Around this time ten years, AC Milan saw the 2021/22 Serie A title slipping out of their hands. They had won the Scudetto in the previous season, but Juventus looked too strong to deal with. The Old Lady won their first title in seven years, and it started a wave of monotonicity in Italy.
Juventus climbed uncharted territories and rose to unexplored heights, and while all of this was happening, AC Milan sunk deep into the darkness of oblivion. From being a title contender, they soon become a mid-table team, fighting not for silverware but for lost pride.
However, a few significant developments took place in 2019. Former iconic defender Paolo Maldini was made the technical director of the team, and only four months later, Stefano Pioli was appointed as the manager.
This move was not accepted gladly by the AC Milan fans, and their frustration only intensified when the team finished sixth in the 2019-20 season. However, the Rossoneri management opted to stick with Pioli and back him in the transfer market.
Looking back, it will be considered as one of AC Milan’s best decisions in their entire existence, as on Sunday, they lifted the Serie A title again after 11 years. Pioli’s team handed Sassuolo a 3-0 defeat to finish first in the standings with 86 points, while local rivals and last season’s champion Inter Milan finished second with 84 points.
Let us check out how AC Milan went from being a mid-table team to the champions of Italy:
SHREWD BUSINESS IN THE TRANSFER MARKET
A team’s success in any competition depends not exclusively on how they perform on the pitch, but also on their performance off the field, in the transfer window. AC Milan are not a team known to boast of enormous transfer budgets like Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain, so they had only one option open – doing smart business.
They were handed a major blow when one of the two clubs that we mentioned, Paris Saint-Germain, lured promising goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma to their team. Besides that, the Rossoneri also saw their reliable midfielder, Hakan Calhanoglu, join their arch-rivals, AC Milan.
Both of these departures were free transfers, meaning that they did not add to AC Milan’s expenditure budget. Yet, Ivan Gazidis, Paolo Maldini and manager Stefano Pioli did incredibly well to not only find their replacements, but also plug holes in the team.
To replace Donnarumma, Pioli signed Mike Maignan from French outfit LOSC Lille for only €13 million, and it has turned out to be a fantastic bit of investment. Besides that, Pioli signed Sandro Tonali on a permanent deal despite subpar performances during his loan stint.
This, too, has been a very cheap yet fantastic investment, as the Italian youngster has emerged as one of the Rossoneri’s most important players, and was among a handful of players to have made over 40 appearances this season.
AC Milan also signed two players from Chelsea and both of them have now attained the status of heroes. English defender Fikayo Tomori, who cost Pioli €28.5million, is one of the main reasons why AC Milan has conceded the joint fewest goals in this season’s Serie A, while Olivier Giroud, who was signed for only €1 million, has netted 14 goals this season.
Overall, these four transfers cost AC Milan slightly more than only €50 million, which is a paltry sum in the current transfer market. However, the newly-signed quartet played a massive role in the team’s success, highlighting how the black and reds mastered the art of doing smart business last year.
DEFENSIVE WALL MALDINI LAYS THE FOUNDATION OF WALL 2.0
When he used to play for this very team Paolo Maldini was considered one of the toughest defenders to get past. If there is one club official in AC Milan who knows the importance of the phrase, “attack wins you matches, defence wins you tournaments,” it is Maldini.
Now the club’s technical director, he played a crucial role in forming the defensive core of the team. To analyze it, we need to go back to 2019, when AC Milan was struggling in the mid-table. One of Maldini’s earliest investments for his defensive core was Theo Hernandez.
The French full-back was not having a particularly good time at Real Madrid, but Maldini personally flew to Spain to convince him about the football project at San Siro. Following that, another French defender in Pierre Kalulu was signed in 2020.
The Rossoneri needed one final piece in their defensive jigsaw, and Maldini found the missing piece in Fikayo Tomori. The result is that Pioli’s team has conceded only 31 goals this season, and has let in more than two goals in a match on only a couple of occasions.
VETERAN ATTACKING PAIR ON SONG
While AC Milan has a lot of young players in their team who boast of immense potential, when it comes to attacking, they have mostly relied on the veteran strike pairing of Olivier Giroud and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The combined age of the duo is 75, but that has had absolutely no significance in terms of their prowess in front of the goal. While Giroud has scored 14 goals, Ibrahimovic netted eight times despite missing a major chunk of the season. To complete his goal-scoring department, Pioli found another top-quality striker in Rafael Leao, who too has scored 14 goals.
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