the bench.
His appearances for Los Blancos have dropped drastically, from 43 in his first season, 32 his second season and only nine thus far this season. It's clear that Albiol is not part of Mourinho's immediate plans at Madrid and must decide whether he wishes to wallow in obscurity or join a new club and enjoy an important role.
Albiol will almost certainly be Carles Puyol's successor as center back for the Spain National Team, and playing alongside Gerard Pique would certainly help Albiol in his progress. Pique and Thiago Silva are two of the three best center backs in the world (the other being Nemanja Vidic), and the thought of Albiol playing on the opposite side of both of them would be scintillating and turn him into a star.
Though I doubt Milan would entertain the idea of signing Albiol because of another option that will be presented in the next slide, he could slot in nicely next to Thiago Silva and would allow Milan to get significantly younger at the center back position.
Angelo Ogbonna, CB, Torino
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Ogbonna is a player that has recently featured for the Azzuri, and his career looks to be bright. At only 23 years of age, Ogbonna is part of a core of young center backs, including Andrea Ranocchia and Leonardo Bonucci, that will govern the back line of the Italian defense for the foreseeable future.
Powerful in the air and at 6'2", he would be an imposing player for the Rossoneri. He has also seen time at left back for his club Torino, and should Milan still leave the left back spot to a duel between Taiwo and Antonini, Ogbonna could slot in nicely.
A bidding war is sure to ensue, as Manchester City and Arsenal have also expressed interest in the Nigerian-born center back, but as part of the Italian national team, it is likely he could elect to remain in Italy should the right club come beckoning. Milan have been linked with the player in the recent past, and it would come as no surprise if the player left Torino in the summer.
One thing that helps Milan greatly is the player's unwillingness to even consider the idea of playing for Torino's sworn rivals, Juventus. If he elects to stay in Italy, he would wish to join a stop side, and that would leave Inter and Milan. It would then come down to who wants Ogbonna more.
Ogbonna is sure to be a fixture in the Azzuri for some time and could flourish at Milan once they realize Phillipe Mexes is not the answer after Nesta decides to hang up his boots. Ogbonna would likely cost in the region of 10 million euros after he is bid up by multiple sides, but Milan do have the cash to spend now that Berlusconi has, for the most part, wrapped up his legal troubles and wishes to recommit himself to Milan financially.
If Ogbonna were to sign for Milan, it would be interesting, as the three preeminent young Italian center backs would be playing for the historic top three sides in Italy: Ranocchia at Inter, Bonucci at Juventus and Ogbonna at Milan.
Paulo Henrique Ganso, CAM, Santos
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Ganso has been linked with a move away from Santos for some time, and the Rossoneri have headed the interest in the Brazilian playmaker. Still only 22 years of age, Ganso has a wealth of experience, as he has been capped for Brazil seven times, which is quite remarkable given the amount of tremendously talented attacking midfielders Brazil has produced.
He's scored 10 goals in 57 appearances for his club, Santos, and while he may not score as many goals as some other attacking midfielders, he has a penchant to play the incisive pass.
At Santos, Ganso plays alongside Neymar, one of the best young talents in the world, and at Milan, he would be able to play alongside Alexandre Pato, another exciting young Brazilian. Pato doesn't possess the flashiness of Neymar, but the prospect of playing with Pato, as well as Robinho, his former teammate at Santos, would entice Ganso. He stated over the summer that he wished to play for Milan after he won the Club World Cup with Santos, which he was unable to accomplish as they came up against Barcelona.
Manchester United has been linked with the player, but I feel that it would be a mistake for Ganso to join the Premier League immediately from Brazil. One can liken him to David Silva, who became a star at Valencia and then joined Manchester City to become the best creative midfielder in the Premier League.
Ganso's transfer fee will likely hover around 25 million euros, but would be a good investment, as he could occupy the trequartista role for the Rossoneri for 10 years. Touted for greatness at a young age, it seems as though Ganso is ready to leave his parent club of Santos and develop into a superstar, and there would be no place to do that like Milan.
Fredy Guarin, CM, FC Porto
Originally, when I saw Guarin play, I didn't anticipate him to be as skilled as he actually is. For a player as powerful and aggressive as he is, he does have skill on the ball and can pass the ball comfortably through the midfield.
