For AC Milan fans, reminiscing about the past is a wonderful thing. It affords the opportunity to remember great players, teams and coaches, scintillating play and—most importantly—glory on domestic and continental fronts.
Unfortunately, those days are long gone now. For three years in a row, the club has missed out on qualification for European competition, with their latest seventh-place finish in Serie A in 2015-16 offering dull football and inconsistent results.
The succession of head coaches continued, with Sinisa Mihajlovic—who was hired last June—sacked and replaced by former youth-team boss Cristian Brocchi in April. Meanwhile, few players stand out.
Ignazio Abate, Luca Antonelli, Giacomo Bonaventura and Carlos Bacca gave their best, while youthful promise exists in the form of 17-year-old goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, 21-year-old centre-back Alessio Romagnoli and 21-year-old forward M’Baye Niang. But elsewhere in the squad, there is a glaring lack of quality.
If only Milan could not simply look back to, but actively call upon some of those legendary players from the recent past to patch up the holes in their first team. Hypothetically, who would the club bring back if they could?
What follows is a breakdown of four Rossoneri legends who, in their prime, would greatly enhance the team’s existing lineup.
Caveats and Honourable Mentions
Before we go on, it’s important to note that the Milan icons in question must still be active players. That means no Gianni Rivera to play in the hole behind the strikers, and no Paolo Maldini to partner Romagnoli in defence.
Honourable mentions go to Sulley Muntari and Nigel de Jong, who would provide much-needed additional steel and authority to the midfield, Robinho, who would add trickery in the final third, and Alexandre Pato, who brought creativity and pace to the attack before injuries sapped some of his skills.
Centre-back: Thiago Silva
When Thiago Silva joined Milan for just £7.5 million in January 2009, few expected him to achieve quite as much success as he would go on to have with the club. The Brazilian had already endured a brief yet disappointing spell in Europe with FC Porto and was a relatively inexpensive addition.
However, he would transition quickly to Italian football, enjoying a solid debut season and maturing into a world-class centre-back. Rugged and physically gifted, he combined his natural traits with a commanding, aggressive defensive style and sound reading of the game.
Aerially dominant and assertive in the tackle, Silva became a leader of Milan’s back line. He impressed so much that Franco Baresi, a club legend and one of the finest centre-backs of all time, declared to Folha de Sao Paulo (h/t Football Italia): "I hope he is my heir. I would like him to stay at Milan for several years. He’s a player who has proven he has great qualities and that he is important for the future of Milan. It’s difficult to identify where he can still improve. He has already proven to have everything."
Milan lack a centre-back capable of mixing authoritative defending with athleticism and good technique. In 2015-16, Alex provided the strength and aerial ability, but the 33-year-old is clumsy on the ball and slow off it.
Silva, who helped the club to a Scudetto in 2011, would bring stability to the back line with his positioning, charisma and love of physical confrontations, allowing Romagnoli to take on the role of ball-playing central defender.
Central midfield: Andrea Pirlo
One of modern football’s most sophisticated players, Andrea Pirlo came into his own with Milan.
Prior to joining the club, the shaggy-haired creator was a playmaker without a home, struggling to fit in at Inter Milan. But after joining the Rossoneri, he became a key member of Carlo Ancelotti’s setup and one of the world’s most revered footballers.
With exceptional technique married to a languid style that opponents found difficult to fathom, Pirlo was unhurried in possession, regardless of pressure or the situation. He revelled in tight spaces, becoming a master of ball retention, and went on to make over 400 appearances for the club in all competitions.
During his decade with Milan, he won two Serie A titles, two Champions Leagues and one Coppa Italia, forming an effective midfield with the likes of Gennaro Gattuso, Massimo Ambrosini and Clarence Seedorf.
However, the composure and accurate, varied passing Pirlo brought to the team in his peak years are nowhere to be seen in today’s Rossoneri squad. Riccardo Montolivo is as close as the club has come to a replacement, though he lacks the assuredness and passing range of his former team-mate.
Attacking midfield: Kaka
During his first spell with Milan, between 2003 and 2009, Kaka grew from highly rated prospect to elite trequartista. Tall but mobile, the Brazilian’s elegant movement, quick thinking, defence-splitting passes and ruthless streak in the final third made him one of the most dangerous attackers in Italian football.
Arriving from Sao Paulo, he settled with surprising comfort to calcio and gradually unseated the more experienced Rui Costa as the Rossoneri’s primary attacking midfielder, becoming an integral link between the midfielders and striker in Ancelotti’s "Christmas Tree" 4-3-2-1 formation.
One of Kaka’s most memorable performances in a Milan shirt came in a 3-2 defeat away to Manchester United in a 2006-07 Champions League semi-final first leg. He scored twice with explosive turns of pace and clinical finishing to give his team two vital away goals.
At present, Bonaventura is the Rossoneri’s most consistent performer, and, as a natural playmaker, he enjoys playing behind the strikers. However, he would have to move into a more withdrawn role to accommodate one of the club’s finest players in recent history.
Striker: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
After an underwhelming year with Barcelona in which Zlatan Ibrahimovic struggled to live up to his £52.13 million transfer fee, he re-established himself with Milan. The Swedish striker didn’t quite mesh with the Catalan club’s style but thrived upon his return to Serie A in 2010.
He had made his name in Italy during successful spells with Juventus and Inter Milan, and he had no issues readjusting to football on the peninsula. He scored 21 goals in his first season with the Rossoneri, helping them to the Scudetto in the process, before finding the net on 35 occasions in his second term.
He developed an affection for Milan in his two years before moving on to Paris Saint-Germain, something he commented on recently. “I have a good relationship with Milan and I care about them,” he told La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t ESPN FC). “They are the biggest club I played for.”
Last season, the Rossoneri hit their lowest goals total in Serie A since 2001-02, and—given their heavy reliance on Bacca in the striking department—they would be significantly boosted by the audacious Ibrahimovic’s link-up and hold-up play, technical quality, aerial strength and finishing ability.
How the team would look
Milan used the 4-3-1-2 system under both Mihajlovic and Brocchi in 2015-16. Indeed, they both began and finished last season in this basic shape, and it would suit the four club legends discussed above.
Silva would take up the right centre-back berth alongside Romagnoli, with the usual full-backs, Ignazio Abate and Luca Antonelli, on either side.
Pirlo would operate as the team’s regista, with Juraj Kucka playing the Gattuso role to his right. Bonaventura would start on the left of the midfield three but would move forward to link up with Kaka between the lines.
Up front, Ibrahimovic would drop deep to combine and help create, allowing Bacca to play on the shoulder of the last man.