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The last minute Cutrone goal vs Roma for the 2-1 win enhanced the team’s outlook somewhat and the team entered the international break with some more optimism. The new new era is moving along with more financial stability and the hope is that results on the pitch will follow the same trajectory of the 2017-2018 season and Gattuso’s time as coach in particular.
There are reasons to question the state of the team and to be cautious. The biggest of those reasons are that, at least for now, the team is barely changed. Of the eight summer arrivals only Higuain has a regular spot. As mentioned, the team did well under Gattuso last season but does one change, as important as it is, make a whole lot of difference? No one would compare Kalinic to Higuain but the rest of the new comers must be integrated into the starting 11 sooner rather than later.
The back four will likely be Calabria, Romagnoli, Musacchio and Rodriguez with Kessie, Biglia and Bonaventura in the middle, Suso, Calhanoglu and Higuain will complete the 4-3-3. Cutrone is out with a knock but it is thought to be very short term and he could be available as early as the midweek Europa League opener at F91 Dudelange in Luxembourg.
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The first game of the 2018-2019 season vs Genoa was postponed following the Genoa bridge collapse tragedy. Milan’s season gets underway at Napoli and the week 1 match is to be played on October 31st.
It has been yet another summer of change at Milan with new ownership, Elliott management, bringing in a semblance of stability and recruiting and convincing former legends to join in leading roles. The long hard work that Leonardo and Maldini have on their hands is now fully Gattuso’s too. There were eight new arrivals but at least initially only three of them are close to being starters. The early weeks might feature fewer new starters than many might hope or expect. Gonzalo Higuian will need to continue his goal scoring exploits because not only goal scoring was a weakness last season but the new season brings in less alternatives for the center forward spot. Andre Silva and Kalinic exited Milan and Bacca converted his loan away to a full exit – in the Samu Castillejo deal with Villarreal – so Cutrone is the sole real alternative to the Argentinian. Tiemoue Bakayoko will be an option in the middle of the park as a central or right midfielder and Mattia Caldara will likely feature when Mateo Musacchio does not. The other five arrivals, Castillejo, Laxalt, Halilovic, Reina and Strinic will have to fight for spots and gain Gattuso’s trust. Strinic is on the sidelines for an indefinite period with a recently discovered heart issue, so the left back spots will be contested between Rodriguez and Laxalt for now.
As before, other than the aforementioned goalscoring woes, the midfield will be under scrutiny to see if a more creative, direct squad can be found. The start will be mostly a feeling of deja vu with Kessie, Biglia and Bonaventura the more likely starters in the 4-3-3. Although he was due to be suspended for the first game vs Genoa Calhanoglu is suspended for this game and the question for the left wing or the left front player is still unanswered, a familiar face might increase the deja vu feel as Borini is a possibility.
Milan’s manic summer seems to be reaching a hopeful conclusion with new (temporary but long term!) ownership under Elliott and the return of capable and legends in Leonardo and Maldini. Other Serie A teams and rivals in the upper half of the table have had busy and newsworthy summers as well. There is still one week left in Serie A’s transfer window but a lot has happened already.
The big transfer news of the summer is that of Ronaldo leaving Real Madrid after three consecutive Champions League wins and making a €100 million+ transfer to Juventus. The reigning champions’ summer activity will certainly affect betting and bookmaker bonuses and expectations will be higher in Turin, especially when it comes to taking the next step and winning the Champions League. Juventus lost Gianluigi Buffon to PSG but signed Mattia Perin to compete with Wojciech Szczesny. Other transfers have strengthened the team, including making Douglas Costa a permanent member of the team. Joao Cancelo who was close to an Inter switch after spending time on loan was snapped up too. Not forgetting getting Bonucci back from Milan (in exchange for Caldara). Losing top scorer Higuian would have been a significant loss but Ronaldo’s arrival made it inevitable.
Napoli’s biggest move was bringing in Carlo Ancelotti, as it turned out long before Maurizio Sarri was officially gone. Ancelotti had left Bayern Munich last year and the stated reasons for it were not reassuring. Bayern players complained that training was too relaxed. Leading up to the transfer deadline there have been plenty of rumours but activity has been minimal.
