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Insert coin to save Milan? Somebody did!

Saving Milan wasn’t a game, but now the Rossoneri are building a video game fantasy.

AC Milan v Juventus FC - Tim Cup Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

March 2015.

Milan beat Cagliari 3-1 as the Rossoneri edged near an irrelevant campaign where Il Diavolo finished 10th, their lowest Serie A finish since the 1997-98 season. Jeremy Menez scored a brace while countryman Philippe Menez found the net with a thumping effort to down their relegation-threatened foes and earn the victory, but everywhere else Milan were taking a loss.

Beleaguered by a lack of finances, leadership structure or any semblance of long-term planning, Milan found themselves floundering at mid-table watching better-ran, less historically significant sides dominate the higher positions in Calcio. Following the 2011 Serie A title that was won off the backs of veterans in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Clarence Seedorf, Alessandro Nesta and Mark Van Bommel, Milan entered a tail spin that only now have the Rossoneri began to recover from.

AC Milan v Atalanta BC  - Serie A Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

A 500m Fininvest fine and the decline of owner Silvio Berlusconi's political interests turned Milan from crown jewel to cumbersome hobby for the former Italian PM, and as cost-cutting and year-to-year planning replaced investment and longevity - the strength of the once great European giants waned. Losing Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2012 for the paltry figure of £42m was the domino that preceded several others - the club attempting to replace a core of leadership and powerful locker room characters with European journeymen, once-great veterans and whoever looked decent for Genoa that one time in February.

The resulting mess was apparent; a famous club being worn down by a lack of investment, leadership and vision, personified on the pitch by players without identity, heart or the requisite quality to wear the colours of a team whose only rivals were once Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona, rather than Hellas Verona and Torino.

Juventus FC v AC Milan - Serie A Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

However, it appears that a coin has been inserted into the dormant Milan machine - with Chinese investment arriving in Spring, Milan were sold from the stagnant clutches of Berlusconi and handed to a pair of hands keen to grasp trophies, rather than the bosoms of Eastern European models.

The consortium led by Han Li has injected funds with the intent of placing Milan back on the map of European football and the Rossoneri have wasted no time; seemingly intent on trying to make up for six summers of missed opportunities in one three month shopping spree.

New transfer directors Massimo Mirabelli and Marco Fassone began quickly, efficiently selecting players that were clearly evaluated as attractive throughout the months leading to the end of summer and effectively getting deals done at a pace that many Milan fans will feel alien - used to months of ifs, buts, empty quotes and endless dinners hosted at dusty restaurants in uptown Milano.

Mirabelli and Fassone began modestly, wrapping up a deal for Argentine defender Mateo Musaccio for 15m, securing a partner for Alessio Romagnoli and giving retained coach Vincenzo Montella time to integrate his man.

Then, the first truly impressive buy was Ivorian midfielder Frank Kessie - a young, bullish midfielder who was a vital cog in an impressive Atalanta midfield last season at just 20 years old. Milan again finished the deal with impressive speed; securing a two-year loan with an option to buy for around 28m. If the boy matches his potential, Milan could be paying peanuts for their own Radja Nainggolan.

AC Milan v Borussia Dortmund - 2017 International Champions Cup China Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

After that, the deals kept coming; Andre Silva, another forward from the Porto conveyor belt of future world superstars arrived out of nowhere for 37m, further confirming the financial muscle at Via Turati - Silva a wily, pacey and devilishly creative forward that could thrive when paired next to a poacher of high quality - while also just 21.

Ricardo Rodriguez, who without kicking a ball is already Milan's best left-back since Paolo Maldini (seriously, the list that followed him is a f*cking nightmare) offers a mix of attacking verve, defensive nous and a genuine threat from set-pieces. Speaking of set-pieces, Hakan Calhanoglu also arrived from Bayern Leverkusen, a young, creative midfielder who appears to exclusively score absolutely ridiculous goals.

