Tag Archives: AC Milan

Former kings of Europe now live in the shadows of their success

Once the kings of European club football, AC Milan have been looking decidedly less regal in recent seasons.

After 21 games, I Rossoneri currently sit seventh in Italy’s Serie A with 31 points – 23 behind leaders Napoli and 12 off the Champions League positions.

Last summer AC Milan’s new Chinese backers spent over 200m euros on the likes of Leanardo Bonucci, Ricardo Rodriguez, Andre Silva and Hakan Calhanoglu with the aim of building a squad strong enough to challenge for the title and qualify for the Champions League.

However, none of those players have lived up to their price tags, with striker Silva, brought in from Porto for 38m euros, already being linked with a move away from the club.

Centre-back Bonucci, signed from Juventus for 42m euros, has not been able to reproduce his outstanding form for Juve in Milan.

Some would argue that even spending 200m euros on several players in the current market is not enough when judged alongside the astronomical sums paid for the likes of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Philippe Coutinho.

But even with Chinese money behind them, do AC Milan have the financial firepower to compete with likes of Manchester United, PSG, Barcelona and Real Madrid?

Instability

Another major issue facing the San Siro-based outfit is a lack of managerial continuity.

Milan have had nine different team bosses since 2009, and only one of those – Massimiliano Allegri (2010-14) – has lasted for more than one full campaign.

For the past decade, the club have been locked in a cycle of new manager inheriting someone else’s players, buying new ones but not being give enough time to revive its fortunes. Then a new man is hired, and so it goes on…

This season they have already sacked Vincenzo Montella and appointed club legend Gennaro Gattuso (pictured) to take his place.

The renowned hard man of the Italian game was running Milan’s youth team and has limited managerial experience.

Gattuso made 387 appearances for Milan between 1999 and 2012, so has plenty of goodwill from the fans on his side. But will his twitchy owners show patience if results don’t improve during the remainder of this season?

Past glories  

Milan’s current struggles are a far cry from their former glories.

They are joint-second with city rivals Inter in the list of Italian league title winners with 18 Serie A crowns, behind Juventus who lead the way with 33. They have won the Coppa Italia five times, and have seven Supercoppas Italiana to their name.

Milan have won the European Cup and Champions League seven times, but have not lifted European club football’s premier trophy since 2007. They have failed to win Serie A since the 2010-11 season. Juve have since reigned supreme.

After their last Scudetto win, followed by a runners-up spot in 2011-12, Milan’s fortunes tailed off dramatically, both domestically and in European competition.

At home, in the past five seasons they have finished in third, eighth, 10th, seventh and sixth positions; Champions League football is no longer a given for one of Europe’s most storied and successful clubs.

Hope for the future?

In 2016, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi – who had controlled the club for three decades – finally sold it to the Chinese investment management company Sino-Europe Sports Investment Management Changxing Co.

The jury is still out among Milan’s supporters on whether the new owners, headed by chairman Li Yonghong, can restore their club to its former status among Europe’s elite.

In the short term, the team are in the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia after beating local rivals Inter, and can still qualify for next season’s Champions League by winning the Europa League if their Serie A fortunes fail to reignite.

So, all is not lost for AC Milan even though there are not the same team they were 10 years ago.

But they have new owners who are willing to spend as they seek to recreate their successes under Arrigo Sacchi, Fabio Capello, and Carlo Ancelotti.

Four talented young footballers to keep an eye on

With the January transfer window fast approaching, Elephant Sport runs the rule over four young European footballing talents who could potentially be involved in big money moves in the new year.

Youri Tielemans

Youri Tielemans is a 19-year-old central midfielder who plays for Anderlecht in the Belgian Pro League.

The same year he signed his first professional contract he also made his Champions League debut against Olympiakos aged 16 years and 148 days.

He also won the Belgian title in his first campaign and has since been on a roll, improving season after season.

Tielemans possesses complete control on the ball and has been compared to Frank Lampard as they have a similar style of play with great strikes from distance.

The promising midfielder has won Young Belgian Player of the Year twice in the 2013/14 season and 2014/15 season.

He’s already had five big clubs knocking at his door including Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Manchester United.Goal Celebration

Tielemans has been with Anderlecht since the age of five, wearing the number 10 shirt as he’s climbed through the age group ranks.

He is currently having his best season so far with eight goals in 12 games.

Tielemans made his international debut this year as a late substitute against Netherlands in a 1-1 draw, and can play either centre midfield or attacking midfield.

What gives him the edge over his opponents is his technique and great timing to play killer passes with both feet.

A mature head on young shoulders, he shows very good discipline and leadership skills and seems destined to be a club captain – unless he doesn’t get grabbed in a big-money move first.