Inter have been under Financial Fair Play pressure and have been creative in loaning or selling youth players with buy back options to add revenue for the current fiscal year. The likes of Davide Bettella and Federico Valietti have left to Atalanta and Genoa to add millions to the books. Those millions allowed the team to sign Radja Nainggolan from Roma. One early arrival was Stefan de Vrij from Lazio on a free transfer to boost the defensive line.
Roma have been busy with director of football Monchi making wholesale changes to the team again. Javier Pastore, Justin Kluivert, Davide Santon and others have arrived replacing departing players such as Juan Iturbe, Bruno Peres and the aforementioned Nainggolan. Dane Robin Olsen arrived after a long search for an Allison replacement. The Brazilian World Cup goalkeeper made a big money transfer to Liverpool.
Lazio have had a big shoe to fill with de Vrij’s departure. Ex-Milan player Francesco Acerbi has signed on to be part of that. Lazio also lost Felipe Anderson to the English Premier League (West Ham) for big money and have spent some of that to bring in Joaquin Correa from Sevilla.
It has been a bust summer elsewhere too with Atalanta, Fiorentina and Torino trying to remain top half teams. Duvan Zapata has been loaned to Atalanta by Sampdoria, ex- Milan midfielder Mario Pasalic is also on loan at Atalanta from Chelsea. Fiorentina have captured loan moves for Marko Pjaca and Kevin Mirallas. Torino are hanging on to Andrea Belotti and have signed Tomas Rincon, Armando Izzo, Soualiho Meite and others to make up a solid team.
A lot of hard work ahead to not only stay in the top 6 and possibly crack the top 4 for Gattuso and Milan.
News spread quickly that Maldini will return to Milan after dismissing several attempts in prior years. He had always maintained that he is interested in a decision making role with a project he believes in. He had also expressed his doubts about the Chinese take over last year.
With Elliott taking over from Yonghong Li and appointing Leonardo in a director role Maldini was convinced and returns as what is described as director of strategic development.
Today at the presentation news conference team president Paolo Scaroni emphasized the importance of having the club legend back at the club after a nine year absence when Maldini retired from playing. With Leonardo present they described the role as taking care of everything on the sporting side, but not excluding the possibility of another sporting director being appointed. Maldini described his confidence in the new Elliott project and described his role as helping Leonardo in every aspect of the team, including the youth sector where his son plays.
Other notable points at the conference were Paolo Scaroni saying that a CEO will be announced in the coming weeks. Ivan Gazidis of Arsenal is still the rumoured name with Umberto Gandini a possibility in a similar general manager role. Leonardo mentioned that Lazio’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is impossible because he is too expensive, the management will keep looking for players but financial constraints, especially those of UEFA, will make things difficult. PSG’s Adrien Rabiot is one other name circulating, the 23 year old will be cheaper in part because his contract expires next summer.
Gonzalo Higuain and Mattia Caldara have arrived from Juventus to form the early pieces of the post-Chinese era.
With very little time left in the transfer window, the deadline being August 18th, Leonardo has gotten to work even without the full management structure in place. The team still does not officially have a CEO or general manager in place but Leonardo has concluded a deal that gives the team a young central defender and takes a big step in solving the lack of goals that plagued the team last season. Caldara had mostly impressed the last two seasons at Atalanta and on loan at Atalanta (after being bought for Juventus). He replaces a defender, Bonucci, seven years older than him.
In what is a somewhat surprising move Juventus agreed to an (expensive) €18 million loan and only an option to buy and allowed Higuain to move to Milan. It is surely a verbal if not explicit certainty that Milan will pay the €36 million option next summer. Ronaldo’s arrival at Juventus nudged Higuain out and the fact that Leonardo was able to convince Higuain is a testament to the Brazilian’s abilities as a sporting director. Higuain commands a high salary but so did Bonucci, the total money outlay works out to be a relatively low number, this deal’s numbers could even be called insignificant if UEFA’s Financial Fair Play was not a factor.
Caldara signs on for a five year contract and is expected to form a solid and young partnership with Romagnoli. The latter is a candidate to be the next captain, replacing his now former defensive partner.
There is work still to be done but Bookmaker Bonuses and predictions for Milan’s season can be more optimistic. Higuain, and any forward, requires good service from the wings and midfield. Left wing and midfield creativity were a weakness last season and Leonardo needs to address that as well as possible within the financial constraints. Bernard, formerly of Shakhtar Donetsk, but now a Bosman could be one such signing and take up a spot on the left wing.
