Inside AC Milan's Summer Transfer Plans: What Will It Take to Catch Juventus?

Dean Jones@DeanJonesBRFootball Insider at Bleacher ReportJuly 24, 2020

AC Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimovic, center, celebrates with teammates Ante Rebic, left, and Theo Hernandez after scoring his side's second goal during the Serie A soccer match between Inter Milan and AC Milan at the San Siro Stadium, in Milan, Italy, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020. (Spada/Lapresse via AP)
Spada/LaPresse/Associated Press

Changing manager at AC Milan has become a routine procedure in the recent times. Since Massimiliano Allegri departed in 2014, the club have had nine different bosses.

So it came as a pretty big surprise this week when the club performed a U-turn on their plan to install Ralf Rangnick as their next manager.

The former RB Leipzig boss and sporting director was in line to replace Stefano Pioli at the helm as part of a new project designed to lead the Italian giants back towards UEFA Champions League football and Serie A glory.

But seven months of planning for Rangnick's arrival were thrown out the window on Wednesday, and Pioli has been given a new two-year contract on the back of an impressive run of results.

Suddenly, the whole landscape in Milan looks different.

There is new hope that Zlatan Ibrahimovic could stay at the club, and transfer plans are going to change. The quest to return to the Champions League for the first time since 2013/14 is taking a new path. With clever plotting, they may even put up a challenge to Cristiano Ronaldo's Juventus before long.

Journalist Fabrizio Romano told Bleacher Report how the Rangnick decision has altered everything.

"I think Milan did something absolutely new by going after Rangnick," he said. "Since December they had been thinking about him and were going to make him the sort of manager we don't see in Italy. He was going to be a manager who dealt with transfers, coached the team, did everything. That might be normal in Germany or England, but we don't see that in Italy.

"There was going to be an agreement over two years. They had talked about players to sign and the big project, but it all changed. 

"Now Pioli has started to show his skills, and I think he has shown he is right for these players and for this club. Maybe some fans were ready for a new project and will worry he has been kept on just because of some good results. But I think there is more to it than that, and he will be focused on what he can do with this team."

Pioli's results have been good since play resumed in June—seven wins and two draws from nine Serie A matches. He has won the respect of his squad, yet fans do seem to be confused by the situation.

B/R reached out to a number of Milan supporters to gauge the feeling, and the general consensus is that they were ready for the new project under Rangnick to begin. There was hope and, it seemed, fresh ambition.

Oli Fisher is editor-in-Chief at SempreMilan, and he told B/R: "The gut reaction for most fans would be a mixture of things. ... Confusion, because for months we had been led to believe by every major media outlet that Rangnick was coming regardless.

"And relief, because for once the club have opted to continue a good thing that they have going rather than throw it away like they did when Gattuso was in charge. However, there is also an element of worry; have the club thrown away a three-year plan off the back of a good run since lockdown? If so, it may be a dangerous strategy.

"What matters is that Milan have a great core of players who seem to love Pioli and the current management, which of course includes Paolo Maldini, plus they are playing their best football in years and are giving supporters a product on the pitch to be proud of. As always, the key is summer recruitment."

The priority position to deal with in that sense will be in attack—unless Milan convince Ibrahimovic to stay another year. 

The 38-year-old first played for Milan 10 years ago but returned in January on a deal until the end of this season. He has scored eight times in 17 appearances, and his quality, experience and leadership has brought new life to the side, particularly since the restart.

He was expected to leave, but that might not be the case.

Romano explained: "If Rangnick had come in, Ibrahimovic would have left. He didn't have any contact with him and didn't expect anything. But now I think there is a chance he stays.

"This Milan team is still Ibra's Milan, and after the last game of the season, there will be talks with his agent, Mino Raiola, about the situation. I think in August they will sit down to look at the project. Two weeks ago, that did not seem possible.

"If he stays, then they won't need to sign a top striker. They will still sign a forward, but not a big one. If he goes? They will spend a lot on a striker."

Some exciting names are being linked to Milan ahead of the next transfer window, with Brescia's Sandro Tonali, Real Madrid's Luka Jovic and Fiorentina's Federico Chiesa all mentioned as targets in the Italian media this week.

Daniele Longo is a journalist covering AC Milan for Calciomercato.com, and he told B/R: "Milan would like to take Jovic from Real Madrid to reform that couple (with Rebic) who did so well at Eintracht Frankfurt. As for Tonali, Milan are trying, but Inter are ahead and have already presented an important offer to Brescia. He would like to play in Milan, which is the team he cheers for.

"I believe that AC Milan is still in a difficult phase of slow progress. They have an ambition to return to the Champions League, but at the moment they are not competitive to fight Juventus for the league. It would take important investments on the market and more unity of purpose among managers, but this is unlikely to occur quickly.

"Much will also depend on the renewal of Zlatan. The Swedish champion wants to stay, but [club executive] Ivan Gazidis is making assessments due to the age and high salary requested."

There are other issues to sort out too.

Milan need to tie up some loose ends on members of the current squad. New contracts for goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma and midfielder Ismael Bennacer are important, along with making sure Ante Rebic stays beyond his initial loan deal from Frankfurt.

Ante Rebic
Ante RebicLuca Bruno/Associated Press

"Many things will change for Milan," said transfer expert Romano. "Donnarumma has one year left on his contract, and they have to extend thatthey cannot lose him. So they are working on that.

"Also, they need Rebic to stay because he is terrific. It will cost 25 million to keep him.

"With transfers, they will also go for a centre-back to go with Alessio Romagnoli, and they want a right-back as well."

Milan's transfer budget this summer will be around 75 million, but they can bring in extra cash by offloading players. They have just sold Suso to Sevilla for 24 million, for example, and that money can be reinvested in the squad.

So what does all this mean for Milan's hopes of becoming a genuine European force once again?

And is there any chance they can close in on Juventus and their dominance on the domestic scene?

"I think they need two or three years to catch Juve," said Romano. "If they do everything well, that could happen, but of course teams like Inter will be there too.

"They have to find a way into the Champions League over the next two years, and then, with money and the right players, they could catch Juve."

Milan are playing some of the best football in Italy—now Pioli will get the chance to build a team that could return to being one of Europe's true giants.