Ruben Neves

Ruben Neves is a 19-year-old holding midfielder with great reading of the game as well as technique.

He made his Primera Liga debut for Porto aged just 17 in a 2-0 win against CS Maritimo. Neves is also the youngest player to score in the league for Porto.

Goal CelebrationHe then went on to make his Champions League debut play 70 minutes against Lille in a 1-0 victory.

In the 2014/15 season Neves became the youngest player to captain a club in the Champions League aged 18 years and 221 days in a 2-0 win against Maccabi Tel Aviv.

He made his international debut in 2015 against Russia as a late substitute in a 1-0 loss.

What makes Neves a threat is that he has a strong drive that also makes him an attacking threat with accurate passing, vision and interceptions.

Neves is currently valued at around £30 million, making him relatively good value in today’s overheated transfer market.

He will be out of contract in 2019 but Porto have been warning big clubs to stay away – for now.

Leon Bailey

Leon Bailey is a 19-year-old winger from Genk who plays in the Belgian Pro League with great dribbling and skills.

Manchester United are showing interest in the Jamaican, who has five goals in 10 games so far this season.

Bailey is a threat playing on the left or right wing with great ability to get past his opponent and get a cross in.

Celebrating Europa League goalHe was brought to Belgium by a football agent who scouted him from his impressive displays from his previous club FC Liefering in the Austrian second division.

The Jamaican international won Belgian Young Footballer of the Year award after his impressive 2015/16 season.

Ajax have had already had a £10m bid rejected by Genk as they believe he’s worth more.

The winger started showing signs of magic whilst playing for the Phoenix All Stars football academy back in his hometown Kingston.

His dad later took it upon himself to seek trials in Europe in order to pursue a professional career.

Bailey is known to have a very rare combination of skill and speed which makes him a threat at all times during a game.

He has the ability to show explosive speed from a standing position on the ball.

Bailey had an impressive 2015/16 season scoring 6 goals in 31 games but is currently on form in the 2016/17 season scoring 4 goals in 4 Europa league games and 2 goals in the league so far in 12 games.

Hachim Mastour

Hachim Mastour is a 18-year-old attacking midfielder who plays for AC Milan but is currently on loan at PEC Zwolle who play in the Dutch Eredivisie.

Hachim Mastour At 14 years old he was scouted by AC Milan and bought for €500,000.

Mastour has impressive dribbling abilities and can play a dangerous final pass which always makes him a threat.

He isn’t one to hide his skills and has competed in a freestyle battle for Red Bull against Brazilian superstar Neymar.

Mastour was born in and represented Italy at under-16 level but then chose to play for Morocco which he has ancestral links to.

Several big clubs including Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid have already made enquiries about signing him.

In AC Milan’s 2013/14 season, he caught the eye of manager at the time Clerence Seedorf. If he’d come off the bench for their last game of the season, he would have been the youngest Milan player to feature in the league at 15.

Mastour made his international debut for Morocco last year in a 3-0 victory against Qatar.

His dribbling and ability to beat players has been compared to Neymar and Ronaldinho as he tends to leave opponents for dead whilst getting past them.

He also possesses an ability pull the strings in midfield which he has been compared to that of Wesley Sneijder.

Mastour could well be make a big-money move if he continues to develop to his full potential.

 

Emanuelson still aiming high

We meet where it all began for Urby Emanuelson, back at boyhood club Ajax’s training complex De Toekomst, less than a mile away from the Amsterdam Arena.

The versatile Dutch international, who can play at left back or as a winger, is currently without a club but cheerfully insists he is in no hurry to sign for a new one.

“Spain, England, Italy, Germany – I’d like to play in one of these four leagues,” says the man nicknamed ‘Ema’ during his time in Italy with AC Milan, Roma and Atalanta.

“He is reluctant to discuss where things went wrong at Roma… he is not the type of person who washes his dirty linen in public”

“I’ll just wait and see what happens. For now I am training with Ajax and keeping myself in form.”

Can his future be as illustrious as his past? There’s every chance. But although he turns 30 next June, Emanuelson is biding his time and none of the many offers he has received through agent Mino Raiola have appealed to him.

When I suggest he might return to AC Milan, he replies: “Milan? I think that chapter is closed. I had a great time there, I loved Milan, but I have moved on.”

‘Ema’ is engaging and animated company, no trace of arrogance, and always with a big smile on his face. He certainly doesn’t fit the stereotype which alleges Amsterdammers feel they’re slightly superior to other Dutch people and Europeans.

Tormented stints

A product of Ajax’s famous academy, he played for his hometown club for seven years before joining Milan in 2011, going on to make 73 appearances for them.

