Milan’s €174m transfer splurge makes them, not Arsenal, the value bet for Europa League glory

A resurgent, rich Milan will be aiming to succeed Manchester United as champions


The past decade of AC Milan’s history has been largely one of underachievement, stagnation and a gradual reduction of the club’s once-prestigious standing in European football. Much of this was due to the waning interest of Silvio Berlusconi, who, shorn of political power and aging rapidly, was no longer able to devote the same level of time or money into the club as he had during its glory years in the 80s and 90s.

The playing staff weakened to the point that it became common to see Milan finishing in mid-table, a fact made all the worse by the reality that few were surprised. No longer were there any genuinely world-class footballers in their ranks, although, around the mid-2010s, they suddenly began to specialise in signing faded stars and iffy second-chancers.

Past-it “names” such as Robinho, Michael Essien and Kaká (for the second time) all pitched up at the San Siro along with the likes of Kevin-Prince Boateng, Mario Balotelli and Adel Taarabt. Milan, it seemed, could no longer attract the elite.

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Now, things have changed. Berlusconi is no longer in charge of proceedings, having been ousted by a takeover bid from Chinese businessman Li Yonghong. Almost immediately, Milan’s name began to crop up in the transfer rumour mill, with the Italian side being mentioned in conjunction with seemingly every player said to be on the market. Serie A skeptics dismissed these links as inaccurate, convinced that outside Juventus the league was no longer capable of pulling off major deals.

Such notions have, over the past month or so, been proven inaccurate, and Milan have finalised a number of transfers that have caused observers to sit up and take note.

An estimated €174m is believed to have been spent on strengthening the side, with some shrewd buys particularly catching the attention.

Perhaps the biggest power-play of the lot is the acquisition of Leonardo Bonucci from rivals Juve. Having fallen out with officials in Turin, the centre-back was expected to move to England or Spain, but Milan entered the fray with a €42m bid and got their man. Bonucci is arguably the finest defender in the world at the moment, and his arrival is a significant coup for the Rossoneri.

He will likely line up in defence alongside two other new acquisitions, Ricardo Rodriguez and Mateo Musacchio, a hugely underrated pair who could easily slot into the starting XI of most of the world’s best teams. Milan have done exceptionally well to poach them ahead of a host of interested parties, and they will comprise part of an extremely well-balanced defensive roster, with the precocious young fullback Andrea Conti having also come in for €24m from Atalanta.

And yet it’s not merely in defence that Milan have strengthened.

Nearly €40m has been shelled out for Hakan Çalhanoğlu and Lucas Biglia, two very different, but equally intriguing midfielders. The experienced Biglia is a classic Argentinian number 5, a quick-passing, tight-marking deep-lyer, while the mercurial Çalhanoğlu is a set-piece master who can thrill with his all-round technique. The Turkish international is phenomenally gifted, shoots like a god and, if used correctly, is capable of doing amazing things with the ball at his feet.

Up front, in has come André Silva (€38m). The 21-year-old Portuguese international led the line for his country at the Confederations Cup, and could well prove to be the solution to the Selecção’s long search for a decent centre-forward. Much is expected of the young man, but if things don’t work out for him at Milan this season, waiting in the wings is loan-signing Fabio Borini, a player known for his prolific goalscoring and exceptional first-touch terrible goal celebrations.

This raft of new arrivals adds to a side that was already improving under the stewardship of Vincenzo Montella.

Milan, all of a sudden, look a potent outfit, and will be keen to make an impact on the continental scene. They are one of the great names of European competition, and have a burning desire to reclaim their status; running deep in the Europa League will be a first step in that regard.

Having originally been priced up at 10/1, in recent days their odds have shortened to 17/2 to win the tournament as a result of their continued recruitment drive. If you fancy them to take it, get on it now as this price is likely to shorten again in the event of further signings.

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