Throughout the turbulent years since AC Milan last won the Scudetto in 2010-11, one of the biggest knocks on the Rossoneri has been their defense.
The unit has continually been the biggest eyesore in a team that has often been full of them. Milan has shipped 99 goals in league play over the last two seasons (not including the current one). That's a disgraceful record for a club whose rich defensive history includes players like Mauro Tassotti, Alessandro Costacurta, Alessandro Nesta, Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini.
Reinforcements have come in in each of the last three transfer windows with varying degrees of success.
The venerable Brazilian center back Alex arrived on a free transfer in the summer of 2014 and has proved effective. He sometimes looks his 33 years when a younger, quicker player gets in behind him, but when the ball is in front of him, he still lives up to his old nickname of "The Tank."
In January, Adriano Galliani brought in three more players to sure up the back line. Salvatore Bocchetti proved ineffective, and Gabriel Paletta performed in spurts before being sold to Atalanta this summer. Of the trio, only Luca Antonelli has proved an integral part of the team at left-back.
This summer saw a big-money move for Alessio Romagnoli, who has the potential to be a building block at the back for many years.
But there are still questions, particularly at the other full-back position. Ignazio Abate is perpetually injured and isn't exactly dynamic when he does play. At 23, Mattia De Sciglio is still young enough to rescue his career, but he is turning into a poster boy for potential unrealized. Davide Calabria is the new promising starlet on the flanks, but as well as he's performed this season when forced into action he's only 19 and an unknown from a long-term perspective.
That's probably why there are rumblings that Milan's transfer hierarchy have begun to keep track of one player's situation two hours west along the train tracks in Turin.
That player is Martin Caceres.
Caceres has been a major piece of Juventus' historic run of four straight titles. But the Bianconeri seem ready to move on from the Uruguay international, despite the contributions he's made to their success. He's out of contract at the end of the year, and according to Tuttosport (h/t Football Italia), the champions will look to sell him for a "few million Euros" in January rather than lose him for nothing in July.
This has been Caceres' second turn with Juventus. His first came in the 2009-10 season, when he was on loan from Barcelona. He started that loan spell brightly, scoring on his debut and winning the starting role before injuries derailed his season. Juve chose not to make the loan permanent, and he returned to the Camp Nou, eventually settling at Sevilla.
Two years later, Giuseppe Marotta came calling again. He needed cover for Stephan Lichtsteiner on the right flank, and he returned to Turin on another loan with an option to buy in the winter of 2012.
Just as in his first time with the club, Caceres scored on his debut—twice, in fact, in the first leg of the Coppa Italia semifinal against Milan. Those two away goals were vital in the tie, which ended up going to extra time and finishing in Juve's favor.
For the next two years, Caceres was a major contributor. His value came in his versatility. Originally acquired as a backup for Lichtsteiner, he could play as either a full-back or a wing-back with equal effectiveness. But he proved that he wasn't just a wide player.
Not long after Caceres' debut in 2012, Antonio Conte was faced with a serious selection problem. Injury and suspension had depleted his center-back corps, forcing him to jerry-rig his back line. Arturo Vidal was one choice in central defense. Caceres was the other.
That game proved a revelation. As Conte turned more and more to the 3-5-2 formation that turned Juve into a machine, he needed extra center-back depth. Caceres provided that. Often slipping into the right side of the back three when Andrea Barzagli was sidelined, he dovetailed very well with Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini.
During the second half of the 2013-14 season, Caceres truly shone. With the fixture list congested by the Europa League knockout round and a rash of injuries forcing a number of Juve's players to make six and even seven consecutive starts, Caceres had the best run of form in his career. By the end of the season, there was a serious argument that he was the team's best performer.
He kept that form up as the 2014-15 season began. He forced the early own goal that opened Juve's account in the opener against Chievo and looked like he might be able to permanently wedge his way past Barzagli as a starter. Then the injury bug struck.
A leg injury cost him a few weeks on the sidelines, and on his return against Roma, he re-injured the muscle. He missed the rest of the season.
It was hoped that his return would be a boon to Juve's defense. With Massimiliano Allegri moving back to a four-man back line, Caceres projected to be the backup choice to Lichtsteiner's option one on the right side. But after two appearances this year—both as a 3-5-2 center back as Allegri was forced by injuries to reorganize—he was injured again.
Just as he was ready to return to training, the defender crashed his sports car on the streets of Turin. He was drunk, and as a result of the incident—his second drink-driving offense in the space of a year—the club suspended him.
That incident is probably a major factor in why Juventus is prepared to move on from him. Otherwise such a move wouldn't make sense. Caceres is still a starting player on the Uruguayan national team, and coupled with Lichtsteiner, he would give Juve some of the best full-back depth of any team anywhere.
But he is available, and that has moved needles at Milan. On Monday, Mediaset reported (h/t Football Italia) that Caceres could be brought in if Philippe Mexes leaves for greener pastures at Fiorentina.
Milan has a massive squad right now, and it would seem like they don't need another player. But this move may be worth making.
As mentioned before, the full-back situation opposite Antonelli isn't solid. Abate can't stay on the field, De Sciglio continues to disappoint and Calabria needs experience. Caceres has all the tools to be a major asset for the team.
In his last full season in 2012-13, WhoScored.com clocked him at a 90.5 percent pass-completion percentage—a valuable asset when a team needs to break out or build from the back. Defensively he contributed 2.2 tackles per game and 1.2 interceptions per match—and his tackle stat rose to 4.3 in Champions League play that year, an indication that he can rise to the occasion of big matches.
From an attacking standpoint, his counting numbers aren't high, but that has a lot to do with his role as a center back in Conte's 3-5-2. In his last two years as a full-time right-back—the year of his first stint with Juve and the following season at Sevilla—he totaled five assists in all competitions; and that was before he developed the passing acumen so often seen over the last few years.
But more than anything, Caceres represents a combination of quality and versatility that is hard to find elsewhere.
If he were to join Milan, Sinisa Mihajlovic could use him in place of his underwhelming set of right-backs or install him next to Romagnoli in the middle to compensate for Alex's lack of pace. If Mihajlovic ever saw fit to install a 3-5-2 he would bring experience to that formation.
Experience is another major plus with the Uruguayan. Caceres has gone to two World Cups, making the semifinals in 2010 and the round of 16 in 2014. He was a starter in Uruguay's 2011 Copa America-winning side, and he would have been with the team in Chile had he been fully fit.
He's also gone deep into European club competition, reaching the quarterfinal of the Champions League in 2012-13 and the semifinal of the Europa League in 2013-14 and watching his teammates go to the Champions League final in Berlin last season.
This mix of quality, versatility and experience is the hallmark of a quality player. Caceres will never be a superstar, but he's the kind of player that lays the bedrock for the stars to shine.
What's more, he's still only 28 years old and probably very affordable. Transfermarkt.com lists his value at €8.5 million, but given his impending free agency and off-field issues, he can probably be had for quite a bit less.
Those issues may be a concern, but it's entirely possible that they may not have been magnified quite so much had Vidal not still been a Juventus player when he was involved in a similar incident that went relatively unpunished during the Copa America.
Overall, whatever risk Caceres' off-field behavior might pose is far outweighed by the rewards that having a player like him in the squad could bring.
Caceres is a proven champion and a fighter—two things that Milan is in short supply of at the moment. He'll bring a level of quality to the full-back position that the men currently manning it don't quite match.
If the right opportunity presents itself—and if he's used right after he's acquired—this is the kind of signing that could actually help Milan's rebuilding efforts rather than simply fill a hole.