AC Milan a big club? Higuain and Bonucci both quitting sends out terrible message

When Leonardo Bonucci decided to return to Juventus last summer after just one season at AC Milan, team-mate Suso admitted, “He feels he took a step back signing for us and that is why he is going back to Juventus.”

Despite receiving “several offers” from elsewhere himself, the Spanish winger insisted that he was happy to stay put, buoyed by the club’s acquisition of then Bianconeri forward Gonzalo Higuain.

“When the project is interesting and players like him arrive,” he reasoned, “it is always positive.”

However, Higuain deciding he’s had enough after just six months at San Siro has done nothing but cast the club in a depressingly negative light.

Milan have signed two champions in the past 18 months. Both quickly lost faith in the “project” they were initially so keen to embrace and extol. 

Of course, there were other, more emotional, factors involved in their respective departures.

Bonucci only left Juventus in the first place because of a falling out with Massimiliano Allegri, admitting that his decision to move to Milan – which was completed in just 48 hours – was “taken in a moment of anger”. 

Higuain, meanwhile, has been seduced by the prospect of a reunion with Maurizio Sarri, the man that inspired his record-breaking 36-goal season at Napoli. 

Suso Bonuci Higuain AC Milan PS

However, neither Bonucci nor Higuain would have thrown in the towel had they been utterly convinced by Milan’s ability to reclaim their place among the game’s elite.

In April 2018, Bonucci publicly called for the addition of “international class players” at the end of the season. 

However, by that point, rumours were already rife that Milan’s Chinese owners, Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux, didn’t have the requisite funds to make their loan repayments. 

As a result, the club fell into the hands of Elliott Management Corporation. Following the transfer of ownership to the American hedge fund, Rossoneri fans feared asset-stripping i.e. the immediate sale of the club’s top players.

However, Elliott have instead elected to do something that their predecessors would not, namely manage the Rossoneri in a sensible and shrewd fashion.

Bonucci was allowed to return “home” but Milan secured the services of the promising young centre-half Mattia Caldara in return, while they also snapped up Higuain on loan for €18 million with a view to a permanent transfer at the end of the 2018-19 campaign.

However, with Higuain now bound for Stamford Bridge, Milan’s hopes of securing a return to the Champions League have taken a major hit.

Granted, they are only one point behind fourth-placed Lazio in the Serie A standings but the December 29 victory over SPAL just before the winter break represented a first in five games for Gennaro Gattuso’s men.

Higuain scored the winner that day and declared afterwards, “I came to Milan because I was convinced by the project here and I want to continue like this.

“Now we’ve got the Supercoppa; it’s the first trophy of the season and we want to win.”

Paolo Maldini Gennaro AC Milan

Gennaro Gattuso Paolo Maldini AC Milan

Paolo Maldini Leonardo AC Milan

Paolo Maldini Leonardo AC Milan

Milan didn’t win, though, beaten by a solitary strike from Cristiano Ronaldo on Wednesday evening, and Higuain didn’t even start.

The party line was that he was suffering from a fever but he appeared in the second half as the Rossoneri tried to turn the game around.

In reality, he began on the bench because it was already clear that he was heading for the exit door, with Milan hoping to replace him with Krzysztof Piatek.

It could well prove an inspired move on Milan’s part: the Pole may have been a virtual unknown six months ago but the 23-year-old has taken Serie A by storm this season, netting 13 goals since joining Genoa last summer.

However, Milan’s ability to hold on to their last two statement signings offers a painful reminder for the fans that there will be not swift solution to the financial problems left behind by the previous owners, who spent €233 million on new players in the summer of 2017 yet were forced to hand over control of the club last year after being unable to meet loan repayments to Elliott.

In addition, the appointment of Ivan Gazidis as chief executive has been greeted with understandable caution. 

He is credited with doing stellar work from a commercial perspective at his former club  but Arsenal went backwards in a sporting sense during his decade at the Emirates. 

The Gunners lost a host of top players during his tenure – and usually at knockdown prices because their contracts had been carelessly allowed to wind down – and his Emirates legacy is a grossly inflated wage bill that is presently preventing the club from doing any permanent deals during the current transfer window. 

On the plus side, the new Milan administration features former players with the club’s best interests at heart, chief among them director general Leonardo, a charismatic and intelligent individual with a proven track record when it comes to attracting top talent, most notably at Paris Saint-Germain.  

The addition of Paolo Maldini to the team as sporting strategy and development director also bodes well, given the defensive icon turned down a plethora of previous offers to rejoin the club in an administerial role because he was unconvinced by the financial and sporting viability of the projects overseen first by Barbara Berlusconi – daughter of former owner Silvio – and then Li Yonghong.

Leonardo AC Milan PS

“The beautiful thing about today is that we know have myself, Paolo and Gennaro in the sporting sector of the club,” Leonardo enthused at the start of the season.

Still, the Brazilian has repeatedly stated that due to the excesses of the recent past, he and his former team-mates and current colleagues remain financially hamstrung.

“Unfortunately, we have to deal with Financial Fair Play,” he recently explained. “Everyone knows this, so, January will be a window not of major deals but opportunities. There will be exits so that there will be arrivals.

“Nowadays, one has to work the market with the FFP manual in hand. But if this Milan finishes fourth, then we will have an major window in June.

“However, if the club’s goals are not met, there will be no major signings and the current players on big deals will not be retained.

“But, sooner or later, we will get where we want to go.”

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Obviously, Milan’s fans, so accustomed success, are growing impatient but there is no quick fix to the mess left behind by Li & Co.

