Last season ended in failure. There’s no other way to put it, the season was a big disappointment for such a well-renowned academy as the Rossoneri’s.
Milan were pretty much free-falling from the start of the 2018-19 campaign. The Rossoneri tried to turn the season around and fired head coach Alessandro Lupi midway through, and replaced him with Federico Giunti on the 28th of December 2018. But the damage had already been done and the season was not salvageable.
Milan Primavera ended in 15th place out of 16 teams in Italy’s tier-one division for youth teams, after conceding a last-minute equaliser in the final game of the season against Fiorentina – a game which was a must-win game for Milan.
The blows didn’t stop there. Throughout the summer, Giunti saw key players such as Tiago Djalo, Raoul Bellanova, Przemyslaw Bargiel and Franck Tsadjout leave. The squad became even thinner, less experienced and younger than it already was.
But Giunti found that a lot of the answers were already within the squad and in particular with the even younger players. That, combined with Maldini’s increased investment in youth (Luan Capanni, Emmanuele Pecorino and Simone Potop among others) has created a good foundation to operate with.
In contrary to last season, the Primavera has solely relied on a possession-based 4-3-1-2 formation this season which was introduced towards the end of last season, whereas the go-to system before that was a 4-3-3. Coach Giunti has rotated quite heavily throughout the opening nine games of the season, apart from a few positions.
Captain Marco Brescianini has started in one of the three-man midfield positions whenever he’s been available, and the same goes for Daniel Maldini at CAM, Alberto Barazetta at right-back, Simone Potop at centre-back, and Matteo Soncin as the goalkeeper.
And what a recipe for success it has been. Milan’s Primavera are yet to suffer a defeat in the Primavera 2a this season, with 11 victories and 2 draws in the opening 13 games whilst comfortably occupying the 1st place with 9 points down to Verona at 2nd place. They are also undefeated in the Coppa Italia Primavera where they have won three out of three games, with an upcoming game in the quarter-finals against Fiorentina Primavera at the end of January.
So how has this all come about in the aftermath of the disaster of last season?
There are many factors that have worked in synergy to improve the overall product: a stronger collective, individual brilliance, and smart investments.
Giunti has – from the moment he arrived as head of the Primavera – underlined how he intends to keep the collective growing for the team; implement a will to succeed at all costs, understand the privilege of being able to train and play for Milan, always go the extra mile to help out your teammates, and for the players who are fortunate enough to train with the senior squad to “steal their craft” and take in everything you possibly can to improve yourself.
Looking at investments, there are two names that stand out: Luan Capanni and Emanuele Pecorino. Paolo Maldini poached Capanni soon after last season was concluded on a free transfer. The 19-year-old Brazilian was one of Lazio Primavera’s best players and best performers last season. He scored 13 goals in 19 games, produced dominating performances and even debuted for Lazio in Serie A. This season, he’s scored seven goals in 10 games for the Rossoneri Primavera.
As a player, there are similarities between Capanni and the star of the senior team; Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Both are big and strong players, with impeccable technique and a great eye for scoring goals. Capanni also has tremendous movement to cause danger in enemy territory.
As for Pecorino, he’s been signed on loan from Catania’s Primavera team. The 18-year-old Sardinian has scored 9 goals in 15 outings for the Rossoneri’s Primavera this season.
Apart from Capanni and Pecorino, has 17-year-old goalkeeper, Andreas Jungdal, and 20-year-old Simone Potop been impressive. Potop, who’s on loan from Torino’s Primavera, has taken on the role as the leader in a Primavera defense that has conceded 9 goals in 13 games and Jungdal who was signed from Danish side Vejle BK has kept 3 clean sheets and only conceded 3 goals in the 5 games he has played.
It’s this type of individual performance that has gone a long way for the Primavera this season. Apart from the aforementioned, the two stand out performers this season have been Milan products Daniel Maldini and captain Marco Brescianini.
Daniel Maldini has scored 6 goals and assisted 4 in 10 games from his CAM position. A work-horse with tremendous work-rate and creativity. He’s been the offensive orchestrator and playmaker who makes the offense go-round at times. Maldini is blessed with a beautiful right-foot seen to passing and shooting, which has even ended up in a few magical goals this season. Most recently a stunning free-kick in the 6-0 victory against Pordenone.
Marco Brescianini continues to impress with his technical skills which he has showcased in numerous pre-season games with the senior squad. Brescianini has scored 8 goals and assisted 2 in 13 games and has proven to be a dangerous goal-threat from midfield. He’s also been a tremendous leader on the pitch, really embracing the captain role, and firing on his men to never give up or settle regardless of the result.
As for who’s closest to the senior squad there are three names that truly stand out from the rest: Daniel Maldini, Luan Capanni and Marco Brescianini. Not only because of the numbers they have produced throughout this season, but also because of the level of maturity they play with.
Neither of the three can often be seen making rookie-ish mistakes and are usually mature in their decision-making on the pitch. Then there’s also a technical superiority amongst the three contra the rest of the squad. Brescianini and Maldini have already gotten a taste of playing senior level football for the Rossoneri, but don’t be surprised to see Capanni take part in next season’s pre-season.
That said, there are also a few underdogs, like Giacomo Olzer and Riccardo Tonin for example. Olzer is a mesmerising playmaker with a magical left-foot for passing, and Tonin is a lovely modern-day striker who possesses great intelligence, speed, and a combination of technique and clinical finishing.
These two are not on the same level seen to maturity though, as Maldini, Capanni, and Brescianini. Therefore – as will probably be the case – it’ll do them good to stay and develop further in the Primavera.
So after a season which seemed to be a never-ending dark tunnel, the light is in sight and there are shoots of recovery with a clear plan in place. Long may it continue.