It has taken longer than most Milanisti hoped, but the “youth movement” that had been promised for years by Silvio Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani is beginning to take shape at AC Milan.
After the Rossoneri completed their thrilling come from behind victory on Sunday, supporters couldn’t contain their delight in how they achieved it.
The fashion in which they came from down 3-1 to defeat perhaps their most nagging opponent, Sassuolo, 4-3 projected something rare; something we haven’t seen much of in recent years.
It’s taken an awfully long time for President Silvio Berlusconi, CEO Adriano Galliani and several managers the club had employed to finally implement this so called “Youth Movement” that was promised to the fans. With Siniša Mihajlović getting the ball rolling, Vincenzo Montella has begun to carry out the initiative, and it’s beginning to take shape inside Milan camp with the new wave of youth making an impact at the first team level.
Last season, it was Mihajlović who shocked everyone by yanking savvy veteran keeper Diego Lopez from his starting role in favour of the baby faced 16-year old prodigy, Gianluigi Donnarumma.
The teenager, as we all know by now, took full control of the number one role in net; tightly grasping onto it and providing stability to the position.
Donnarumma has quickly become the name on the lips of all Milanisti and Italians. His poise at such a young age has led Azzurri supporters to believe they’ve been provided La Nazionale’s longterm replacement for 38-year old Gianluigi Buffon and his throne.
With the starting keeper established, Montella already had more than half a dozen young players at his disposal coming into the 2016-17; M’Baye Niang, Alessio Romagnoli, Davide Calabria, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Mattia De Sciglio, Suso, Gustavo Gomez and Manuel Locatelli.
Out of this group, only a few truly had secured a starting spot, while others remained on the fringe of losing theirs.
Under Mihajlovic last season, 21-year old M’Baye Niang was given a substantial increase in playing time and before suffering an unfortunate season-ending injury, his potential was fully displayed in more than just brief spurts.
Alessio Romagnoli arrived already carrying quite the rep as a youngster when he moved from Roma to Milan for 25 million euro, so most assumed he would be a regular in the starting XI.
At times during the 2015-16 campaign, the Serbian boss — now managing Torino — spawned this new movement which has been in talks for years since Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva were sold in summer 2012.
As for the two young fullbacks, their roles were a bit unclear.
Mattia De Sciglio, 23, has been around for what seems like an eternity though he only became a regular starter at the club a few years ago. Since his stellar debut season under Massimiliano Allegri in 2012-13, it’s been nothing shy of troubling for the ex-Primavera man. At times, De Sciglio would show glimpses of regaining the form that once earned him the unfair label, “Next Maldini,” but it was often followed with a string of inconsistent performances.
For country however, ex-Italy and current Chelsea manager Antonio Conte still felt there was more left in his tank tank than most wanted to give him credit for.
Conte, in unpopular fashion, took him to France this past summer for Euro 2016 where he shined against Spain and Germany. Later did we find out that he had been battling some inner demons which could have attributed to his declining form. But, with these impressive performances, interest soon returned for the still very young defender across Italy. However, Milan balked at all advances, expressing their unwillingness to let him go for under 25 million euro. This ultimately forced clubs to flee from pursuing the gifted defender.
Despite having some competition at the left-back role with Luca Antonelli, it’s fair to say that its De Sciglio’s spot to lose.
For Calabria, the hype has always been real. Another product of the praised — but often forgotten — Milan academy, Calabria received a few appearances under Mihajlović, but nothing more than to spell one of the others higher on the depth chart a breather.
It really wasn’t until his 120′ performance v Juventus at the Stadio Olimpico in the Coppa Italia final last May where we saw an energetic and spirited young defender take form.
After the club acquired speedy Argentine Leonel Vangioni — who has yet to make an appearance — on a free transfer from River Plate, speculation began to surface around a loan move for the 19-year old Calabria. Various Serie A clubs were chomping at the bit to obtain the Italian who was ready for an increased workload.
To the liking of the supporters, the Azzurrini standout was retained for the season. He’s been very impressive in recent weeks under Montella who has now made youth a top priority at the club.
In similar fashion to Niang, Suso had greatly benefitted from a short loan spell with Genoa, just at different times.
The Spaniard, who arrived to the San Siro tenants in January 2015 from Liverpool, struggled to find form — and playing time — under Pippo Inzaghi.
Under Mihajlović, it was much of the same for Suso. He was given a few opportunities to start at the beginning of the season; maybe even provide a spark off the bench, but to no avail. Unwilling to completely sever ties with the 22-year old, Galliani loaned Suso in January to familiar business partners Genoa for the remainder of the the season.
With the Rossoblu, the ex-Almeria attacker provided a needed boost to the Genovese club who managed to climb out from relegation waters to secure a comfortable 11th place finish. Like Niang, the Spanish Under-21 playmaker underwent a revival in his career thanks to the patience and trust from manager Gian Piero Gasperini.
By now, most of the aforementioned players — more or less — have become integral components to Montella’s revamped Rossoneri, but there was still one whom had yet to leave his mark.
Manuel Locatelli, a name often mentioned when discussing the Milan Primavera, arguably had the biggest hill to climb to receive an uptick in minutes.
The 18-year old, donned ‘the new Pirlo’, had his work cut out for him. In an overly crowded, but underperforming midfield, Locatelli seemed like an unlikely option for Montella. Juraj Kucka, Giacomo Bonaventura, captain Riccardo Montolivo, Andrea Poli, the injured Andrea Bertolacci and Mati Fernandez all seemingly ahead of him, leaving mere scraps for the teenager.
With several centrocampisti either underwhelming or on the shelf, Locatelli was given his chance to prove his worth. Having only come on as a substitute versus Sampdoria, Lazio and Fiorentina, Locatelli’s window of opportunity to impact a game was small, yet that didn’t turn him away from proving a point on Sunday.
After being sent off for dissent, Montella had to observe the second half from the stands. The likelihood of the Italy Under-21 kid getting the chance to play down 3-1 was not very good. But, Montella, thanks to some stealthy covert ops-type maneuvers, was able to pull the right strings with the help of vice-allenatore Daniel Russo.
In the 60th minute, Montolivo was booed off the pitch, giving way to Locatelli. Remember, in his previous appearances, he had only played 33′, 22′ and 23′ respectively.
This time however, a half hour was all the teenager needed to leave a lasting impression on the Milan faithful.
Minutes after Carlos Bacca tucked away the penalty to make it 3-2, Locatelli received a semi-cleared ball outside the 20-yard box. With virtually every player in or around the penalty area, Locatelli struck the volley, top shelf, with his left foot to level the score at 3-3.
A tearful Locatelli blew the roof off the packed San Siro. The excitement on his face and the entire squad chasing him down to celebrate was a wonderful footballing moment.
A.C. Milan of course went on to win 4-3 thanks to Gabriel Paletta, but there was more to take away from the match than the result itself. Rather, it was the way Milan led the charge towards the comeback; centered around an ambitious crop of youngsters.
Niang’s impact had immediately been felt. Donnarumma made countless saves to keep Sassuolo in check. And Locatelli, an 18-year old, supplied the theatrics. The comeback in itself felt like a film; a team down and seemingly out, only to come roaring back thanks to a few unlikely individuals.
De Sciglio: 23
— Matthew Santangelo (@Matt_Santangelo) October 3, 2016
Over the past few weeks, many of the youngsters had been shining in one way or another. But on Sunday, it felt like it all came together and arrived in stunning fashion.
“Youth” is the word being tossed around Milan, and it’s refreshing to hear it associated with rossonero.