The prospect of the seven-time European champions once again stockpiling superstars remains a long way off.

Indeed, as the losses of Bonucci and Higuain have shown, just keeping a hold of their best players is proving difficult enough for Milan right now.

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‘We’ll see what happens’ – Vela stays quiet on Barcelona links

Carlos Vela is waiting to “see what happens” amid reports linking him with a surprise move to Barcelona.

The Spanish side are reportedly looking to sign an attacker this month to boost their La Liga and Champions League hopes, with LAFC attacker Vela one of those highlighted as a candidate.

Sport claimed Barca had reached an agreement with the Mexico international and planned to sign him on an initial loan deal but soon backed out.

While the former Arsenal and Real Sociedad player would not say whether or not a move was in the works, he says he is happy enough in Los Angeles.

“They are issues for the clubs and agents,” Vela told ESPN. “I’m relaxed, working on the preseason and the most important thing is to be happy in the place you are. In the future we’ll see what happens.

“Whatever I may decide or happens I’ll be happy because I’m loving being in Los Angeles with my team enjoying the day-to-day and I don’t have anything to lose in any case.”

The 29-year-old joined LAFC from Real Sociedad a year ago, enjoying a 14-goal debut season in MLS as his side reached the playoffs. But he is confident he can do even better next time around as his side prepare for the new campaign, which begins in March.

“I enjoyed [the first season] a lot, I took on the responsibility,” he added. “This year I’ll take on more and I can give more to this club and this league. I’ll work to that end.”

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Vela has been kept out of the national team in recent months, but his situation could change as Gerardo Martino takes charge. However, he is yet to discuss the prospect of a return with the new coach and says he is willing to step aside to give younger players a chance.

“I think they’ve taken a great decision in bringing in Tata,” he said. “Obviously I have to speak to him to see his plans with me or without me.

“I’ve not had the chance to talk with him, but I know I’ll do so before the next call-ups [in March]. I wish him the best. I’m open to keeping going or to stepping aside for the youngsters, whatever is best for Mexico.”

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Emery claims Ozil is part of his Arsenal plans

Arsenal manager Unai Emery has one again stated that Mesut Ozil is part of his plans, despite remaining as an unused substitute in the Gunners’ 2-1 win against Chelsea on Saturday.

The 30-year has played just 155 minutes of Premier League football since Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Wolves on November 11 and has been linked with a host of clubs.

He has also incurred the wrath of a number of former players include Emmanuel Petit and Paul Marriner, both of whom have criticised Ozil’s workmate and commitment.

Yet despite this, Emery insisted Ozil could feature in the club’s next game.

“He was on Saturday okay to play, but we decided not play [him],” Emery said.

“I spoke with him also and I want to him be ready for the match today, for the next matches like all the players in the team.

“Against Chelsea, I have the confidence in him if he played, I think he could do like we want and the next matches we are going to need every player and also his quality,” he added.

While speculation continues about Ozil’s future, his agent told Goal earlier in the month that the former Real Madrid man has no desire to depart the Emirates.

“Mesut signed a new contract last January because he saw his future at Arsenal and nothing has changed in his mind,” said Ozil’s agent, Dr. Erkut Sogut.

“He wants to stay for the duration of that contract and maybe even longer. Mesut is 100 per cent committed to Arsenal Football Club. He loves the club, shares its values and does not want to be anywhere else.”

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Should Ozil force his way back into Emery’s plans it would have to be at the expense of Matteo Guendouzi or Aaron Ramsey, both of whom put in excellent performances against Chelsea.

However, the former World Cup winner may well get his chance in the Gunners next game, an FA Cup fourth-round tie with Manchester United.

Emery rested a number of key first-team players during the previous round against Blackpool and may well do the same this time around.

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Batshuayi in Brussels as Monaco move remains held up

Chelsea striker Michy Batshuayi is in Brussels as a move to Monaco remains held up, Goal understands.

The Ligue 1 side revealed earlier this week that they were interested in signing the Belgian on loan and claimed Chelsea were holding up any potential deal as they search for a permanent buyer.

“We are happy with our transfer window so far,” Monaco’s vice-president Vadim Vasilyev told a press conference.

“It’s true that a striker could help the team. We’re just looking to good opportunities on the market.

“Batshuayi? We have an agreement with the player and with Valencia but not with Chelsea.

“They want a [permanent] transfer. Everything could go very quickly in football so we’ll see.”

Batshuayi’s appearance in his homeland therefore suggests he could soon be on his way to Thierry Henry’s side.

Should the striker make the move he will be the second Chelsea player to do so this month, with Spaniard Csec Fabregas also joining Monaco.

Batshuayi has endured a tough few seasons since joining the Blues in 2016. He was scarcely used by former manager Antonio Conte in his first campaigns at the club, with the Italian coach preferring Diego Costa.

Last January, Batshuayi was sent on a short-term loan to Borussia Dortmund, where he bagged an impressive seven goals in 10 Bundesliga matches.

However, a move to the German side failed to materialise in the summer and as a result he was shipped off to Valencia on loan.

That spell was less rewarding for the Belgian, where he managed just three goals in 23 games.

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He returned to Chelsea at the beginning of this month and was linked with a £18 million ($23m) move to Everton. Yet this now appears unlikely and Batshuayi appears set for another loan deal to the continent.

Any deal for Batshuayi could also facilitate a move for Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain.

The Argentinian is currently on loan at AC Milan but appears set to join up with former boss Maurizio Sarri.

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