Apr 232017
 

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Week 32 featured a big match, the derby of course, and start of a new era with a new Chinese ownership. New era has heralded new hope for a return to the heights of the European game. While questions remained and remain as to the viability and ability of the new ownership to deliver on promises of massive investment the players on the pitch delivered an exciting tie vs Inter. Zapata with the very last minute equalizer kept Milan ahead of the city rivals. Earlier Romagnoli had reduced Inter’s 2-0 first half lead. The come back for a tie was a good omen for the new era, perhaps.

Empoli – and next week Crotone – present easier on paper opposition. Easier on paper hasn’t always meant anything for Milan and three points will remain difficult. Empoli sit just outside of the Serie A relegation zone and are coming off a very big win vs Fiorentina in week 32. They will surely be motivated to finish the season off strong.

No changes are expected in the line up, although Pasalic who was suspended for the Inter match may return to the starting line up and play alongside Sosa and Mati Fernandez in midfield. The midfield also now welcomes back captain Montolivo after a long injury lay off. The front three will remain unchanged as well. Deulofeu and Suso will play with Bacca. The latter may be nudged out in the summer transfer window however, as Milan try a new look offence. Plenty of expensive names are being linked to replace the Colombian. Whether the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Andrea Belotti are realistic targets remains to be seen.

In defense Calabria, Zapata and Romagnoli and De Sciglio will likely remain constant till the end of the season, barring injury of course. The push for a Europa League spot is on.

Apr 152017
 

After 31 years the Berlusconi era came to an end on April 13 2017. The Chinese take over led by new team president Yonghong Li arrived just in time for the latest edition of the Milan derby.

After some two years of searching for new investment or owners and continuous delays Milan is in the hands of Chinese owners, much like local rivals Inter Milan. The saga that began with Mr.Bee’s attempt to buy minority shares while keeping Silvio Berlusconi as president dragged on for months before the Thai businessman’s attempt to gather funds evaporated without much fanfare. As Fininvest, Berlusconi’s holding company, refused to remain involved in a money losing football operation one where they had to write off the team’s losses every year the search for new investment continued. Late last Spring news emerged that Berlusconi has found new investors willing to pay €500 million for over 99% of the team and has them promise to return Milan to the top of the European game while additionally investing upwards of €350 million. All this while paying an amount greater than Inter had been sold for and also assuming the then €220 million debt – that debt has now grown when one includes the 2016-2017 season numbers.

The Chinese takeover was shrouded in secrecy as no one knew who was involved, whispers of Robin Li’s (of Baidu search engine) involvement came and went quickly, then names like Haixia Capital excited fans dreaming of owners with very deep pockets. Several delays dampened enthusiasm and cultivated more doubts, especially as Suning’s takeover of Inter Milan had seemed smooth and relatively quick. Then late in 2016 and early 2017 the fears grew as the Chinese government put in new rules that included strict limits on capital exports amid the local Chinese economy showing signs of weakness. This was seen as affecting not only amounts of money available to buy and invest in Milan but also more specifically making it impossible for government affiliated or controlled entities like Haixia being in it at all. This all led to a March closing date – which was in the final stages of going ahead with a press conference planned and scheduled – being scrapped.

As hopes faded Yonghong Li officially disbanded his now partner-less Sino Europe Sport group and set up a new group called Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux with the aim of using or finding money from outside of China to complete the payments to Fininvest and close the deal. Enter Elliott Management Corporation, a US hedge fund. The fund agreed to get involved, help complete the amount needed and as is natural for a hedge fund to put interest and controlling interest clauses in case Yonghong Li fails to find further investors or generate extra revenue. The make up of the ownership remains a mystery, as of today’s (April 14th) press conference to present the new era the people officially involved remain Yonghong Li and Han Li, the meetings also elected other board members and they are Bo Lu, Renshau Xu, Roberto Cappelli, Marco Fassone, Marco Patuano and Paolo Scaroni. How much wealth and know how exists on the business side is not well known, Italians somewhat familiar with the Chinese business community have expressed doubts, these include Marcello Lippi who has been coaching in China for nearly five years.

