Tommaso Pobega has been part of Milan’s youth set up since 2013 and has now signed an extension until 2025. The player spent the last two seasons on loan at Ternana in Serie C and Pordenone in Serie B playing a total of 64 games at those levels. It is expected that he will remain with Milan for the 2020-2021 season and bolster a position that is in need of depth. Milan’s midfield is in need of bodies and indeed improvement as Bennacer, Kessie, Krunic, Paqueta and Calhanoglu are the only players available for Pioli.
The 2019-2020 season started with some hopeful promise but it derailed much sooner than almost anybody expected. With Gazidis as CEO and Maldini and Boban in somewhat ambiguous sporting director and development roles the offseason’s main action was the hiring of Giampaolo to replace the ‘successful’ Gattuso. Rino had steered the team into fifth place but the decision was made to change the coach. The transfer market activity was based on value signings with solid but not superstar players arriving and everybody hoping that they would fit into a new coach’s system.
Giampaolo came with the 4-3-1-2 formation almost set in stone. This immediately put into question Suso’s place. The right winger was overused by several coaches and often under-performed. The Spaniards poor form and at least perceived one dimensional ability was going to be difficult to fit in the advertised formation and within one week – the week 1 loss to Udinese – Giampaolo was hinting at a change of formation. It only took 6 more matches for the coach to be fired. It was a case of unworkable and registered as a mistake for Boban, Maldini and all of management. In the meanwhile Maldini had acquired a bargain as Theo Hernandez started to display great offensive ability down the left. Stefano Pioli arrived to underwhelming reaction and results. Fans had hoped for a bigger name in the summer and still weren’t convinced.
The calendar year marched towards December with not much to write home about and ended with a humiliation. On the last match of 2019 Atalanta destroyed Milan 5-0. The ensuing transfer window found new homes for Piatek and Suso to free the team of two disappointments. Ibra was convinced to rejoin the team, Kjaer arrived on an initial loan and several other small moves replenished the team. A few decent results greeted 2020 but still a derby loss stung. In the background a possible management change was brewing. Rumours kept swerving that Elliott and Gazidis want to take a big risk and hire Ralf Rangnick of Leipzig in an all encompassing role to revolutionize the team from scouting to the wage bill. This almost certainly meant a big youth reset and cut backs. This was of course treated with skepticism and not only among fans. Boban publicly complained and left soon after. Maldini almost did too.
Then football stopped because of the COVID-19 pandemic as Italy and rest of the world were hit hard.
It took until June for calcio to return. Following up on some medical protocols and looking at the Bundesliga example closed stadium matches returned in an urgent need to conclude the 2019-2020 season. In the first match after the restart Milan exited the Coppa Italia as a 0-0 at Juventus tie was not enough to reach the coppa final.
Twelve Serie A matches remained to try to salvage the season and get a European spot. Lecce were beaten 4-1 away and the wins and goals kept coming. Initially Ibra was rusty and uninvolved but he along with Rebic, Calhanoglu and Leao too kickstarted an offensive machine that didn’t lose the rest of the way. Many of the players shined and some unexpectedly so. Kessie had become a different player, Bennacer mostly effective, Castillejo hard running and Saelemaekers – another January loanee – hard working. On the defensive side Kjaer showcased solidity, experience and leadership in claiming a spot alongside Romagnoli.
Milan turned the season around and Pioli kept his cool and despite continuing Rangnick rumours – which would or would not include a coaching change – insisted on doing his best. The team moved smoothly, was more direct and resisted the collapses of the recent seasons. A come back from 0-2 to beat Juventus 4-2 highlighted a changed team. The transformation was the catalyst for a change of plans. A sudden U-turn off the pitch surprised many when Rangnick announced that the near done deal was off and the team immediately rewarded Pioli with a two year extension.
Keeping the status quo brings great risk of its own because the team needs more than just a rethink at the very top. Milan needs better and more proactive scouting and youth development to navigate the financial fair play world. For this pandemic era UEFA has modified its rules to allow more flexibility for current accounts but in the near future Milan needs more income from top to bottom. Rangnick would have created the conditions for a big change that Milan needs for the long term but Pioli’s 2020 work had to be and was rewarded.
Boban has gone, apparently without regrets, but Maldini has a lot to do. Ibra had clear reservations about any management change but will now almost certainly stay and his influence is not to be doubted. He himself agrees(!) players agree and fans do too.
Giacomo ‘Jack’ Bonaventura joined Milan on September 1, 2014 in an infamous last minute transfer. Jonathan Biabiany was set to join Milan and was even photographed with the Milan jersey, but his medical uncovered a heart issue and he returned to Parma. In a scramble to find an attacking player Galliani talked to Atalanta’s Antonio Percassi and Giovanni Sartori and hijacked a proposed move (rumoured to have been to Inter). A €7 million fee was paid and the left sided players went on to play 184 games scoring 35 goals and assisting 30 times for Milan.
His contract is now expired and the soon to be 31 year old could return to Atalanta or find another home.
Milan’s record since the season resumed after the COVID-19 lockdown in Italy and around the world has been surprising to say the least. The 13 games has included beating Juventus and tying SPAL! The record since the mid June resumption stands at 9 wins and 4 ties with 35 scored and 12 allowed. Ibra, Rebic, Calhanoglu have been in excellent form up front and supported by impressive performances by Kessie, Bennacer, Donnarumma and most of the squad. The fluidity, quickness, pressing and not buckling under pressure has made most fans and witnesses take notice. There is more to write about this great run but for now …
Milan gained another impressive three points at Sampdoria. The team continues to look confident and quick, in attack especially. The absence of Romagnoli at the back did leave some space for the hosts but Kjaer and Gabbia did well along with the whole team to close down many of Sampdoria’s attempts to move into Milan’s final third. Ibra scored twice again and along side Rebic and Calhanoglu the team has the shape of an offensive power house. Saelemaekers continues to work hard. Bennacer and Kessie have become an excellent back bone to the team and provide short passes, clean up threats and generate movement.
Rebic misses this season finale due to a yellow he got very late in the first half at Sampdoria, the Croatian seemed a bit to agitated and was also substituted at half time. This win along side Napoli’s loss to Inter and Roma’s win at Torino means that Milan have already finished sixth – and in the process gained a Europa League qualifying spot – so this week 38 match has no bearing on the standings. Some have wondered if Pioli will use a few of the youth or B team but that is not the case and at least the starting 11 will be the full strength team. Leao is likely to replace Rebic but Castillejo and Saelemaekers both starting can not be excluded meaning a start for Paqueta on the left side. Castillejo has returned from injury and was a sub on week 37. It is possible that Lorenzo Colombo and Daniel Maldini do get a few minutes but also Bonaventura and Biglia in what is almost certainly their farewell matches for Milan.
Cagliari have plunged down the standings in the 2020 calendar year but did upset Juventus in week 37. Radja Nainggolan, Luca Pellegrini and Joao Pedro are all out injured.
After the match the focus will immediately shift to the soon to start 2020-2021 season with training camp opening within weeks and the transfer window requiring a lot of attention. It is also very likely that Ibra renews for another season or even two.
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