Bonucci the key to big-spending Milan’s Serie A title hopes
“All I can say,” Giacomo Bonventura enthused, “is that I’ve never known a summer like this!”
In the three years following the Italy international’s arrival at AC Milan, the club had never been protagonists in the transfer market. Until now.
So far, the Rossoneri’s new Chinese owners have signed 11 players, at an approximate cost of €208.65 million, as well as surprisingly managing to persuade Gianluigi Donnarumma down to a new contract after the teenage goalkeeping sensation had originally refused to sign an extension.
- ‘AC Milan deserve to be at the top’ – Kaka relishing new-look Rossoneri
- Milan close in on Renato Sanches
- Carlos Bacca joins Villarreal from AC Milan
- Bonucci targeting Champions League title at Milan
Indeed, Milan’s shrewdest move in the market was arguably re-signing Donnarumma’s brother, Antonio, which undoubtedly played a massive part in what felt like a family-driven decision to stay at San Siro. It certainly looks like €300,000 well spent.
Of course, the Rossoneri’s most significant acquisition was also the most expensive and surprising, with Leonardo Bonucci arriving from reigning champions Juventus for €42m in a deal that shocked Italian football. Former Bianconeri No.10 Alessandro del Piero even thought it was a joke when he first heard about it.
‘Morata good enough to replace Costa’
While it appeared inevitable that the ball-playing centre-half would leave Turin after falling out with Bianconeri boss Massimiliano Allegri, nobody seriously considered the prospect of the Old Lady selling one of the best defenders in the world to a rival.
However, when it became clear that Juve were open to the transfer, Vincenzo Montella sent Milan sporting director Massimo Mirabelli at least 10 text messages a day urging him to sign Bonucci.
The deal was done inside 48 hours and the Rossoneri’s players were utterly stunned when the 31-year-old Italy ace actually walked through the doors at Milanello.
“Leo is a winner, a pillar of the national team and his arrival is a fantastic thing,” Bonaventura gushed. “I didn’t seriously think he’d come!
“From what I know of him, his character will be very useful in the dressing room, which is coming off the back of some troubled years, so he’s destined to become a real point of reference.”
Milan 8/1 to win the Europa League
Indeed, whereas Bonucci’s thirst for control of the dressing room led to his exit at Juve, it is viewed as a major positive for a Milan team filled with young, inexperienced players not used to winning major trophies. As a result, the newcomer has been immediately installed as club captain.
Bonucci’s arrival also means Milan will be in possession of a deep-lying playmaker with wonderful distribution skills, while his versatility will enable Montella to switch between a three-man defence or a flat back four.
“I must say that with these players we can really use so many systems,” the former Fiorentina coach gushed.
However, given that the two new full-backs, Andrea Conti and Ricardo Rodriguez, are both excellent going forward, a three-man defence with Alessio Romagnoli and Mateo Musacchio flanking Bonucci, looks the best way of getting the most out of the talent at Montella’s disposal.
Messi should tackle a new challenge
As the coach righly points out, though, he is no longer short on options – and not just in defence.
The loss of former Lazio skipper Lucas Biglia to injury has deprived Milan of another seasoned leader in the middle of the park for the opening rounds of the 2017-18 campaign, but Franck Kessie has already shown in pre-season and the Europa League that he could actually be ‘The new Yaya Toure’, while set-piece specialist Hakan Calhanoglu is a fascinating wildcard.
The Turkey international could be deployed in an attacking midfield role, or even on the flank in a three-man attack that would also be ideal for Suso, who, despite all of the transfer talk, is still at San Siro as deadline day approaches.
However, given that Andre Silva is set to be imminently joined at Milan by Nikola Kalinic, there must be a temptation for Montella to play two up front.
It would certainly be strange for the Portuguese, a €38m signing from Porto, to be left on the bench but, of the two strikers, the 29-year-old Kalinic is certainly the more complete player – and a particular favourite of Montella’s.
The emergence of 19-year-old Primavera product Patrick Cutrone only intensifies the competition for places but there is also the very real prospect of another proven goalscorer arriving before August 31, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s admission that he would be open to returning to Milan merely backing up the point made by another former Rossonero, Kaka, that San Siro is suddenly an attractive destination again.
‘Why would anyone want to leave Liverpool’
“I hope that this is the right time for the giant to reawaken,” the Brazilian enthused. “I think will see Milan fighting for the best players in Italy and Europe.”
Still, money doesn’t guarantee success and Montella faces a tough task in trying to extract consistency from a first-choice starting line-up likely to feature at least nine new faces this season, many of whom are new to Serie A.
As the team’s new leader, Bonucci’s influence will, therefore, be key and he sees parallels between his new squad and the Juve side of 2011, which was transformed into title winners under Antonio Conte despite coming off the back of two seventh-placed finishes.
“I chose Milan because in my head I have the idea of repeating the path I trod at Juventus, where we started from a reconstruction, like is the case here, and ended up at the top,” the defender told the Gazzetta dello Sport on Tuesday.
“I want to go even higher here: within four years I hope to win the Champions League. I want to win everything. My aim is to bring Milan back to the Olympus of world football.”
Milan fans are also dreaming of reclaiming their place among the game’s elite after an incredibly exciting summer at San Siro. Hope has made a welcome return to the Curva Sud.
However, expectations have risen, too, and the onus is now on Montella, Bonucci and their expensively assembled side to live up to them.