Marco Fassone as general manager and CEO along side Massimiliano Mirabelli as sporting director, both ex-Interisti, have the know how and bring promise, but if given funds. The promises are there and there is room for ore than just cautious optimism but doubts linger, the same doubts that were spoken by legends such as Maldini months ago.

As it happens the first game of the new era is the Milan derby. The team led by Montella and youngsters such as Donnarumma and Locatelli sit two points above Inter at this 32nd match day. The Milan injury list includes Abate, Bonaventura, Bertolacci and Montolivo. Inter are a healthier team but one that has, as is typical for them, had an up and down season. Montella is likely to start Mati Fernandez in place of suspended Pasalic with two of Sosa, Locatelli and Kucka alongside him. Up front the preferred trio is set as Suso, Bacca and Deulofeu. The latter will be one that Fassone will try to retain for next season, even if it means a further loan. At the back Donnarumma, with an extension now very high on the agenda, will start in goal of course. Calabria and De Sciglio are almost certain starting full backs. Romagnoli and Zapata will be the centerbacks with the latter now preferred to Paletta.

Lots of work ahead and the new management will need to make a splash not only in the transfer market but to also pursue and convince at least one team legend to get on board in a meaningful role. That name is unlikely to be Maldini but Albertini or Ambrosini may be enticed.

Forza Milan.

Apr 092017
 

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Only managing a point versus a last placed is never good of course, to be unable to fully recover from an early Paletta back pass that was missed by Donnarumma is even worse. Milan came away from Pescara with one solitary point and a tie that made European football less likely next season. Sitting in 7th spot at match day 31 leaves little time to reach fifth. In any event Palermo is a team in the depths of the relegation zone, much like Pescara, and three points at home are mandatory.

The team welcomes back Suso from injury and his presence will be vital for the last seven games. He will partner Deulofeu and Bacca up front. The midfield set up is fluid under Montlla and Sosa, Pasalic and Kucka seem the likelier trio this week, however Locatelli and Mati Fernandez remain in contention for starts. The back four looks to feature Zapata instead of Paletta, along side Romagnoli. With Abate out for the season De Sciglio, Vangioni and Calabria will share the load until the end of May.

Donnarumma’s mistake in mishandling the Paletta back pass was arguably the first big mistake of his very young career. Look for him to set aside any doubts and save Milan again.

This match day is another installment of the ‘this is the last match of the Berlusconi era’ soap opera. The signs are good that it will be the case this time, but we have said that before. The derby is up next and it may be the kick start of a new Milan.

Apr 022017
 

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Milan entered the latest international break after beating Genoa at the San Siro. The week 29 game featured encouraging signs and the somewhat surprising start given to Mati Fernandez was proven to be a good move as the veteran Chilean scored a beauty for the lone goal of the game. Genoa didn’t put up much of a resistance however and it was clear why the visitors are sitting near the bottom of the table.

The injury situation that contributed to the previous game’s changed line up is still affecting the team with Abate and Suso still on the sidelines for this week 30 match. Pescara are now coached by Zdenek Zeman, the attacking maestro replaced Massimo Oddo earlier in the year with the team sitting in last place. The Abruzzo team are still occupying last place and now feature Sully Muntari as a starter.

Mati Fernandez may be given another start in midfield with Sosa and Kucka, the attack will welcome back Bacca to partner Deulofeu and Ocampos. The defense will welcome back another player as Romagnoli returns from suspension as well. With Antonelli apparently not in the best shape Vangioni looks set to retain his spot with Paletta and Desciglio the other defenders.

Once again the main news of the break featured the never ending sale saga. The near collapsing deal after the withdrawal of virtually every Chinese investor was suddenly resurrected with the reported involvement of an American hedge fund. Elliot Management Corporation has partnered with Yonghong Li to provide the funds to close the sale. The nature of the funds, coming from a hedge fund, add a lot of risk and penalty or interest and may signal some danger ahead. Milan fans however, have no choice but to hope for the best and hope that the Chinese investors reappear after the sale has gone through to not only invest in the team but repay the American funds as soon as possible. The news of the American involvement also reignited transfer rumours and all sorts of names like Lorenzo Pellegrini, Sead Kolasinac and Mateo Musacchio are seemingly back in the picture. For now mid April – 13th or 14th – seem to be the crucial dates for the closing.

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