In what was a deeply disappointing 2015-16 season for AC Milan, one consolation was the emergence of several exciting young players with huge potential for the future.
Seventeen-year-old goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma established himself as the club’s No. 1 goalkeeper with a series of stunning displays, 21-year-old centre-back Alessio Romagnoli matured into a leader of the defensive line and 21-year-old attacker M’Baye Niang proved himself to be a skilful, flexible and effective forward.
Against the backdrop of an underwhelming seventh-place finish in Serie A, meaning a third consecutive year without European football, the aforementioned youngsters offer real hope for Milan long term.
Rossoneri president Silvio Berlusconi is in the process of negotiating with Chinese investors over the possibility of selling his majority share in the club, though he has already formulated a back-up plan should the takeover not go through.
Speaking to Premium Sport (h/t Calciomercato), he stated:
The Chinese want to me to remain as president for three more years, and I agreed. We are working on this, if we’ll find an agreement, then my last task will be finding my successor. If the negotiation will fail, I will keep Milan, and I will build a team with young Italian players.
Judging by some of the players already available, the notion of building a young team seems feasible. And in addition to those previously mentioned, there are a number of others who could be set to make an impact come next season.
Here we take a look at six youngsters who could taste first-team football with Milan in 2016-17.
Having already made seven league appearances for the Rossoneri, Davide Calabria has a slight head start over the other youth-team graduates mentioned here. And while 2015-16 was a poor campaign for the club, it was positively transformative for the 19-year-old right-back.
“For me, the season was wonderful,” he told La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Football Italia). He continued:
It was my first real Serie A campaign. I developed greatly here, because there's a real gulf between the youth team and the senior squad. Everything here is faster, you have to think more quickly, read the game in advance. And you must always run like the wind, in the game as in training.
Sinisa Mihajlovic gave Calabria his full Milan debut in an away game against Udinese last September, and the full-back impressed. He went on to fill in ably on the right side of the defence whenever he was called upon and played in the Coppa Italia final defeat to Juventus, during which his speed, direct running and aggression were notable, especially in someone so young.
With first choice right-back Ignazio Abate 29 years old and the 23-year-old Mattia De Sciglio having failed to find good form in recent years, the youngster can reasonably expect more opportunities to come his way in the near future.
At 18 years old, Patrick Cutrone established himself as Milan’s primary goal scorer at the under-19 level last season, finding the net 14 times in 19 appearances.
Mobile, strong, competitive and with a nose for being in the right place at the right time, he shows a predator’s instinct in and around the opposition penalty box that could easily translate to first-team level.
In an article adapted by Gazzetta World, La Gazzetta dello Sport’s Vincenzo D’Angelo described the striker thus: “An 18-year-old who can provide an X-factor, Cutrone was a prolific scorer for the Rossoneri youth teams at three different levels in 2014/15.”
Ivan De Santis
Milan are in desperate need of central-defensive reinforcements. The contracts of Alex, Cristian Zapata and Philippe Mexes are all set to expire this summer, and of the remaining trio of Romagnoli, Gabriel Paletta and Rodrigo Ely, only the former looks convincing.
Ivan De Santis, 19, could be a useful addition to the squad in the circumstances. He has been a regular at Primavera level for two years and has even showed potency at the other end of the field, scoring nine goals in 25 appearances last season in all youth competitions.
Gian Filippo Felicioli
A versatile left-footer, Gian Filippo Felicioli is capable of playing anywhere on the left side. The 18-year-old has played in defence and in a more advanced position for Milan’s Primavera, and he set up an impressive 10 goals in 22 appearances last season.
He has been involved with the senior squad before. In March 2015, he played in a 3-0 friendly win over Reggiana. Afterward, he spoke of his contentment at being included to Milan Channel (via the club’s official website), saying:
I am very happy with my performance. I didn’t expect to come on, but I know that the coach has faith and I tried to repay all of that. The coach congratulated me, he didn’t say anything extra. It’s only right that I keep my feet on the ground. The match against Reggiana shouldn’t be seen as an arrival point but rather a starting point.
Milan lack true width, and with good dribbling and an accurate cross, Felicioli could help to fill a problem area in the first team should he be promoted.
The Guardian’s Paolo Bandini relayed the opinion of Mauro Bianchessi, Milan’s former head of scouting, on 18-year-old midfielder Manuel Locatelli in an article last season about the best young players in world football: “He’s a bit [Andrea] Pirlo and a bit [Riccardo] Montolivo. He can be the next captain of Milan.”
Such high praise can prove unhelpful for young players, as it places a weight of expectation on their shoulders, but the Rossoneri have every right to be enthused by the progress of their playmaking prospect.
Locatelli graduated to the first team in 2015-16 and made his first appearance in a 0-0 draw at home to Carpi. He made his first start on the last day of the Serie A season, a 3-1 defeat to Roma.
He struggled against a Giallorossi side with strong movement; most of his passes didn’t come off, and he was given little support by his more experienced team-mates, picking up a yellow card and just a 6.14 rating (out of 10) from WhoScored.com.
Locatelli’s first outings may not have gone to plan, but he has the technique, passing range and maturity to make a better impression next season. First and foremost, however, Milan must look to ensure he stays with the club.
Goal reported (h/t Tom Olver of Metro) that Premier League side Arsenal first-team coach Neil Banfield had scouted the player over the course of several months and that the Gunners had been in touch with the player's representatives.
Ahead of July’s European Under-19 Championship, 19-year-old Milan forward Luca Vido has plenty of reason to be excited. He proved his worth to the national side in qualifying for the tournament, scoring all four of their goals in the first stage, including a hat-trick against Macedonia.
Quick-thinking, technical and inventive, he notched seven goals in 14 appearances for the Rossoneri’s Primavera last season and made the first-team substitutes’ bench on three occasions.
According to Calciomercato, he models himself upon iconic Swedish finisher and former Milan player Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Evidently, Vido sets himself high standards, so he must be hoping to make an impact on the senior side in 2016-17.