After a 2013 loan spell with Fulham in the Premier League, he endured tormented stints at AS Roma and Atalanta Bergamo and found himself out of contract at the end of last season.

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Emanuelson playing for AC Milan

He divides where he once united, with criticism levelled at him by fans and the media for his apparent lack of dedication and his below-par performances.

Beginning the 2014-2015 season at Roma, he was on the fringes of manager Rudi Garcia’s plans. Then his move to Atalanta after the turn of the year did not go to plan, further denting his chances of being recruited by a top club.

Brought in to be a leader, a voice and a presence in an inexperienced side lacking personalities, Emanuelson seemed overwhelmed by the responsibility and failed to meet expectations at the Bergamo.

He is reluctant to discuss where things went wrong at Roma. The Italian media suggested that he and Garcia almost came to blows, but the Dutchman neither confirms nor rubbishes those claims. He is not the type of person who washes his dirty linen in public.

Scintillating performance

It’s not so long ago – the 2010-11 campaign – that Emanuelson shone for Ajax against AC Milan in the Champions League group stages.

The first leg ended in a 1-1 draw and, despite some Luis Suarez heroics up front, Milan’s hierarchy were impressed by Ajax’s number eight who boasted pace, trickery and end product.

The return leg saw Ajax seal a 2-0 win at the San Siro, with another scintillating performance from the-then 24-year old who managed to keep Ronaldinho and Ibrahimovic at bay.

“He feels he still has enough in the tank to feature in more competitive leagues”

It prompted Milan to sign him during the winter transfer window, seeing off attempts by Manchester United and Arsenal to lure him to the Premier League.

That Ajax team he played in was blessed with some of football’s hottest prospects – Suarez, Jan Vertonghen, Christian Eriksen, Maarten Stekelenburg, Gregory Van Der Wiel and Toby Alderweireld – all well-known names among fans these days.

His move to the Rossoneri coincided with Suarez joining Liverpool in January 2011, but it’s unlikely the Uruguayan’s exit prompted the kind of pain felt by Ajax fans when Emanuelson departed.

He was “one of them” – “Ajacied” through and through. The bond remained strong, and when Milan faced Ajax in the 2013-14 Champions League season, the number 28 was given a hero’s welcome at the Arena, his substitution met by an emotional standing ovation from the home crowd.

Treasured recollections

Could a return to Ajax perhaps be on the cards? Maybe in a few years’ time. He feels he still has enough in the tank to feature in more competitive leagues than the Eredivisie, where the standard is no longer as high as it once was.

He has many treasured recollections from his days in Lombardy. “The Scudetto in 2011 and the Supercup in China against Inter are great memories. Against Parma in a Serie A match the year we won the Scudetto, I also scored one of the most amazing goals of my career.”

After winning the league in his debut campaign then displacing veteran Gianluca Zambrotta from the starting XI, his third season with under-fire boss Massimiliano Allegri was anything but rosy, and a series of shaky displays cost him his berth.

“It might be too late to follow in Davids’ illustrious footsteps but it certainly isn’t too late to rekindle his old magic”

His relationship with the manager was damaged and first-team opportunities became virtually non-existent. Emanuelson was frustrated as it started to sink in that Frenchman Kevin Constant had become the main man on the left wing.

He quit the Italian giants for Fulham and says that he loved his short spell in London with the Cottagers.

“I had such an amazing time, although it was just for six months. London is a great city and playing in the Premier League was a dream that came true. Great stadiums, great atmosphere and great players.”

Blossomed

Emanuelson was eight years old when Ajax last won the Champions League in 1995 in Vienna against, you guessed it, AC Milan.

That team, which won 1-0 thanks to a Patrick Kluivert strike in the dying minutes, boasted a wealth of gifted players such as Clarence Seedorf, Edwin Van der Sar, Finidi George, Frank and Ronald de Boer, Edgar Davids, Frank Rijkaard, Kluivert and Jari Litmanen under the tutelage perfectionist manager Louis Van Gaal.

Emanuelson admits to growing up in awe of Davids. “He was my idol. I looked up to him. We played in the same position, and when I was seven years old he played here, at Ajax, so it was easy contact.”

It might be too late to follow in Davids’ illustrious footsteps but it certainly isn’t too late to rekindle his old magic.

And unlike his compatriot, who struggled at AC Milan between 1996 and 1997, Emanuelson blossomed under the Duomo, leaving fond memories in the hearts and minds of Milan’s fans.

People say the reason things are sold cheap at the supermarket is they’re past their best, but although ‘Ema’ won’t cost a penny, this can’t be applied to him.

With any luck, he still has three or four years at the highest levels ahead of him. Whatever club takes him on surely won’t rue the decision.