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Return to the Roots

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For the first time that I can remember in my time as a Milan fan, close to 20 years, the Club has made an unprecedented investment in the Primavera in an effort to return the youth sector to the glory of the 1980’s when AC Milan was producing the premier youth talent on the boot and populating places on the National Team’s roster for European Championships and World Cups.

A quick look at the history of AC Milan and it is not hard to see the value of the Primavera. The greatest Milan sides of our generation, considered one of the greatest Club teams of all time, if not the best, was populated not only by Primavera talent but from regional Primavera talent. Players like Baresi, Costacurta, Albertini, Stroppa, Galli, and Maldini were scouted and lured into the Milan system as youth players and nurtured into some of the best talent Italy has ever seen. The great historic team’s of Milan were not bought, but built and then supplemented with great foreign talent that did not disrupt the dynamic team chemistry but instead integrated and complimented, to create the World Beaters and Invincibles of AC Milan.

For the first time in a long time it appears that Milan is looking to return to the roots of their success, bucking the trend of team buying in the vein of Manchester City and Real Madrid, choosing instead to strengthen the youth sector for a better future. Sure this move is to save money and born out of the need to do things on the cheap, but to think it is a “cop out” or the “easy way out” is the wrong way to look at it. This type of building should yield results but it is imperative that it is instituted and utilized properly to benefit from the results. One needs to look no further then another historic Club, Barcelona, who has proved that the youth sector can lead you to glory with a little patience, confidence, and the ability of your youth players to earn places over their aging teammates.

It is ironic however that the immediate future and recent past of the Club seems to make no bones about choosing experience over youth time and time again. With a GLARING example being a poor loss to Palermo in which Leonardo chose to play a RB, Massimo Oddo, out of position at CB, instead of giving a chance to any of the youth sector CB’s. Leo burned for his choice, as Oddo played a part in each of the three goals against on that day, and one can only wonder if any of those youngsters could have proved more useful. If anything at least a learning experience would have been under the belt of the chosen player and the Club to get a firsthand look at the mental makeup of the player.

The key to youth, as has been shown in recent times by teams like Barcelona, Manchester United, and even Bayern Munich is to give youth players the chance to play in positions in which they can prove successful. Throwing them to the wolves in a big Champions League may not be the best move; but rewarding their efforts in spot starts in the league instead of junk minutes in the Coppa Italia can prove as a confidence booster to the player and more importantly foster a sense of pride for the player and the Club. The end goal is to foster a mentality of gratitude from the player and create the hunger to continue to succeed.

With the following restructure and investment in the youth team as shown by ACMilan.com, it looks as though this move for the future is being taken seriously by the Club:

YOUTH TEAM: Coach Giovanni Stroppa. Vice-coaches Francesco Sità and Lodovico Costacurta. Goalkeeping coach Beniamino Abate.
JUNIORES BERRETTI: Coach Carmine Nunziata. Vice-coach Marco Merlo. Goalkeeping coach Luigi Romano.
ALLIEVI NATIONAL: Coach Cesare Beggi. Vice-coach Nicola Matteucci. Goalkeeping coach Luigi Romano.
ALLIEVI REGIONAL B: Coach Omar Danesi. Vice-coach Emanuele Pischetola. Goalkeeping coach Davide Pinato.
REALLY YOUNG NATIONAL: Coach Roberto Bertuzzo. Vice-coach Stefano Nava. Goalkeeping coach Davide Pinato.
REALLY YOUNG REGIONAL: Coach Riccardo Tumiatti. Vice-coach Simone Baldo. Goalkeeping coach Francesco Navazzotti.
REALLY YOUNG REGIONAL B: Coach Walter De Vecchi. Vice-coach Riccardo Galbiati. Goalkeeping coach Francesco Navazzotti.
ESORDIENTI 1999: Coach Luca Morin. Vice-coach Valter Biffi. Goalkeeping coach Maurizio Ragno.
ESORDIENTI 2000: Coach Davide Bianchessi. Vice-coach Alessandro Lupi. Goalkeeping coach Maurizio Ragno.
PULCINI 2001: Coach Giovanni Valenti. Vice-coach Giuseppe Misso. Goalkeeping coach Maurizio Ragno.
PULCINI 2002: Coach Andrea Biffi. Vice-coach Massimiliano Sorgato. Goalkeeping coach Maurizio Ragno.

This list covers the youth teams from the ages of ten up through the Primavera. What you notice from the list of coaches is that the staff is actually being deployed throughout the system; from a coaching standpoint this is an excellent choice giving the players familiarity to the system and allows the Coaches to institute a consistent tactical system and style of play up to the first team. The notable name not found on the list is Baresi who will join Galli as an overseer of the sector and hopefully develop a keen eye for talent as the players move through the ranks.

As Milan continues to buy young players and place them into the system the pressing point and question becomes will this investment be used and reflected in the first team. We are all familiar with names like Zigoni, Albertazzi, Verdi, De Vito, Astori, Romagnoli, Strasser, and Oduamadi, but until these players are given a chance to prove their value to the first team the question will remain about this investment and the value that it will bring in the short term versus the long term. I would hope that the curiosity of at least of few you would be peaked about what these players can do after their most recent successes in the last season. Surely as we watch our first team players flounder around the pitch with little heart and intensity a bit of youthful exuberance would be hard to argue against, but the idea of playing youth over experience continues to polarize the entirety of the tifosi.

The ability to actually watch the youth team in action or even see these young players play is difficult; instead we rely mainly on the Club’s statistics and recaps of their performances but this idea that festers about these players not being good enough is immensely frustrating. Shouldn’t they be afforded an opportunity to prove that talent? Until they do we will never know and this investment will be all for naught! Just imagine if those highly esteemed names from above were questioned to the extent that this group is? Imagine the confidence lost by players like Galli or Maldini if they worked hard and were still not chosen in favor of a player whose was played out of position! What does that do for the psyche of younger player and is it any worse than being shell shocked in a match? Youth needs nurturing, chances to succeed, and the support of those around them to be rewarded with playing time for the hard work and effort, and if all goes well that show of support will be rewarded back to the Club with a player who plays for the colors and as a thank you for the opportunity. We can continue to flounder with an aging roster playing game to game, season to season or we can make the turn for a successful future, the choice seems easy, but it is not made by me.

Here as some compilations featuring the youth team talent: