AC Milan were looking for a striker this summer.
After years of streaky play up front, vice-president and transfer chief Adriano Galliani, flush with a sizable transfer budget for the first time in years, was determined to address that need. He attacked it aggressively and immediately zeroed in on his preferred target—Colombia international Jackson Martinez, then in the employ of Porto.
Galliani needed a backup fast, especially since his other main target, Monaco midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia, had also rejected Milan after seemingly having a deal locked in—and was headed to cross-town rivals Inter Milan to boot. Fortunately, his secondary target up front was a much easier target to secure. A deal was completed with Sevilla for their own Colombian, Carlos Bacca, on the second day of the transfer window.
Now they need to keep him.
It seems like Milan got the best of the summer dealings. Martinez only scored three goals in 19 appearances in all competitions for Atleti, and when Chinese club Guangzhou Evergrande offered them a staggering €42 million fee over the winter, he left the Vicente Calderon and headed east.
Milan, on the other hand, have gotten the best out of Bacca. He's scored 14 times in the league and added two assists, representing an excellent debut season in a league that can be difficult for strikers to adapt to.
It's a testament to his quality that he's scored as much as he has despite abysmal service from his teammates. According to WhoScored.com, he's scored those goals despite managing only 1.9 shots per game. Squawka.com clocks his shooting accuracy at an excellent 67 percent—and it was as high as 70 percent in late February.
Bacca's success has naturally attracted attention from outside Milanello. According to MilanNews (h/t Football Italia), Bayern Munich are planning on sending scouts to Italy to keep tabs on the striker. In January, the Daily Mail's Simon Jones reported heads had also turned at Chelsea, who are thin behind Diego Costa and will be building a team for a new coach this summer.
But regardless of all this interest, Milan absolutely must keep Bacca in the fold.
In the three years preceding Bacca's arrival, Milan had lacked a reliable goalscorer on the front line. The hole was of their own making after they sold Zlatan Ibrahimovic—who had just won the league scoring title and had fired them to the Scudetto the season before that—to Paris Saint-Germain, along with Thiago Silva, in the summer of 2012.
Since then, the team had relied on a motley crew of forwards, none of whom managed to find a groove for an extended period of time. Giampaolo Pazzini, Stephan El Shaarawy, Robinho, Alexandre Pato, M'Baye Niang, Bojan Krkic, Alessandro Matri, Mario Balotelli, Fernando Torres, Jeremy Menez and Mattia Destro all had chances, and none was able to string together the kind of success that makes for a top-line striker at a big club.
Only three of those men even had limited success. El Shaarawy picked up the slack when Ibrahimovic left the team, scoring 16 times in all competitions before Christmas of 2012. But the winger was 20 years old that season, and the strain of playing starter's minutes in three competitions ground him down, and he was a shell of himself in the second half.
Balotelli picked up that slack when he arrived late in the winter window in 2013, scoring 13 times and helping the Rossoneri cap an epic comeback to earn a UEFA Champions League place. But he couldn't keep that form the next season and was abruptly sold to Liverpool two summers ago.
Menez put up good numbers last season, scoring 16 times, but half of those goals came from the penalty spot, and his selfishness often saw attacks die. He's missed most of this season with a back injury and needs to prove that he's back to being himself.
It's difficult to contend for the top spots in the table without a go-to scorer. Juventus managed it for the first two of their current four-year title run, but they were augmented by elite goalscoring midfielders like Arturo Vidal—a luxury Milan don't possess at the moment. If the Rossoneri expect to get back to contending for a place in the Champions League—let alone the title—keeping a player like Bacca is a must.
He's truly the kind of scorer that can change games. The Colombian's excellent at identifying gaps in the defense and driving through to exploit them, and once he's put into position, that incredible accuracy makes stopping him a tall order indeed.
His weakness, of course, is that it's rare for him to fashion his own opportunities. He needs service from his teammates to be at peak effectiveness. Too often this season good service has been rare—hence his low shot count. But if Milan keep him and turn their attentions to finding a player who can get him the ball on a regular basis, the team should improve on their position in the standings yet again come 2016-17.
And if they do manage to qualify for next season's UEFA Europa League, the whole team would benefit from the experience of a man who has won that competition twice.
Besides being an integral part of the team on the field, there are off-field reasons to make sure Bacca is around next year as well.
The first concerns the situation up front next season—which could end up in a state of upheaval. Adriano was almost swept up in the wave of Chinese buys this winter and had all but signed for Jiangsu Suning before the deal fell through. Balotelli is back in Milan on loan from Anfield, but various reports, like from the Independent's Samuel Stevens, say the club is unlikely to move to make the situation permanent. Menez was also the subject of speculation over China this past transfer window, according to French publication L'Equipe (h/t Football Italia).
The only man playing up front that is remotely a lock to remain in Milan at this point is Niang. If two or all three of the other strikers leave, selling Bacca would create a massive vacuum at the position, one that would probably necessitate multiple signings to fill.
Beyond that, there's the question of just what Milan might get for Bacca. He'll turn 30 in September, and even the richest clubs will only go so far for a striker whose age suggests he'll soon decline. Last week, Corriere dello Sport reported (h/t Football Italia) Milan's price tag for the striker would be €30 million—exactly the amount they wired to Sevilla last summer to secure his services.
For Milan to sell a player so good and so important and not even make a profit is absurd, and if it happens, Galliani and team owner and president Silvio Berlusconi should be run out of the city.
Between the lack of European competition and the glacial pace of negotiations with Thai businessman Bee Taechaubol, who agreed in August to buy 48 percent of Milan's shares but has yet to complete the deal, the temptation to sell a high-level player for a big figure is certainly understandable, but to sell a player like Bacca on without even turning a profit is, plainly and simply, madness.
At the end of the day, though, that discussion should be moot, because Bacca really shouldn't be going anywhere. If Milan are serious about rebuilding and reaching the top of the table again, their star striker needs to stay exactly where he is.