AC Milan Defeated Juventus But Promptly Threw It All Away

Having defeated Juventus at the weekend, Milan had a remarkable chance to go top of Serie A. That didn't happen.

Written a few days ago, this article would've been very different. In the cold light of Monday morning, many people were welcoming the revived glories of AC Milan. A young, exciting squad packed with home grown Italian talent, led by one of Serie A’s most promising and intriguing managers, had taken on the champions of the last five years and won. 'Milan beat Juventus — they’re back!' came the shouts. A new era was upon us. 

As great as the result might have been, the mid-week fixture against Genoa brought the excitement crashing back down to earth. With the chance to go top of the league, Milan went and lost 3-0 to the decidedly mid-table Genoa. 

Taken in isolation, it was not a shocking result. Milan have been losing games like this for years. But compared to the weekend, it demonstrated the conflicts which lie ahead for one of Italy’s most celebrated teams. 

This modern iteration of Milan is almost a side built on binary oppositions. There is a contrast to be found in almost everything they do. Every time we discuss the team, we have to examine the conflicts between the old and the new. Such differences can be found throughout the side.

The ownership, for example. For decades the demonstrably deviant Silvio Berlusconi owned and oversaw the club. Milan’s fortunes almost ran parallel to his political career. After the astounding successes of Sacchi and Capello, one can trace the fortunes of Milan in tandem with Berlusconi’s grip on political power in Italy. When he was worried about his political perception, he would drive money into the side, bring in the big names and bathe in the glory from supporters. 

It worked, for a while. When Berlusconi finally fell from power, the investment dried up. For years Milan had the reputation of a club running on fumes. They were always on the lookout for a good deal. Free transfers, loans and loans-to-buy became their stock in trade. A once-amazing squad grew old. 

Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf and many others played on long past their prime. The lack of the investment in the team was thrown into stark contrast with the Juventus Renaissance happening to the north.

 

But now the ownership looks set to change. For years the management has been wrangling with Chinese investors who have hoped to buy the club. They have promised to pour money into the transfer budget. The prospect of foreign ownership is a stark contrast from the previous set up, so tied to the political machinations of the Italian state. 

This summer, the deal looked closer to completion than ever before. Though it’s still not gone through, it’s generally accepted that Berlusconi will hand over the reins to new owners in the very near future. 

At the same time, the squad has taken on a new look. After the older names gradually faded out, young Italians have replaced them. Players such as Mattia De Sciglio, Alessio Romagnoli, and Manuel Locatelli have become increasingly important. Indeed, it was the latter who scored the winner against the champions this weekend. But few players better represent the change than Gianluigi Donnarumma.

The teenage keeper has been a revelation. Aged 17, he is not just good for his age. He’s great. Already hailed as the long term successor to Buffon for the national side, he has the potential to be one of the world’s best keepers. Brought into the Milan academy aged 14, he had to have special dispensation a few years later when he was called up to the bench. If Milan’s previous success depended on older players, this new generation is primed for long term success.

And then there’s the manager. Vincenzo Montella built his name in Florence, taking the reins after Prandelli’s departure and sculpting out an exciting, attacking, possession based side. They might not have won much under Montella, but Fiorentina were widely regarded as one of the most attractive teams in the country.

After a middling stint at Sampdoria, Montella has been trusted to create a side in his own image in Milan. For years, Milan fired and hired managers on a regular basis. Long term trust in Montella could lay the foundations for years of success. 

 

Right now, it seems as though Milan have everything in place to become a real force in Serie A. But they are not there yet. There are still conflicts within the team. For all their youthful prospects, there is a dependency on the aging Carlos Bacca.

For a team which built their reputation on European success, many of the younger players have never played anything other than domestic competitions. Despite the untold wealth promised by the potential Chinese takeover, a finalized deal is yet to emerge. 

There’s even the question of the stadium. The San Siro is a hallowed European footballing landmark, but it's not a new stadium. For all of its aesthetically pleasing delights and rich traditions, it’s no longer the cutting edge facility it once was. Plus, the club do not own the building themselves. Indeed, they share it with local rivals Internazionale. Plans to move into a new, specially designed stadium have been put on hold. 

With Juventus reaping the rewards of owning their own modern ground, it is just another barrier that the club is yet to overcome, a looming physical demonstration of the conflict between the old and the new. 

Milan had the chance to go top of the table this week. They didn’t seize upon the opportunity. All the words written about their revival were shelved for the moment. Instead, we can see Milan as a side on the precipice of something truly exciting. All of the pieces are in place, but patience is essential.

Right now, we might still be noticing the contrast between the past and the present. But stay their current course and this Milan side has the potential to make the future their own. 

There will be more results like the Genoa match, but there will also be more moments akin to the victory over Juventus. If AC Milan are to become a footballing powerhouse once again, then there will need to be less of the former and more of the latter. As the young players and young manager continue to grow, patience may be the most important weapon in the Milanese arsenal.

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