AC Milan are working fast to get back on track after years of irrelevance

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  • “Milan, Milan, only with you…” go the words of the club hymn, the song a familiar sound to anyone who has attended a match at San Siro as it blasts out around the historic venue that has seen so many glorious moments.

    The famous names to have pulled on the instantly recognisable red-and-black stripes reads like a who’s who of world football, and no stadium in Italy quite able to match the big match atmosphere generated when the Meazza is full.

    Sadly over recent years those occasions have been few and far between, the team slipping into mid-table mediocrity. Yet this summer has seen the new owners quickly set about demolishing the malaise that had begun to seep into every part of the club.

    Where once Silvio Berlusconi used the club to raise his profile and popularity, Chinese entrepreneur Yonghong Li – a 48-year-old who even his own compatriots know little about – now seems hellbent on doing the same.

    The sale took months to complete, a saga that looked repeatedly doomed, but even when it was finalised there was very little talk coming from Yonghong Li and his collaborators.

    While he may not have landed at the training ground in a helicopter and has none of the brash pomposity so synonymous with his predecessor, Milan’s owner appears to have quickly grasped the notion that, when it comes to Italian football, money talks.

    Milan finished sixth last term, 28 points behind league winners Juventus and 23 away from a Champions League berth. That more than highlighted the gulf they needed to bridge, and new sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli was also acutely aware that they would enter the Europa League in late July, more than a month before Serie A got underway.

    Incredibly, he has sliced through Italy’s notoriously slow and ponderous transfer market to already complete signings for four players.

    Central defender Mateo Musacchio was part of a Villarreal backline that conceded the second-fewest goals in La Liga, while left-back Ricardo Rodriguez was a target for Arsenal.

    Franck Kessie was wanted by Antonio Conte at Chelsea but rejected them and Roma to join the Rossoneri, before the stunning acquisition of one of Europe’s most promising young strikers shocked everyone.

    “When I retire, Portugal will be in good hands because they have already found a great striker: Andre Silva,” Cristiano Ronaldo told La Gazzetta dello Sport, and now the 21-year-old will lead the line for Milan.

    Serie A will have four spots in Europe’s elite competition next term, but while rivals Fiorentina, Inter and Roma all appointed new men in recent weeks, the Rossoneri had Vincenzo Montella firmly established on the bench.

    Even with the future uncertain and his squad seriously flawed, the coach worked on improving their defence last season and that will stand them in good stead moving forward.

    Centre-back Alessio Romagnoli continues to blossom into a cornerstone of a genuine contender while goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma is arguably the most talented teenager in the sport.

    His contract situation will need to be resolved, but a recent interview allayed many fears among the club’s supporters after months of agent Mino Raiola performing his usual routine.

    “Everyone knows that my wish is to stay at Milan,” Donnarumma told GQ.

    Fans of the Rossoneri will hope that is more than a convenient soundbite, but what Yonghong Li, Mirabelli and Montella have done is provide the supporters two gifts they needed: hope and enthusiasm.

    Serie A has always been at its most potent when the red-and-black half of San Siro has been among the title contenders.

    It appears that this Serie A giant has finally reawakened after sleepwalking through the last few seasons. How long before this great club is celebrating once again?