ON May 21, 2015, AC Milan supporters protested in the stands at the way their club was being run.
One particularly memorable banner stated ominously: “Game over. Insert coin and save AC Milan.”
It was a desperate time.
The Rossoneri finished tenth in Serie A that season, a campaign that was sandwiched between equally underwhelming eighth and sixth place finishes that meant the club missed out on Europe for three consecutive years.
Milan were at their lowest ebb since the 1980s. Poor positions mixed with a lack of investment and frequent false dawns left fans feeling alienated and angry. But this year the nightmare came to an end and fans are now dreaming again.
On April 13, 2017, a consortium led by Chinese businessman Li Yonghong bought the club.
Days later, the first match under the new ownership – a 2-2 draw with city rivals Inter secured through a 97th-minute equaliser – was an apt indicator of the spectacular, unpredictable changes on the horizon.
This summer Milan have re-established themselves as a footballing superpower. Our friends at Football Whispers explain how.
BREAKING DOWN MILAN’S NEW SIGNINGS
Spending big on both quality and quantity, the Rossoneri have reinforced their squad with a number of mouth-watering signings. Without doubt the most eye-catching and unexpected of the lot was Leonardo Bonucci.
And yet here we are. For £35.7 million (AU$58.5m) the most shocking move of this summer’s window has been completed.
At 30 years of age, Bonucci will bring experience, aggression, excellent marking and gorgeous forward passes to Milan’s defence. He will be the leader of a new, exciting era. And he is joined by a cadre of other new signings.
Milan have effectively signed a defence this summer. Alongside the aforementioned central pair they have brought in Andrea Conti and Ricardo Rodriguez.
The former, signed for £21.25m ($34.8m) is a 23-year-old right-back who scored eight league goals and set up five for Atalanta last season. The latter is an equally attack-minded 24-year-old left-back who arrived from Wolfsburg for a slightly more modest £15.3m ($25m).
That back line will be offered quality protection, too, for Milan’s latest signing is Lucas Biglia. The 31-year-old joined from Lazio – where he was club captain – in a £14.45m ($23.7m) deal, bringing with him a wealth of Serie A knowledge, sound positioning and tenacious tackling.
Two of the more intriguing purchases were Hakan Calhanoglu from Bayer Leverkusen for £18.7m ($30.6m) and Andre Silva from Porto for £32.3m ($52.9m).
Calhanoglu is a 23-year-old set-piece specialist with exceptional technique; Silva is a 21-year-old striker with a remarkable scoring record – he hit 21 in 44 games for Porto last season and has eight in 13 for Portugal.
There have also been two loan signings. Twenty-year-old midfielder Franck Kessiearrived from Atalanta for an initial fee of £6.8m ($11.1m), with an obligation to buy for £17m ($27.9m) in 2019. Meanwhile, Fabio Borini will join from Sunderland for £5.1m ($8.4m) next year upon completion of his season-long loan.
WHO ELSE COULD JOIN?
Incredibly, Milan’s spending may not be done yet. More signings could be unveiled in the coming weeks.
Real Madrid’s Alvaro Morata was high on the list of possible recruits and the Spaniard would be perfect for Montella. His pace, directness, underrated strength and link-up play would work well in the Rossoneri attack, but Chelsea have moved to agree a £70m ($116m) transfer fee with Real Madrid.
However, Andrea Belotti has reportedly emerged as the club’s first-choice striking option, rated by his club at £88m ($144m). The 23-year-old was in phenomenal form last season, scoring 26 league goals for Torino and establishing himself as Italy’s primary line-leader.
His brutish physicality, powerful finishing and aerial force would bring another dimension to an attack populated by lithe tricksters and subtle dribblers.
So will Milan win the Scudetto for the first time in seven years next season? Perhaps.
But one thing is for sure; after years of uncertainty, underperformance and frustration, they are a force to be reckoned with once again.