In the last act of the European club season, the Champions League final left a strong impression of Serie A returning to a position of power. Even if champions Juventus were unable to contain Barcelona’s inexorable surge to a fifth European championship title, they made it as difficult for the Catalans as anyone realistically could have.
Yet, much like Barca and Real Madrid’s dominance of La Liga, an outstanding team’s achievements are not necessarily indicative of a competition in rude health overall. The legendary Marcello Lippi, who knows a thing or two about near misses in Champions League finals with breathtakingly good sides, called the extent of Juve’s grip on their domestic league “embarrassing” in the lead-up to this year’s showpiece, per La Gazzetta dello Sport (via MailOnline).
There has been a growing sense that Italy’s other traditional giants need to respond and at last, AC Milan could be waking from their slumber. Furnished with new backing from Thai businessman Bee Taechaubol, who has been lining up a deal for a 48 percent stake in the club, the Rossoneri are making a splash in the summer’s transfer window after being restricted to the bargain basement in recent times.
After a frustrating beginning to the window, in which they missed out on Geoffrey Kondogbia (to city rivals Inter, who are also making aggressive inroads to strengthen) and Porto-bound Giannelli Imbula, the core of new coach Sinisa Mihajlovic’s group is beginning to take shape.
If the biggest winners from the Andrea Bertolacci signing look at first glance to be Roma, who have made a tidy profit on a good but not quite elite player, the signings at the front end of the pitch have begun to spark the imagination.
Forwards Carlos Bacca (who relinquished a potential Champions League campaign with Sevilla to join up) and Luiz Adriano of Shakhtar Donetsk are not far from being sure things, and completely change the threat that Milan pose. They are both experienced, mobile and carry proven records of scoring in European competition, even if they won’t have the opportunity to add to those tallies with their new club this season.
Mihajlovic’s plan, as affirmed in his introductory press conference, to use a 4-3-1-2 formation will not only please chairman Silvio Berlusconi—who retains the majority shareholding—but harks back to Milan’s glory days, as per the club’s official website.
The spending has not finished and there is new, young talent too, with midfielder Jose Mauri (who scored a stunning winner for doomed Parma against Juve in spring) the latest on board, the club announced (h/t Ben Gladwell of ESPN FC). After Mihajlovic’s predecessors Clarence Seedorf and Filippo Inzaghi laboured with limited resources, there is scope for the new man to build something, especially with only Serie A and Coppa Italia action to focus on in this campaign.
To really kick on, approval for a new, bespoke stadium is surely imperative. The club are waiting on approval from landowners Fondazione Fiera to purchase the site on which to build a proposed 48,000-capacity arena, as per Sky and Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Football Italia). This would give Milan a financial and ideological base, close to the Juventus Stadium model under which the champions have flourished.
Juve have to remain the yardstick. There will be some who will doubt the champions’ ability to retain their superiority after losing the inspirational Carlos Tevez but then again, plenty thought the replacement of Antonio Conte with Massimiliano Allegri would see their hegemony unravel—and look how that turned out.
In a season where Roma boldly trumpeted themselves as challengers, they were eventually nothing of the sort, clinging on to (just) confirm the second automatic Champions League place.
The Bianconeri will almost certainly continue to rule the roost with little argument this season. Milan’s immediate aim isn’t to topple them, though, or it shouldn’t be. It’s to become an irritant to them, and make themselves relevant again by being so.
Finding their on-pitch personality again—or certainly what should be their personality, according to Berlusconi—would be a positive step in that direction.