Leonardo Bonucci insists he will work hard to “shift the balance” in AC Milan’s favour next season after completing a shock switch from Serie A champions Juventus.
The 30-year-old Italy defender, who had been linked with Chelsea and Manchester City, unexpectedly called time on his successful seven-year spell with Juve to move to San Siro last Friday.
Bonucci is thus far the standout capture in a summer of aggressive transfer activity by Milan, who are looking to land the Scudetto for the first time since 2011 by investing heavily in the first-team squad.
Ricardo Rodriguez, Lucas Biglia, Mateo Musacchio and Andre Silva are among the other expensive recruits but Rossoneri fans appear to be most excited about 70-time Italy international Bonucci.
And on Monday he promised to advance the Milan mission in 2017-18, writing on his official Instagram account: “Some supporters asked me if I’ll be able to shift the balance… I will work to make it, fighting with more hunger than ever.”
The former Inter Milan player has also been handed the captain’s armband for a campaign which will see the Rossoneri compete in the Europa League following a sixth-placed finish last term.
Now owned by Chinese businessman Li Yonghong, Milan are reportedly eyeing big-money deals for Torino hitman Andrea Belotti and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Borussia Dortmund this month.
Just like that, it’s over. Gianluigi Donnarumma has signed a new contract with AC Milan, drawing a line under a tense few weeks during which he initially refused to put pen to paper with the Rossoneri.
After eighteen months of being idolised by the club’s fans, the teenage goalkeeper and his agent Mino Raiola had soured that relationship as he had just one-year remaining on his current deal and it appeared an exit this summer was inevitable.
That led to ugly scenes, including supporters at an Italy Under-21 clash labelling him “Dollarumma” and throwing bundles of fake cash at the youngster as they believed he was making a decision based purely on how he and his representative could most benefit financially.
Of course, Raiola – who has engineered high-profile moves for players like Mario Balotelli and Zlatan Ibrahimovic – is no stranger to such vitriol, but it clearly took its toll on Donnarumma.
He made a number of mistakes at the recent UEFA U-21 European Championships, errors which are easy to attribute to his age but which in truth are hugely uncharacteristic of the Milan No99.
Yes he has been at fault for goals in the past, but the majority of those were due to his inexperience whereas this summer he displayed a previously unseen mental fragility that highlighted just how he felt about becoming a hate figure for the Curva Sud at San Siro.
Ever since he broke into the first team back in October 2015, Donnarumma professed his love of the Rossoneri, regularly professing to be a fan himself and famously kissing the badge on his shirt after a controversial defeat away to Juventus.
“Sempre loro!” he cursed on the pitch that day – “Always them!” – as he implied vociferously that the Bianconeri were given far too many decisive decisions by the referee.
As talk of a new contract began to surface he repeatedly stressed his devotion to the cause, only for negotiations to drag on into the summer.
“Everyone knows that my wish is to stay at Milan. I’m looking for a house in the city to live with my family,” he said in an interview with GQ that offered hope an agreement could be reached. “I’m calm, all the parties involved know the decision I’ve made. I’m very much tied to these colours.”
But eventually they collapsed and the new management team at the club took swift and decisive action. Hastily calling a press conference after meeting with the player’s agent, CEO Marco Fassone announced that their multiple attempts to meet the demands had failed.
“Raiola informed us that Donnarumma has made a definitive decision not to renew the contract with Milan,” he told reporters. “It is a definitive decision, made by the player and naturally it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, but now we must move forward.”
Not to be outdone, Raiola would respond by holding court in his own kitchen with a small group of handpicked journalists. He insisted that the club had attempted to intimidate Donnarumma and threatened legal action, only to fall eerily silent in the following days as news leaked that the player had reconsidered his stance.
As well he should, as the work done since Chinese businessman Li Yonghong took control of the club seems to be firmly shaking the sleeping giant back from a deep and all-encompassing slumber.
The latter years of Silvio Berlusconi’s reign saw them mired in mediocrity, but the new owner appears hellbent on having a similar impact to that of the former Italian Prime Minister when he first bought the club back in 1986.
Fassone and new sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli have done incredible work, strengthening a squad that desperately needed an overhaul. Coach Vincenzo Montella has to be astounded at their progress, already completing deals for Mateo Musacchio, Ricardo Rodriguez, Andre Silva, Hakan Calhanoglu, Franck Kessie and Fabio Borini.
That improves every facet of the side and echoes the arrival of Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard during Berlusconi’s early days at the helm.
However, just as important to the club’s success back then was the Italian core, the likes of Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini adding a homegrown flavour to a well-built team that would sweep all before them.
Like those iconic Milan heroes. Donnarumma spent his formative years in the club’s youth academy and seemed destined to become a standard bearer and future captain of this bright new era.
He may well go on to represent the Rossoneri for many years, but the presence of a heavily reduced buyout clause if they fail to qualify for the Champions League shows a distinct lack of faith in their plans.
For the sake of a few extra Euros in his pocket (and undoubtedly Raiola’s too), the 18-year-old has broken the incredible bond he shared with those who pay to watch Milan every Sunday.
Just like that it’s over, no matter how long it lasts.
Over a glorious quarter of a century he starred for AC Milan on the football pitch, now at 49 years of age Paolo Maldini will feature in a tennis tournament in Milan.
Maldini, now working as a director at Miami FC, made it through a qualifying tournament to earn a doubles wildcard for the Aspria Tennis Cup (starts June 26), which is part of the Challenger circuit, the level below the ATP.
His partner and coach Stefano Landonio said: “He’s got a good service, he doesn’t have a speciality shot but he has no weak points either.”
Landonio told Il Tennis Italiano: “We knew we could play well. It was our first competitive tournament, but we previously played some exhibition matches with Paolo for charity activities. Having started to play so late, just 5-6 years ago, he struggles a little bit on a technique level.
“Considering what he did in the past, he has amazing mental and physical abilities. Mentally he doesn’t struggle in the key moments, he is really strong.”
Maldini won 26 trophies with AC Milan including five Champions Leagues before finally hanging up his boots in 2009 aged 41. He also played 126 times for Italy.