Following Marco Giampaolo’s dismissal, Stefano Pioli’s appointment was first met with derision. The Italian was not the most inspiring candidate for the job, but when he signed a 2-year deal in July, the fans lost it. Legendary coach Ralf Ragnick had been the choice of chairman Ivan Gazidis and for most of the club’s fans. They believed Ragnick with his experience was the best person to handle a project like Milan’s.
Ragnick is a man who can handle things in the dugout and influence things in the board room as his RB Leipzig time has shown. Gazidis was ironically looking to give the German a role that he had problems with Arsene Wenger for wielding. Ragnick’s name was on the mind of fans who felt they needed such experience to take them back to the top of the football pyramid, but Maldini & the now sacked Zvonimir Boban stuck to their decision and backed Pioli. The result? AC Milan is yet to lose in 21 games since football’s restart in June, drawing 5.
Milan’s rejuvenation started with decent/smart transfers and it set up the current spell they are having. Ismael Bennacer, Rafael Leao, Theo Hernandez, Leo Duarte, Rade Krunic, Alexis Saelemaekers, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Simon Kjaer from the summer and winter transfer windows of the 19/20 have contributed to the team. The pivot of Bennacer and Kessie has been the foundation on which the rest of the team has flourished. Kessie has recovered the form that led the club to sign him on loan from Atalanta before making the deal permanent.
Bennacer’s press resistance/dribbling/control combined with the industrious Kessie has allowed the front to prosper. Hernandez has proven an inspired purchase, bombing down Milan’s left for goals and assists. Maldini is arguably the greatest left-sided full-back, so he should know what he is doing when he signs a full-back. Rebic who did not get plenty game time under Giampaolo ignited during the winter and he was on monstrous form from January until his injury towards the end of the season. Hakan Calhanoglu is performing at a world-class level in the playmaker role, and Alexis Saelemaekers has been quietly excellent since he arrived from Belgium.
In December, the most important piece of the puzzle was pieced in. The arrival of the self-proclaimed god on an initial 6-month deal (his performances have led to an extension of his contract). The 39-year old Zlatan brings enormous confidence, quality, leadership, and drive to the Milan team. He acts as a target man, linking play to the trident behind him. He has helped youngsters like Leao to settle. Their combination was lethal in the Milan derby as they upstaged Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez. Funny enough, Ragnick has disclosed that Zlatan was one of the reasons he did not take over the club as he didn’t feel comfortable building around a player his age. Zlatan replied in true Zlatan fashion.
This season, Milan has signed Jens Petter-Hauge, Brahim Diaz (loan), Pierre Kalulu, Sandro Tonali, and Diogo Dalot (loan), etc. They have continued their fine form and hopefully, their ascent continues.
Pioli’s switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation has been one of the reasons for the upturn in Milan’s form. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is leading the line, with Ante Rebic/Rafael Leao, Hakan Calhanoglu/Brahim Diaz, and Samu Castillejo/Saelemaekers behind him. The pivot is the engine room and Simon Kjaer, another bargain signing, is proving to be a solid rock at the heart of the defense. Davide Calabria is also finding some consistency in the right-back spot to make a solid team. Gianluigi Donnarumma and Alessio Romagnoli have been staples of the team for a while now. They are the foundation upon which this team continues to improve. They have not lost any game this season and there are shouts of “Milan is back”.
Hyperbolism in football is rampant, but this Milan team has looked impressive for months now. Even fans who were apprehensive towards Pioli’s arrival have warmed up to him. The team runs on chemistry, tactical understanding, youth + experience, and quality. Maldini has brought in good players with good potential while Pioli has shaped the team tactically. They have done great, but to say Milan is “back”, we will need to give this team time to grow and challenge for titles. The Rossoneri handled Celtic at Celtic Park in their first Europa League fixture, and they come up against AS Roma this weekend. A win will be a testament to how far the team has come under Pioli and Maldini. For now, all we can say is Forza Milan!