Can AC Milan finally return to relevancy in 2018-19?

The starting eleven of AC Milan pose before for pictures before the International Champions Cup match against the Tottenham Hotspur at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota on July 31, 2018. (Photo by STEPHEN MATUREN / AFP) (Photo credit should read STEPHEN MATUREN/AFP/Getty Images)
The starting eleven of AC Milan pose before for pictures before the International Champions Cup match against the Tottenham Hotspur at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota on July 31, 2018. (Photo by STEPHEN MATUREN / AFP) (Photo credit should read STEPHEN MATUREN/AFP/Getty Images) /

After yet another disappointing season in 2017-18, is this the year AC Milan finally rebound and become a force once more?

The last five seasons have seen the 18-time Italian champions and seven-time Champions League winners AC Milan stuck in mid-table mediocrity. The’ve groveled with the likes of Torino, Sampdoria and Atalanta for far too long.

It was only a few years ago that long-time owner and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was approached by Chinese businessman Li Yonghong to purchase the club. This deal of course fell through.

Li Yonghong defaulted on his loan from the vulture fund Elliott Management, who at that time assumed control of AC Milan from Li, making them, whether they wanted it or not, the owners of the Rossoneri.

Elliott stabilized AC Milan by pumping €50 million into the club to satisfy UEFA. This after the governing body of European soccer had banned AC Milan from the Europa League, proclaiming  them to be a club with “murky finances.”

The Rossoneri‘s poor performance in Serie A went hand-in-hand with their financial woes. In an attempt to quickly remedy this, the club spent a record €200 million during the 2017 summer transfer window.

Joining the club were Leonardo Bonucci, Ricardo Rodriguez, Lucas Biglia, Andre Silva, Hakan Calhanoglu, Andrea Conti and Frank Kessie, to name a few. This was a complete squad overhaul to say the least.

But it takes time for a team with this many new pieces to develop a good chemistry. AC Milan was no exception to this. After a promising start to the 2017-18 season, the side quickly plummeted back into mid-table.

The next few months were filled with inconsistent results. By late November the board had seen enough and decided to part ways with then-manager Vincenzo Montella. Replacing him was AC Milan legend Gennaro Gattuso. Gattuso had never managed a major European club, and in fact, had only a total of four years of managerial experience.

Gattuso above all else in his career, was a fighter, a warrior, someone you would choose over anyone else to go into battle with. Despite not being tactical savant, Gattuso brought value to the club in other ways. He reinvigorated the downtrodden Rossoneri with his fiery antics and never-say-quit attitude.

The team began to feed off of the manager’s energy and went unbeaten for over two months. Just as the top four, and with it, Champions League qualification seemed within reach, everything came crashing down.

The turning point was a 0-0 draw against Inter in the Derby della Madonnina in early April. The Rossoneri never quite looked the same after that. A series of losses and draws soon followed and Gattuso’s squad was once again fighting to remain in a Europa League spot.

AC Milan concluded the 2017-18 season in sixth place. They did so only a few weeks after suffering a humiliating 4-0 defeat to rivals Juventus in the Coppa Italia final. All things considered, reaching the domestic cup final as well as securing a top-six league finish were both positives for what looked to be another season lost.

During the chaos of this whirlwind season there were many positives to draw from. Patrick Cutrone was among these. At a mere 20 years of age he has already established himself as not only a building block for the future, but one of AC Milan’s best players. Cutrone led the team with 14 goals across all competitions.

Kessie is another youngster who showed flashes of brilliance last season. Combine Kessie and Cutrone with the 24-year-old Suso, and you have one of the youngest, and most-talented front lines in Serie A entering the 2018-19 season.

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This summer AC Milan were able to achieve addition by subtraction with the departures of the inconsistent Leonardo Bonucci, Andre Silva (on loan) and the underachieving Nikola Kalinic. The Rossoneri added Mattia Caldara to strengthen the back line, though this transfer was overshadowed by the arrival of Gonzalo Higuain.

Higuain gives Gattuso a consistent scoring threat at the center-forward position. This is something the team was greatly lacking during the 2017-18 campaign. AC Milan may have three of the brightest young stars in Serie A within their attacking line, but none of them are the finished product at this point. Higuain should help alleviate some of the remaining growing pains.

With the ownership situation now on solid ground and the recent return of the iconic Paolo Maldini to the club in a strategic role, things finally seem to be trending in an upward direction. Gattuso signed a contract extension until 2021. In July, AC Milan also announced that another club legend, Leonardo, would become the new Sporting Director.

Over the past five seasons the Rossoneri‘s average final league position is 7.4. An unacceptable result by their standards. With all of the changes the club has made over the past two years could this finally be the season in which AC Milan rise from the ashes and start making some serious noise in a competitive Serie A?

Three of the greatest players to ever wear the shirt of the Rossoneri (Gattuso, Leonardo, Maldini) will play a large part in answering that question. If the club are to become a major player again, it’s imperative they all succeed in their current roles. Only then will we be able to speak about the next generation of AC Milan greats.