From retirement home to nursery: Donnarumma, Locatelli & Romagnoli give Milan a bright future
If Juventus are called the Old Lady, AC Milan could easily have
been called the Old Man.
However, unlike Juve’s affectionate nickname, one would only
have been calling Milan a club of old men in a derisory way.
The Serie A giants have long been seen as a retirement home for
players looking to wind down their careers at a successful
and competitive club.
When they won the Champions League 10 years ago, they did so
with an 18-man squad whose average age was 31.17. Five years
later, their Champions League squad average age had dropped,
but only slightly to 29.2 years. This was a team filled with
big names like Alessandro Nesta and Clarence Seedorf,
legends of the game – a wonderful appraisal, but a title never
bestowed on young players.
Ten years on from their triumph over Liverpool at the Olympic
Stadium in Athens, Milan are a totally different side. Back
then, 38-year-old Paolo Maldini captained the side, and was one
of eight over 30s in the starting XI, with Kaka the youngest
player at 25.
While Carlo Ancelotti’s side were one of the greatest in
Champions League history – having reached three finals in five
years – their age, coupled with the end of president Silvio
Berlusconi’s big spending, meant that a big crash was just
around corner. And indeed it was as, after claiming their
last Scudetto in 2011, Milan have endured a miserable period
both on and off the pitch – signing mainly cast-offs and
However, the future finally looks bright again. Ahead of their
buyout by Chinese consortium Sino-Europe Sports, Milan have
focused on young players and it is now paying dividends. Early
this season, the average age of the starting XI against Lazio
was 24.92-years-old – the youngest side put out by AC
Milan since May 2003.
The Rossoneri of 2017 is a much more energetic and youthful
side whose trajectory is up rather than down. Key to the new
youthful Milan is goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, a
record-breaking phenomenon, who just turned 18 in February. The
giant shot-stopper is the second youngest goalkeeper to play in
Serie A, and the youngest goalkeeper to ever line out for the
Italy national team.
Unlike many prodigious talents who are thrown into the deep
end, Donnarumma looks like he belongs. Last season, he
established himself as the club’s number one, and has kept his
place ever since. It is no wonder that the Italian this week
won Goal’s NxGn prize, which ranked the world’s 50 best teenage
talents born 1998 and after.
Milan’s goalkeeper of 2007 believes that Donnarumma will
surpass him, with Dida telling Sportmediaset that “he
has great talent and I think he can do more than I did with
Milan’s colours, because he is very young… Gigio has already
demonstrated his value, and I think he’s going to develop even
Donnarumma is key to coach Vincenzo Montella’s future plans,
along with fellow teenager Manuel Locatelli – who finished
sixth in NxGn after a series of great midfield displays this
season which included a thunderbolt goal versus Juventus – and
22-year-old defender Alessio Romagnoli who is considered the
heir to Giorgio Chiellini for Italy. Already, Montella has
guided his reshaped side to their first trophy since 2011,
beating Juventus in the Supercoppa Italiana on penalties in
December with Donnarumma saving the decisive spot kick.
Milan’s final two penalties were converted by 23-year-old
forward Suso, who has kickstarted his career after a
disappointing introduction at Liverpool, and then 21-year-old
Mario Pasalic, one of Chelsea’s many young loanees gaining
first team experience on the continent.
Having gone through a period of transition over the past five
years, giving time to 88 different players in Serie A (the 10th
highest number of players used from all the top five leagues),
this Milan side is finally starting to settle and mature under
“This team is only at the beginning, so there is a big margin
for improvement. If you have this many young players, the side
is destined to get stronger over time,” the 42-year-old said.
“I’d like there to be a few more headlines on these lads, as
they deserve greater praise.”
If they keep playing the way they are under Montella and the
long-awaited cash-fuelled takeover finally goes through, a
return to the Champions League is destined to happen, with
headlines talking about Milan’s young men rather than
Juventus’s Old Lady.