What, more?! Yep, Milan continued to work, signing Andrea Conti - arguably Italy's best young full-back, Fabio Borini as a useful swiss army knife forward, who impressed the club with his athleticism and will expect to be a decent fill in for Suso/Silva/etc. Lucas Biglia was brought in from Lazio, offering experience, discipline and a passing range that Milan had hoped Riccardo Montolivo would have once brought.

Milan's purchases have had a common theme - Serie A experienced or suited, young, promising and in-keeping with a vision expressed by Montella, which has clearly been acted upon by the club's tenacious new management.

However, the most recent arrival has laid the most obvious statement down that aside from smart, investment-friendly buys, truly confirms the bombastic ambition of AC Milan has returned to the transfer market.

Italy v Liechtenstein - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Leonardo Bonucci, arguably the best defender in the world and easily the most impressive with the ball at his feet, arrived in Milanello as part of a €40m deal that sent shockwaves throughout Italy and the rest of the footballing world. The jewel in the defensive crown atop of domestic and long-time rivals Juventus, Bonucci was thought be the captain-to-be at the Bianconeri after Gianluigi Buffon's eventual retirement - but has traded in the footballing security of Turin for the project at Milan following a reported spat between him and, ironically, former Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri.

While Bonucci's exit from Juve indicates at more bubbling beyond the surface at the Serie A champions, his choice to go to Milan represents Il Diavolo's increased attraction among their summer spree - if Bonucci's agent had sent feelers out in June, prior to the acquisitions made by the club, would Leonardo be holding a red-and-black shirt in August? It is unlikely. Milan's return, at least domestically, to the forefront of the mercato has reshuffled the balance of power to a more traditional hierarchy, and one that players are already becoming aware of; more often are attractive transfer targets informing agents of a willingness to play in Italy for the newly-financed giants - with a wallet suddenly mirroring the glittering history and trophy cabinet.

Bonucci's arrival not only gives Milan an incredible player, one who will immediately provide a world-class anchor at the back alongside young defenders Conti, Romagnoli and Musaccio, it gives the club status. Suddenly, bids for Alvaro Morata, Emerick Aubemayang and Renato Sanches are not being treated with scorn by club executives - optimistic requests for loans are being replaced by bids made with appropriate sums, negotiations are completed at a professional pace, and personal contracts are agreed in record time. Milan's embodiment as an elite club is becoming more shape than shadow as every transfer is agreed, every signature is placed and every shirt is held.

Even the handling of the Gigio Donnarrumma contract dispute was met with professionalism and persistence in-keeping with a club keen to hold onto key players despite the will of bonus-hungry agents - finally tying the starlet down to a four year contract extension that will, at the very least, guarantee financial re-investment in the event of a sale, giving the two most impressive executives of the summer another €60m to chase a replacement, plus another investment too.

Season tickets are being sold with enthusiasm, San Siro expecting to play host to up to 45,000 season ticket holders come September 2017, dormant fans returning from the woodwork to witness a product that can replace the disappointments of the last six years, become a force domestically in 2018 and, eventually, in Europe beyond that.

The fun hasn't stopped either, with the Rossoneri in negotiations for 22-year-old Toro bomber Andrea Belotti while also chasing Portugese starlet Renato Sanches - two players that would, yet again, increase the Rossoneri's ascent towards Scudetto contention and begin to build a framework towards challenging for several trophies in the coming years.

Of course, there is now immense pressure on Vincenzo Montella to integrate these parts and answer several tactical questions - back three or back four? Midfield two or three? Front three or two man partnership? However, conundrums aside, typically, the addition of quality players is the fastest route from A to B in modern football, and Milan have done that in spades already and on paper, look to already be Juventus's most able challenger to a title in May. The Bianconeri will of course be favourites - and deservedly so - but a dark horse bet on Milan is not as laughable as it would've been three months ago.

Insert coin and save AC Milan? It looks like someone has.