AC Milan sporting directing Massimiliano Mirabelli did all he could to strengthen the Rossoneri last summer. He acquired 10 players from all across the globe in hopes of securing a Champions League spot.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the appointment of Gennaro Gattuso as manager in late November that the club looked capable of beating those toward the top of the table.
With 15 matches remaining on the regular season schedule, Milan sits in eighth place, only three points away from Sampdoria (38 pts) and a return chance at Europa League. Still alive in European play, as we speak, Gattuso’s bunch will square off against Ludogrets in the first leg of the round of 32 on Feb 15.
However, with their eye on the prize that is automatic qualification into the worlds most prestigious continental football tournament, the powers that be in Casa Milano are already hard at work planning their June transfer strategy.
Perhaps the wisest move Mirabelli made in the summer of 2017 was not caving into the irrational demands of Torino owner Urbano Cairo — when Cairo demanded at least €100 million for those interested in acquiring 24-year-old striker, Andrea Belotti.
Though many, including myself, succumbed to the belief that Belotti would eventually head to Manchester United -- to form a dangerous partnership with Romelu Lukaku -- the move to north-west England never came to fruition.
Instead, Belotti stayed in Torino, where he has been unable to capitalize on the success of 2016-2017. The strong all-around play of Il Gallo that resulted in a career-high 26 goals has only manifested itself in him finding the back of the net on seven occasions this season.
Signed until 2021 at €1.5 million per season, Belotti chose the wrong time to go sour. But perhaps not in the eyes of Milan.
According to Italian Football Daily, Urbano Cairo is massively disappointed in the play of Belotti, especially considering the Torino striker won’t have the opportunity to recoup some of his lost value at this summer’s World Cup in Russia.
Federico Albrizio of Calciomercato suggests the Granata striker is now worth less than €50 million, which is enticing the Milanista’s to pounce while the opportunity presents itself.
Personally, I credit Belotti’s less than stellar performance not only to a number of nagging injuries but the reality of perhaps stardom coming too far too fast.
In just his third Serie A campaign, Belotti became the poster boy for Italian soccer. With that comes the type of pressure not many young people are accustomed to dealing with. It would certainly help for Belotti to have a mentor like Gattuso — you know, to help keep his head on straight.
Of course, depending on who the manager is next season, if Milan were to switch to a 4-4-2 formation, highlighted by the explosive offensive weaponry of Cutrone and Belotti, Champions League could become a realistic goal this time next year.
I’m well aware many in Italy believe Belotti is a one-year wonder. And that’s fine. Let him knock the rust off while still in Turin, allowing Mirabelli time to find takers for Silva and fellow underachieving striker Nikola Kalinic.
Perhaps even in the face of Italy missing the World Cup, and a potential mid-table finish for Milan, some good can come out of this tumultuous season.