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Optimism is far more difficult to feel when the going gets tough. What seems to be missing is the second sentence to this play on words, the tough gets going. A fan base that had grown accustomed to dominating and boasting about winning with a certain kind of gusto, A.C. Milan loved victories and for nearly two decades victories loved A.C. Milan.

Now five years on from the last piece of silverware to have graced the lips of any Milan player, what are the state of affairs? No need to embellish or be dishonest. “Miserable.”

Not much structure at the top with Silvio Berlusconi or his vision to find brighter passages. At times, unneeded and wasteful spending. Zero to very little patience; everyone is guilty, from the boardroom to fans to any commentator who has anything worth listening too.

What could have begun this endless fall to pedestrian levels within the world of calcio?

The summers of 2006, 2009 and 2011 had distinctive differences compared to that of 2012, that being sound foundations that had been in place for a number of years. Cornerstones in each department of a team where world class players were trickled in each area. Which, in turn, upheld a certain tradition. All this equalling to the fact of the matter that after 2012, zero world class players in a roster that was once stacked with them.

A club of Milan’s stature and resourcefulness, which endured the losses of the prolific Ukrainian bomber in 2006 Andriy Shevchenko, and the technical Brazilian wizard Kaka in 2009. Not to forget the metronome Andrea Pirlo in 2011.

To single out one sole event is unfair. The multitude of examples, far too many, is the real problem. The Rossoneri have prevailed from many situations that could have led to their collapse, but the last straw was the summer of 2012. The sale of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and perennial defender Thiago Silva to Paris Saint-Germain.

AC Milan's forward Alexandre Pato is congratuled by teammates Zlatan Ibrahimovic during the Challenge Cup football match Paris Saint-Germain vs Milan on January 4, 2012 at the Al-Rashid stadium in Dubai. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

AC Milan’s forward Alexandre Pato is congratuled by teammates Zlatan Ibrahimovic during the Challenge Cup football match Paris Saint-Germain vs Milan on January 4, 2012 at the Al-Rashid stadium in Dubai. FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

Ibrahimovic needs no introduction. Thiago Silva, who none other than Alessandro Nesta, claimed to have extended his life as a center back. The two sales were influential, with hearty returns at the time in which it happened, amassing upwards of 62 million euros for the pair. What could have been done far better was the allocation of the money received, or actually investing the money that came their way. If we turn the clock back even further, was the hefty investment made on Alexandre Pato theoretically a sound idea, had he not been offloaded so quickly that is?

The difficulty here is who to place the blame on. Scouting? The boardroom that gave the “ok” to finance the deal? The staff, tactics, or first team & fitness coaches? Or quite possibly the player himself? Perhaps it can all be attributed to a case of bad luck.

The type of money spent for a 17-year old Pato can only be justified if he becomes a Ballon d’Or caliber player. Additionally, had patience been a factor, Milan shouldn’t have given up on such a prized possession so quickly,  since footballers usually hit their peak around the Brazilian’s current age of 27.

While having a central figure in a project is important,  it is not the only ingredient needed for positive results.

Opportunities come and go, which can make or break future success. One of those moments could have been, the apparent interest of Paris Saint-Germain towards Pato during the transfer window of January 2012. What could have resulted from the move, creating a domino effect, that would have seen Carlos Tevez being the man to replace the Brazilian wonder-kid. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.

It can’t be said if Milan’s state would be better or worse now, four years on since they were only ideas and hearsay. Is there any hope to cling onto?

With their backs against the wall, feeling down and out, all that is left is the possibility to dream and believe, as impossible as it may seem.

Once upon a time, Milan were promoted from the Serie B to the A. In 1983-1984, they returned from there second stint in the cadetteria. Six years on from being promoted, that same club won a European Cup. You may recognize it better by its modern name, the Champions Cup. Will it happen again? No one knows. Do dreams come true? Nothing is of certainty.

Where are the similarities from those times to the present day squad?

Youth and homegrown talent as a foundation, with a pinch of foreign class, has been a recipe which has been forgotten until now.  In the high times of Milan, the contingent of Franco Baresi, “Billy” Costacurta, Paolo Maldini, Demetrio Albertini, and Alberigo Evani were all bred Milan products. With the additions of precise domestic recruiting and high level “stranieri” players, success would shortly follow.

Where the correlation of the past and present meet will all depend on the aspirations of the new crop of youngsters.

Gianluigi Donnarumma #99 AC Milan celebrates stopping a goal in the shoot out against FC Bayern Munich during their International Champions Cup on July 27, 2016 at Solider Field Stadium in Chicago, Illinois.  / AFP / Tasos Katopodis        (Photo credit should read TASOS KATOPODIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Gianluigi Donnarumma #99 AC Milan celebrates stopping a goal in the shoot out against FC Bayern Munich during their International Champions Cup on July 27, 2016 at Solider Field Stadium in Chicago, Illinois. TASOS KATOPODIS/AFP/Getty Images

Teenage sensation Gianluigi Donnarumma is at the forefront of the spine to a well constructed Milan. Going forward, wing backs Davide Calabria and Mattia De Sciglio are on the cusp of great things. For their development, what is needed is the belief and trust plus game time experience.

The most raw, but very bright prospect considering what is lacking, could possibly be Manuel Locatelli. Great range of passing and premature understanding of responsibilities needed to be a filter and central outlet for center backs. If the most recent Under 19 Euro is a glimpse of what’s to come, then count him in. To complete the roster, you have the investments of Alessio Romangoli and M’Baye Niang. The eldest of the bunch, including the academy graduates, is De Sciglio at 23 years of age. Time is on their side.

If in the near future, there are any chances of finding the next Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Guillit, Marco Van Basten, Marcel Desailly, Gennaro Gattuso and Massimo Ambrosini, then that future can be very promising.

The obvious observation is the class they all possessed. The characteristics that are over looked are the following: tireless effort, determination, confidence, bravery and a little bit of hunger. That went beyond and showed they were men first and footballers second. Those elements will protect these kids in more ways than one, with tactics being the most essential component for the time being.

Men — not boys — would be a great way to end this article, but to quote an acclaimed comedian, Louis C.K.. “Optimistic means stupid.” So relax, it’s only football. One team wins and 19 others lose. As you all know, competition expands even larger to attain European glory.

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