Since the last decade, the story of AC Milan has been frustrating. The once-mighty force in club football showed signs of decay and as time progressed, their pathetic state only hurt the fans, who became fans of club football back in the late 80s. It was the Rossoneri of Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, and Rijkaard, which unleashed a new era in the history of Rossoneri.

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Milan became the favourites of many and it was that generation in the 90s, who supported Milan passionately and whenever they took the field, they believed, the Rossoneri would not let them down.

Big guns like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Juventus, Inter, or other European Giant Killers were tamed by the spirited display of boys from San Siro.

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But all of a sudden there was a hiccup – an ugly transition showed up and Milan were trapped in that for a long time.

But it seems that a different wind is blowing in Milan right now.

The glorious past

On February 20, 1986, entrepreneur Silvio Berlusconi, who owns Fininvest and Mediaset, acquired the club and saved it from bankruptcy after investing vast amounts of money, appointing rising manager Arrigo Sacchi at the helm of the Rossoneri and signing Dutch internationals Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, and Frank Rijkaard.

The Dutch trio added an attacking impetus to the team and complimented the club’s Italian internationals Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Alessandro Costacurta, and Roberto Donadoni. Under Sacchi, Milan won its first Scudetto in nine years in the 1987–88 season.

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The following year, the club won its first European Cup in two decades, beating Romanian club Steaua București 4–0 in the final. Milan retained their title with a 1–0 win over Benfica a year later and was the last team to win back-to-back European Cups until Real Madrid’s win in 2017.

The Milan team of 1989–90, nicknamed the “Immortals” in the Italian media, has been voted the best club side of all time in a global poll of experts conducted by World Soccer magazine.

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After Sacchi left Milan in 1991, he was replaced by the club’s former player Fabio Capello whose team won three consecutive Serie A titles between 1992 and 1994, a spell which included a 58-match unbeaten run in Serie A (which earned the team the label “the Invincibles”), and back-to-back UEFA Champions League final appearances in 1993, 1994 and 1995.

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A year after losing 1–0 to Marseille in the 1993 Champions League final, Capello’s team reached its peak in one of Milan’s most memorable matches of all time, the famous 4–0 win over Barcelona in the 1994 Champions League final.

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Capello’s side went on to win the 1995–96 league title before he left to manage Real Madrid in 1996.

In 1998–99, after a two-year period of decline, Milan lifted its 16th championship in the club’s centenary season.

Milan captain Paolo Maldini lifting the European Cup after they won the 2002–03 UEFA Champions League.

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Milan’s next period of success came under another former player, Carlo Ancelotti. After his appointment in November 2001, Ancelotti took Milan to the 2003 Champions League final, where they defeated Juventus on penalties to win the club’s sixth European Cup.

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The team then won the Scudetto in 2003–04 before reaching the 2005 Champions League final, where they were beaten by Liverpool on penalties despite leading 3–0 at half-time. Two years later, the two teams met again in the 2007 Champions League final, with Milan winning 2–1 to lift the title for the seventh time.

The team then won its first FIFA Club World Cup in December 2007.

The lean-patch

In 2009, after becoming Milan’s second longest-serving manager with 420 matches overseen,  Ancelotti left the club to take over as manager at Chelsea.

During this period, the club was involved in the Calciopoli scandal, where five teams were accused of fixing matches by selecting favourable referees.

A police inquiry excluded any involvement of Milan managers, but the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) unilaterally decided that it had sufficient evidence to charge Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani. As a result, Milan was initially punished with a 15-point deduction and was banned from the 2006–07 UEFA Champions League. An appeal saw that penalty reduced to eight points, which allowed the club to retain its Champions League participation.

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Following the aftermath of Calciopoli, local rivals Internazionale dominated Serie A, winning four Scudetti.

However, with the help a strong squad boasting players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho and Alexandre Pato joining many of the veterans of the club’s mid-decade European successes, Milan recaptured the Scudetto in the 2010–11 Serie A season, their first since the 2003–04 season, and 18th overall.

Then the decline started

They failed to qualify for European competitions for a few years.

Fininvest, the holding company of the club also signed a preliminary agreement with Bee Taechaubol to sell a 48% stake of the club for €480 million in 2015, after a net loss of €91.3 million in 2014 financial year and subsequent financial contribution from Fininvest.

However, the deal collapsed.

On August 5, 2016, a new preliminary agreement was signed with a Chinese investment management company Sino-Europe Sports Investment Management Changxing Co. in which Fininvest sold 99.93% stake of Milan for about €520 million, plus the refurbishment of the club financial debt of €220 million.

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On 13 April 2017, the deal was completed and Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux became the new direct parent company of the club.

In order to finalize the deal, American hedge fund Elliott Management Corporation provided Li with a loan of €303M (€180M to complete the payment to Fininvest and €123M issued directly to the club).

Young Li. Image Courtesy: Goal
Young Li. Image Courtesy: Goal

On July 10, 2018, Li failed to keep up with his loan repayment plan, neglecting to deposit a €32-million installment on time in order to refinance the €303-million loan debt owed to the American hedge fund. As a result, In July 2018, chairman Li Yonghong’s investment vehicle Rossoneri Champion Inv. Lux. was removed as the shareholder of Rossoneri Sport Inv. Lux., the direct parent company of the club, making the investment vehicle majority controlled by Elliott Management Corporation the sole shareholder of Rossoneri Sport Inv. Lux.

