Milan's acquisition of Alessio Romagnoli was a key move in establishing and building upon a core of young players who, if handled properly, can grow into something special.
The Rossoneri now have a group of talented young players, some of whom, have already had success in Serie A, despite their age.
Key members of this core include M'Baye Niang, Jose Mauri, Mattia De Sciglio, Romagnoli. With this emerging group of starlets Milan looks to have a young core that can rival almost any in Serie A.
Niang looked poised to hit the ground running this season after a loan spell with Genoa, where he hit five goals in just 14 matches, but his foot injury delayed the start of his season. People forget that when he was signed and hailed as an inspiring prospect, he was only 17 years old. He was Milan's most impressive attacker in the preseason, and now has the potential to be a difference maker up front. The 20-year-old Frenchman will get his first action of the season Saturday against Atalanta.
Mauri was one of the only bright lights in Parma's nightmare season, which resulted in relegation and left the club bankrupt. The stocky midfielder had a great season for Parma. He had the club's goal of the season, giving the cellar dwellers a win for the ages against eventual champion Juventus.
Parma's misfortune was to Milan's benefit, as the Rossoneri snapped up the highly sought after player for free. Despite the fact that he has yet to feature in Serie A this season, he has been a regular call-up for the Italian U-21 team. But now that Milan is 11 matches in and Mauri has yet to feature, the youngster was left off the Azzurrini squad for the upcoming European Championship qualifiers. Three Milan youngsters—Romagnoli, Davide Calabria and Gianluigi Donnarumma—are in the squad.
Donnarumma has become a household name seemingly overnight. He replaced Diego Lopez as the No. 1 goalkeeper ahead of the Sassuolo match, and he looks set to be Milan's starter for the foreseeable future. The 16-year-old Italian has made seven saves in three matches, as the defense, led by Romagnoli, has played well in front of him.
Calabria has also been able to make an impact this season, despite only being 18. When Milan was lacking at the fullback position, Calabria stepped in. He came on as a substitute when De Sciglio got hurt earlier this season and immediately provided important production down the right flank, registering an assist in his first match of the season. He has not played since De Sciglio returned to the lineup, but he has proven he can step in if needed.
At the tender age of 20, Romagnoli is already starting for a top-flight club. This was virtually guaranteed to happen after Milan paid the hefty price of 30 million euros for his services. Romagnoli has yet to live up to the price tag, despite some good performances. At times, Milan fans get glimpses of his potential. He is strong, good in aerial duels, great at starting attacks from the backline and has an amazing comfort on the ball. He is everything a modern day center back should be. At other times, he fails to showcase his talent. Consider his red card early in the season which also resulted in a penalty. In Milan's 3-1 win against Lazio Sunday, he couldn't be described as particularly good or bad, just OK. Another big-money Milan signing from the summer, Andrea Bertolacci, has turned his early misfortunes around – excluding his injury. Maybe Romagnoli can do that, as well, injury-free, and start living up to his potential.
De Sciglio's stock has certainly fallen since his debut season, but at only 22 years old, he has already started for Italy at a major tournament and been a key player for Milan. De Sciglio has the tools to be a catalyst going forward for Milan, he just has to perform. His early season form is a good sign De Sciglio is beginning to turn the page and realize his full potential.
There are a couple other players waiting in the wings to succeed at Milan. Two such players were recently ranked among the 50 best young players in the world by Guardian.
Many Milan fans already know the allure of Hachim Mastour. When one looks up Hachim Mastour on YouTube, there are too many videos to count. After all, with 800,000 likes on Facebook and more than 100,000 followers on Twitter, Hachim Mastour is already a household name. His fluidity on the ball coupled with his ability to quickly exploit space and his refined passes justifies why Milan paid 500,000 euros for him when he was 14. Mastour has been loaned out to Malaga where he is hunting for playing time as he tries to develop into the player everyone expects him to become.
Another player for Milan fans to look out for is Primavera star Manuel Locatelli, another Milan player ranked in Guardian's top 50 youngsters. Locatelli, a 17 year old born in Lecco, Italy, is not as well known as Mastour or Romagnoli. This does not mean, however, he does not have as much potential. "He can be the next captain of Milan," said Mauro Bianchessi, Milan's head of youth scouting. "He's a bit (Andrea) Pirlo and a bit (Riccardo) Montolivo". Locatelli has yet to break into the first team, but with his unique ability to perfect every pass and his calmness and intelligence with the ball, he can live up to his potential and be a true a maestro in the midfield. Only time can tell when such a promising young player lives up to his expectation of one of the 50 best young players in the world.
For a team that gets criticized constantly for giving up on youth and purchasing older players, Romagnoli, Niang, Mauri, and De Sciglio is an impressive collection of starlets. With almost no hype or chatter Milan have managed to assemble a core of youngsters who have already experienced legitimate success in Serie A. In order for these youngsters to reach their full potential, Milan will have to properly develop them an provide them with playing time, patience and confidence. Milan have a group of young and talented players, now it is squarely on them to turn them into real players.