FAN ARTICLE by Paul Ng.
With Milan in free-fall, it is time for head coach Allegri to put his faith in the talented youngsters at his disposal.
The 2013-14 season has been one big major mess for Milan up to this point. 12 league games into the season, they are languishing down in 10th spot with only 13 points. They are 19 points off league leaders Roma, but more importantly they are 15 points off the last Champions League spot. For this current version of Milan, vying for the league championship is now being replaced by a more pragmatic aim of securing a Champions League spot. Milan’s problems are identical to what they experienced last season. A poor start, a host of injuries and a lack of adequate defensive backups were all carried over from last season.
At this stage last season, Milan had 14 points after 12 games. The difference for Milan back then was the unexpected breakout of Stephan El Shaarawy. With his goals, El Shaarawy single-handedly dragged Milan to within a few points off the Champions League spot by Christmas. By the midway point of the season, El Shaarawy’s form started to decline. Mario Balotelli’s arrival during the winter transfer window coincided with this drop in production. Nonetheless, Balotelli’s qualities helped maintain Milan’s momentum. Ultimately, they would just about pip Fiorentina to the final Champions League spot.
Continuing into this season, the squad for 2013-14 features 4 youngsters of real potential—Riccardo Saponara (age 21), Gabriel (21), M’Baye Niang (18) and Bryan Cristante (age 18). Gabriel is a goalkeeper who has represented Brazil at senior level. Niang is a forward who can play on either wings. Saponara is an attacking midfielder and has been compared to Kaka in terms of movement on the pitch. Cristante is a defensive midfielder and his style of play has earned comparisons to Argentine legend Fernando Redondo.
Another youngster, striker Andrea Petagna (age 18) could have added to the list of promising young players at Milan. Allegri had initially placed his faith in Petagna as the backup to Balotelli and Pazzini. However, the transfer of Alessandro Matri meant that there was one striker too many for Milan. In the end, Petagna was loaned to Sampdoria for the season. The fans dissatisfaction with the Matri transfer is based on three factors. Firstly, Milan already have three center-forwards in Balotelli, the currently injured Giampaolo Pazzini, and Petagna. Secondly, the fans want the club to put their faith in Petagna and signing Matri goes against the youth policy. Lastly, the price tag of €11m for Matri is too high for effectively a backup striker.
The focus for Milan ever since the Great Wage Cut of 2012 was on bringing through talented youngsters. In 2012-13, Mattia De Sciglio and Stephan El Shaarawy grasped the opportunity given to them and cemented their place in the first team.
This season, with the hope of qualifying for next season Champions League seemingly thin, the season could have been better utilized by offering the youngsters playing time and integrating them into the first team. It is perhaps time to give Cristante, Niang, Saponara and Gabriel the chance to show what they can contribute to the team. A discouraging fact is that Cristante has only played in a total of 5 competitive minutes this season, despite being in the match squad for 13 of the matches so far.
Milan’s present situation looks bleak, yet the promise shown by the young players are a source of hope. De Sciglio, El Shaarawy and Balotelli have already established themselves as key members of the first team squad. And they are all below 24 years old. Add in the potential of Saponara, Gabriel, Niang plus Cristante and Milan will have a core group of players for hopefully the next 5-10 years. The time for change is now, and hopefully Allegri’s parting gift for Milan is the integration of these talented young players into the first team.