This summer is one of holistic change for AC Milan. The club, intent on reclaiming its place among Italy’s best, has appointed a new coach in Vincenzo Montella and brought in two new players already in Leonel Vangioni and Gianluca Lapadula.
And further additions are believed to be on the way as takeover negotiations continue between club president Silvio Berlusconi and a Chinese consortium.
While these are good times for the Rossoneri as a whole, the process could be seen as bad news for a select few individuals—namely those who have underperformed—within the existing squad. This particular shortlist of players includes Luiz Adriano.
The Brazilian arrived at Milan during a period of grand ambition last summer. He was part of a major spending spree that saw the club bring in several big names, including Carlos Bacca, Alessio Romagnoli and Andrea Bertolacci, for large transfer fees in the hope of an instant turnaround in fortunes.
But the flurry of transfer-market activity didn’t bring about a quick enough improvement. This April, Sinisa Mihajlovic, who was appointed head coach last June, was dismissed after the team put in a series of dour, unexciting performances and failed to get results. The Rossoneri finished the Serie A season in seventh place, missing out on European football once again.
Adriano wasn’t the only player not to live up to expectations, but his poor debut season offers little hope for the future, especially considering that Montella will likely have transfer targets of his own to reinvigorate Milan’s attack this summer.
The 29-year-old striker signed from Shakhtar Donestk for a fee of £6 million. Before leaving Ukraine, he became the Miners’ all-time record goalscorer in all competitions, with 128 to his name.
Having spent the best part of a decade with the club, he had gradually established himself as one of the finest strikers outside of Europe’s major leagues. And, on top of all that, he finished as the fourth-highest scorer in the 2014-15 Champions League, behind only Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
And the early signs for Adriano in 2015-16 were positive.
In Milan’s first competitive game of the season, a Coppa Italia clash at home to Perugia, his dummy helped to play in Keisuke Honda for the opener before he scored one of his own to make it 2-0.
Then, after a dismal team display in a 2-0 defeat away to Fiorentina on Serie A’s opening day, Adriano set up the Rossoneri’s first league goal of the campaign. With a finely weighted through ball, he played in Bacca, who rounded the Empoli goalkeeper to finish with aplomb. Later in the game, he would leap to head home the second goal in a 2-1 win.
Having shown his ability to both create and take chances, he was named WhoScored.com’s man of the match with an impressive performance rating of 8.36.
Adriano’s second league match at the San Siro was as big as it gets: the Derby della Madonnina with city rivals Inter Milan. However, despite often getting behind the Nerazzurri back line, he was unable to finish any of his opportunities, and Milan lost, 1-0.
Following on from that, he would score just twice more for the Rossoneri in 2015. His match-winning header against Sassuolo and a well-taken chest and volley against Sampdoria were good strikes, but the quality didn’t make up for the sheer paucity of goals to his name.
Adriano had shown signs of striking up a good relationship with Bacca, but he soon fell down the pecking order as Mihajlovic turned instead to M’Baye Niang to partner the Colombian poacher. And the 21-year-old did an excellent job, going on to score five and set up four goals in 16 league appearances.
Following an alarmingly quick loss of form, the performances of a younger positional rival weren’t the only worry.
By January, Adriano was no longer simply seeking to justify a place in Milan’s starting lineup, but in the squad. Rumours swirled of a potential move to China, with Sky Sport Italia (h/t Football Italia) eventually confirming that Jiangsu Suning were willing to pay €14 million to secure the player’s signature, just six months after he had arrived in Italy.
That deal eventually fell through with contractual problems cited as the primary reason.
Talking to Calciomercato (h/t ESPN FC) Adriano stated:
It's not true what people are saying. I didn't ask for more money as soon as I had arrived in China. The truth is I was not given any guarantee at all over my salary. They did not want to put the right figures on the contract and that is not the way I work, and that is why I have not joined Jiangsu Suning.
Back at Milan, Adriano’s attempts to return to the first team were stalled by injury problems, with a bruised rib, a leg injury and a stomach complaint keeping him out of action. When he did get back to full fitness, he scored just one further goal, a penalty against Atalanta in a 2-1 defeat.
His maiden year with the Rossoneri had become a nightmare without any sign of redemption. And there is very little reason to argue that Montella can get more out him going forward.
The new coach may not always opt for two strikers, an attacking option Milan often utilised last season with 4-3-1-2 and 4-4-2 systems. Instead, the 4-3-3 and 3-4-2-1 that he used with both Fiorentina and Sampdoria could be implemented, meaning less space for the likes of Adriano.
There are also a number of reasons to suggest that the player will not fit his new manager’s philosophy from a stylistic perspective.
Montella is known for his possession-based approach, something he is highly unlikely to compromise. He discussed this recently with the press (h/t Football Italia), saying: “What matters most are the principles of play. The club knows what my ideas are, and now even the players have understood them.”
Adriano’s primary assets are his athletic and physical qualities. Fast with an explosive burst of acceleration, deceptive strength and aerial ability, he enjoys attacking space. However in tighter situations, he tends not to flourish.
This is something backed up by Squawka’s statistics, which show that last season, he won more headers per 90 minutes than any of his striking colleagues. However, he had far fewer successful dribbles, played relatively few key passes and had a poor shot accuracy of 43 per cent.
Adriano is a direct, physical striker, but his technical limitations could cost him dearly in the hunt for a starting berth in Montella’s Milan lineup, where link-up play, precision and control in small spaces will probably be of utmost importance.
According to La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Italian Football Daily), new Zenit St. Petersburg coach Mircea Lucescu could be keen to reunite with the forward, having worked with him previously at Shakhtar.
Taking into account Adriano’s form and style of play, Milan would be wise to consider selling him should the correct offer—somewhere around his Transfermarkt.co.uk valuation of £8.5 million—come in. But, with Bacca reportedly edging closer to a move to West Ham, per Sport Mediaset (h/t Football Italia), things may not be so clear-cut.
Should the Rossoneri’s top scorer from last season move to the Premier League, Montella would be left with relatively few striking options in Lapadula, Niang and Alessandro Matri, who recently returned from a loan spell with Lazio.
If Bacca does indeed leave, Milan may look to keep Adriano as a squad player. But this should not dissuade the club from looking elsewhere for strikers more suited to the new coach’s specific tactical ideals.