At 25 years of age, he has scored 11 goals in 63 appearances for Porto, and that is quite a high scoring rate for a player that is a center midfielder rather than an attacking midfielder. He has an absolute cannon of a right foot, which can be seen here, and would be a threat going forward.
Though not as skillful on the ball as Kevin-Prince Boateng, their style of play is reminiscent of one another, and while he isn't adept at playing a holding midfield role, he can be pushed to right and still operate well having played on the right for St. Etienne. I rate Guarin very highly, as I find him as being one of the more entertaining players to watch with his powerful runs through the heart of midfield and thunderous right footed drives.
A more expensive and different type of player than Montolivo or Aquilani, Guarin's price could exceed 10 million Euros, as if he were to express interest in leaving, a myriad of clubs would inquire about retaining his services. The prospect of him playing with Boateng in the heart of the midfield would be wildly entertaining, as their powerful runs and shots outside the box would provide another attacking dimension for the Rossoneri.
Casemiro, CDM, Sao Paulo
Carlos Casemiro has been on the radar of a number of top European clubs for a while. He is only 19 years old, yet has piqued the interest of clubs in Italy, as well as England ,for some time now. A holding midfielder who is known for his willingness to attempt a strong challenge also possesses a modicum of attacking ability that is innate to all Brazilian footballers. He has the range of passing to play in a slightly more advanced role further from the center backs and has already been capped for Brazil at the remarkable age of 19.
Casemiro has scored six goals in 39 appearances since 2010 for his club. Not a bad scoring rate for a holding midfielder, but he is by nature an enforcer. More in the mold of Javi Martinez than Javier Mascherano, he would not be comfortable being deployed as a center back, but that shouldn't be a need for Milan, as they will look to sure up the defense in other ways.
He would be a great addition for the future, and given Milan's long pedigree of successful Brazilians, he could wish to join the Italian side. Van Bommel expressed interest to play at Tottenham, and Gattuso and Ambrosini are a shell of their former selves, leaving the holding midfield position ready to be revamped.
Casemiro would likely need a season to acclimate to the Serie A, but he is one for the future and will occupy the heart of midfield for Brazil, as well as whatever club he wishes to join for at least 10 years.
Carlos Tevez, ST, Manchester City
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Yes, I'm including him.
Carlos Tevez is a problem. Fact.
Carlos Tevez doesn't know what he wants. Fact.
Carlos Tevez is supremely talented. Fact.
Not much I can say here, as you all know his accomplishments as a footballer. One of the hardest working attackers I have ever seen, he would link up with Ibrahimovic to form probably the second most formidable attacking duo, only to Messi and David Villa. He will undoubtedly be a headache for whichever club are ready to take him on, but his talent is unquestionable. Pace, strength, skill on the ball, finishing, Tevez has it all.
If Milan are able to strike a deal that doesn't require them to break the bank for the 27-year-old who has scored 43 goals in 65 appearances for Manchester City, Tevez would be a fantastic signing. I believe he needs a change of scenery, and Milan would provide him with that. Also, Allegri has proven he can deal with a troubled player before, as he did sign Antonio Cassano.
Tevez, Ibrahimovic, Pato and Robinho make up a devastating attacking rotation, and if Allegri can manage to keep them all happy, the attacking possibilities for Milan are endless.
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Milan are far from a complete team. They possess the tremendous attacking prowess of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, powerful midfield play of Kevin-Prince Boateng—who is fast becoming one of the best midfielders in Europe—and the domineering play of Thiago Silva at the back line. They have a plethora of players, including Abate, Nesta, Pato, Robinho, Aquilani and Van Bommel, that allow Milan to contend with the best, but in order to be the best, changes need to be made.
I left out Marek Hamsik and Schweinsteiger because I believe the time to get them has passed, but who knows; Galliani could work some sort of magic. It's never too early to begin speculating your club's transfer aspirations, and I view it as one of the more exciting times in football. With the January transfer window fast approaching, I'd love to hear opinions on my list, as well as who you guys think would best fit into the Rossoneri squad.