The need to sell must not forgotten either. Montolivo, Gomez, Bacca, Kalinic are the most obvious exit candidates. The first has apparently been told to find another team and the latter two are not easily sellable. Both are above 30 and the market for them is small. The team may need to accept cheap loans and/or relative little money. With news of Higuain’s arrival came the news that he will wear the number 9 shirt for the 2018-2019 season, whether this means Andre Silva – the current holder of that shirt – is also done as a Milan player is not known for sure. If all of Kalinic, Bacca and Silva do leave Milan that leaves the team with only the Argentine and Cutrone as recognized center forwards. This creates a lack of depth for a team playing on three fronts.
With just over two week to go to the start of the season there is more drama on the cards.
With the ownership under the so called vulture fund of Elliott Management under way the task of rebuilding Milan after the short and still unexplained Chinese rule begins in earnest.
The relative ease in which Yonghong Li lost Milan feels surreal. A man who was reported to be bankrupt provided over €400 million of his money and got a loan of just over €300 million from Elliott to buy Milan, then he was cast aside for failure to pay back a €32 million capital injection well before the October 2018 deadline to repay the initial 300 plus interest! How he had the initial money and how he refused to sell to one of at least two American groups before Elliott stepped in defies explanation. He might yet have his day in court when he challenges the early take over, may be then more will be known about him and perhaps more will be known about why Berlusconi’s Fininvest deemed him safe hands over a year ago.
Elliott’s work of appointing new people directly in charge of Milan is still on going, Paolo Scaroni is the president and sits at the head of board of directors table. Elliott claim to want to keep Milan for 3 years and stabilize if not increase its value before selling it on.
It is very telling that a sporting director is officially in place before a CEO or general manager. Leonardo was presented this week and gets to work in the little time left in the transfer window. It is worth noting that the 2018 summer transfer window, for the first time, closes before the first matches of the season. The 2018-2019 season starts at an early August 18th and that date also marks the end of the summer transfer window. Leonardo therefore has very little time to tweak if not change the team and provide the first spark in the new rebuild. Fans and Bookmaker Bonuses eagerly await and hope that Milan and more specifically Leonardo can deliver an improvement and a quick one at that.
With the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling that paved the way for Milan’s re-entry into the Europa League the team retains some of its attractiveness to players. As usual rumours are abound with names and not surprisingly the fascination with center forwards remains. Higuain or Morata are the names most mentioned. Each will cost a lot and while the former provides more guarantees of goals the latter has age on his side. Arguably both will be handicapped if the players surrounding them are not creative enough. Milan’s midfield still lacks creativity and depth. Lacking any new midfield fantasy Biglia in the middle of the park must rediscover his passing legs, Calhanoglu and Suso must be better passers and Conti and Rodriguez need to cross as well as they have ever done. Of the current strikers all of Andre Silva, Kalinic and Bacca seem to be out of the picture. That leaves Cutrone and whoever else arrives for that sole forward spot. The 4-3-3 formation that is still favoured by Gattuso requires one central striker but Milan need to find players that convert more often than the current players were able to last season. Leonardo needs to find a left winger sooner or later as well because depending on Borini – and possibly Calhanoglu in that spot – there is accepting a weakness the team can not afford.
It seems that Bonucci will make himself the Serie A story for the second straight summer, although few things can top Ronaldo’s transfer to the Turin team. Rumours are circulating that he wants to return to Juventus. Perhaps a deal can be made with Juventus to swap the defender for Gonzalo Higuain. Since Bonucci’s departure leaves a big void in central defense Leonardo is also trying to get his hands on Juve’s Mattia Caldara. The young defender presents a more long term option than the Argentine.
A lot is dependent on Financial Fair Play rules which are and will continue to handcuff the team more than any owner may. Leonardo can not do too much even if Elliott are willing to provide for it. The likes of Ivan Gazidis, Umberto Gandini or whoever else that arrives for the CEO and general manager roles will have lots to do.
This morning the Court of Arbitration for Sport has overturned UEFA’s Adjudicatory Chamber Decision to throw out Milan out of the 2018-2019 Europa League and to do the same for 2019-2020 if Milan’s finances show little improvement.
All indications point to Elliott’s presence, in place of Yonghong Li, being an important factor in the decision. There is a line in the ruling that refers to information that was not available when the first decision to exclude Milan was taken.