Milan qualified for the 2018–19 UEFA Europa League group stage as the sixth-placed team of the 2017–18 Serie A, but were originally banned by UEFA from European competition due to violations of Financial Fair Play regulations for failure to break-even.[46] Milan appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and was overturned on July 20, 2018.

On June 28, 2019, Milan was excluded from the Europa League for violating Financial Fair Play regulations for the years 2014–2017 and 2015–2018.

Chopping and changing of managers – Stefano Pioli arrives

Gennaro Gattuso left AC Milan after serving a brief period without enough success. Still, Milan invested faith in Gattuso, but on May 20, 2019, he departed Milan by mutual consent. Marco Giampaolo replaced him and left soon.

Stefano Pioli was appointed as the manager with fewer expectations.

Meanwhile, the past greats like Paolo Maldini came back to fix things.

But the desired results were not coming.

The Milan think-tank brought back Zlatan Ibrahimovic from MLS on December 27, 2019, five days after the humiliating defeat against Atalanta by 5-0.

The day the transfer was announced, the Rossoneri sat 11th in Serie A and had scored the fifth-fewest goals in the league, with 16. Krzysztof Piatek, who would go on to join Hertha Berlin in January, and defender Theo Hernandez were their top scorers in Italy’s top tier with four goals each.

Change of wind?

The COVID-19 Panemic halted Football in Europe and resumed.

Neither Juventus nor Inter nor Napoli nor AS Roma showed signs of improvement, but to the astonishment of everyone and those fans of late 80s, the Rossoneri displayed brilliantly, which included a lot of fighting spirit and hunger to win matches.

The team, which was humiliated by Atalanta last year, halted their progress last night and it indicated, a different wind is blowing in Milan.

Only Atalanta and Juventus have claimed more points in 2020 than AC Milan as they are trying hard to revive the glory days of the past.

Ibrahimovic’s signing has proven a masterstroke, but it’s not just all about Zlatan.

The new signings from last summer are beginning to reap the rewards of a natural winner of the 38-year-old’s ilk in the squad as they begin to click in Italy.

Without a doubt, Zlatan is the top-rated player of Milan according to WhoScored, but in a game, where the efforts of a just an individual are not enough to reach the desired place, it requires the efforts of others as well.

The likes of Theo Hernandez, Franck Kessie, Ante Rebic, Leao, Ismael Bennacer, Hakan Calhanoglu, and Donnarumma played a key role in Milan’s revolution after the break.

The Algerian Bennacer’s versatility in the midfield as a holding-midfielder, playmaker, and central-attacking customer helped Milan to mobilize their stagnant midfield. According to WhoScored, a success rate of 80.2% is the sixth-best of the 148 players to have attempted 25 or more dribbles in Serie A this term.

On the other hand, Ivory Coast’s Kessie adds fule to the work of Bennacer with his brilliant ability to breakthrough and exploit the spaces.

Ante Rebic, a loan capture from Eintracht Frankfurt last summer, has been making the most of his chance to consolidate a regular starting spot, particularly in 2020. As WhoScored says, all 11 league goals he has scored this season have come this calendar year; only Cristiano Ronaldo (20) and Ciro Immobile (13) have scored more than the Croat in Serie A this year.

His inclusion in the AC Milan XI has a positive impact on the side, too, with their goals scored per game record rising from 1.23 to 2.17 when he features from the off.

Simon Kjaer, who joined on loan at the turn of the year and has formed a solid partnership with Alessio Romagoli, has played a key role in a defence that has shipped just 19 league goals this year; only Fiorentina (17) have conceded fewer in 2020.

The total shots conceded per game have come down from 12.4 to 10.8.

Pioli has concentrated more on defensive solidity.

WhoScored says, before last night’s match against Atalanta, In attack, the number of key passes per game for AC Milan has risen from 11.8 to 13.5, which has also resulted in an increase of shots per game, from 14.7 to 18.1.

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However, with a negligible increase in possession, from 54.7% to 55.7%, coupled with the number of times possession has been won in the midfield third rising from 22.8 to 27.3, that in itself the highest in Serie A this year, shows they are winning the ball with greater regularity and moving it to the more creative players quicker, who in turn are able to present the forwards with the chances to go for goal.

All these factors have made Zlatan and Rebic look better up-front.

WhoScored says, using the 4-2-3-1 formation more frequently, there is a solid midfield base in Bennacer and Kessie. There is less pressure on Hernandez to provide the width down the left, which while he does well, means that AC Milan have more creative options aside from the Frenchman to call upon. And with Ibrahimovic spearheading the charge with aplomb, those associated with AC Milan will be delighted to see that their investments are finally reaping rewards.

Pioli has been doing a great job so far and the rumor of Ralf Rangnick joining this summer has dried up. He has developed a dynamic combination with Zlatan and these two are giving the Milna fans a lot of hope. The hope of a New Dawn.

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