The management fund took over from the Chinese earlier in the summer when Li failed to provide a €32 million capital needed to finance the club, ever since there has been questions as to why the Chinese gave up so easily and hasn’t been heard of. It is also not certain what the management fund intends to do with Milan. The talk is that it will keep Milan and provide stability for a three year period and then attempt to sell a healthier team.
Now UEFA will have to officially readmit Milan to European competition and with that there is at least more interest in the team. While Elliott is very unlikely to be heavy spenders in the transfer market there is at least a base to restart Milan, as it were.
The deadline to repay Elliott’s 32 million cash injection passed on midnight Friday without Yonghong Li repaying. On paper Elliott can start a take over process on Monday morning. A handful of possible buyers have been rumoured leading up to this deadline and since the deadline this weekend. Li himself may be powerless now but may fight the take over in a Luxembourg court.
Dmitry Rybolovlev, the Russian owner of AS Monaco, may be working with Li to buy a majority stake and ward off the Elliott take over. Others include previously mentioned names Rocco Commisso, the Ricketts family and Stephen Ross, all of whom may by pass Li and deal directly with Elliott.
The soap opera continues while training camp is getting underway. The 2018-2019 season is on the brink of being another ‘year zero’. Milan is already being left behind in the team building process with the transfer market in full swing with other teams operating within the much maligned Financial Fair Play process, even if questionably so.
The aforementioned FFP is of course having a bearing on the team and any future ownership’s interest. UEFA banned Milan from European competition for one year and a conditional second year. The team have appealed to CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) with a ruling expected by July 19th.
It all started – sort of – when Silvio Berlusconi was convinced to sell his prized asset. Over the period before Berlusconi decided to sell there had been a few rumours that informal offers were made and were dismissed outright by the owner. The man, his family and his media company finally decided to let go in 2014 or 2015. The Mr.Bee saga failed for lack of investors and later Yonghong Li’s offer was reviewed and accepted. Throughout it all Berlusconi promised to hand over Milan to safe hands, hands that will invest and return Milan to the top.
An initial big investment was made of course but as it turned out didn’t rescue the team, the 2017-2018 season had ups and downs but mostly the latter. In the year plus since the sale became official it has been any thing but safe hands. Some of the blame can perhaps be attributed to China’s cash export restrictions but as has been often reported Li has been far more questionable that that. Li did manage to satisfy Fininvest and they have surely gotten a good chunk of the (inflated) €740 million sale price. They have been too silent not to have but this doesn’t mean that there are not many unanswered questions about Li’s wealth.
The issue however is the €300 million lent to Li by Elliott Management Corporation. Various amounts raised and deposited for team operations have been enough to keep Li in charge and Elliott on the side lines but UEFA’s rejection – and referral of Milan’s case to its Adjudicatory Chamber – of Milan’s Financial Fair Play plan and the inability to show a source of wealth have Milan sitting on the edge of losing an owner and being taken over by the money fund. If UEFA act further and either fine or restrict Milan from the Europa league or transfer activity the once great name of football will be very damaged.
Transfer rumours continue unabated however. Various big names are supposedly on the shopping list, including a midfielder, left winger and striker. One or all are sorely needed to increase the goal production that was a major part of not finishing in the top four in the season that just concluded. The need to rectify the failures despite spending over €200 million in summer 2017 are very real. Not qualifying for the Champions League has handcuffed Li more than anybody in the team’s management admits. In June UEFA will make a decision on the severity of penalties that Milan face and the worse may yet to come.
All things being equal it seems that many personnel changes are in the offing. Fate of Donnarumma, Kalinic and Andre Silva seem sealed. Few tears will be shed if Kalinic is sold, Silva has divided opinion and Donnarumma’s sale will be accepted after his much publicized and controversial renewal last year. Other changes are in the offing as well. Antonelli is almost certainly gone and a replacement is ready in Sampdoria’s Ivan Strinic. Pepe Reina is set to come in for Donnarumma. Any number of players can leave and come in. There is plenty of speculation to go around no mattewr what happens with the ownership situation
On the ownership, if Li loses Milan to his chief lender a new owner will be sought. Stephen Ross with links to Elliott and himself the majority owner of National Football League’s Miami Dolphins is a speculated interested party.
Uncertain times ahead. Berlusconi’s promise seems hollow indeed.