Needless to say, AC Milan have had some great teams over the decades. But where does the current team stand vis-a-vis the great Rossoneri side of the early 2000s?
The legendary club has had the privilege to see some of the greatest footballers of all time wear the red and black jersey, which translated into the Milanese club being one of the most successful clubs of all time.
However, success has not been a certainty in the last 13 years or so. Especially in the middle of the last decade, when Milan had very mediocre played and entered the infamous ‘banter era’.
Long gone were the days when Silvio Berlusconi would break the bank and bring in world-class players. Instead, he ended up selling that club and that put the Rossoneri under even more difficult due to poor management.
Milanb decided to take a new approach in 2019 under Elliott Management, in the hope of returning with the elite. Although it is still far away from becoming the dominating Milan again, it can be agreed that the club is on the right track as the players the Rossoneri club acquired in recent years are pushing for that world-class status.
Having a world-class squad was always something that seemed normal in a club like Milan, so the fact that the club heading back towards that direction is indeed pleasant to see.
The project that began in 2019, bringing in players with high potential through in-depth scouting, has paid off thus far with domestic success. Milan also re-announced themselves to the world as they reached the Champions League semi-finals last season.
This past summer was a very important one with the team gaining a lot of new names. Most of these have already left a mark in the current season, along with the confirmation of the majority of the core of the squad.
The squad now is a mixture of some very talented and highly-tipped players who are hungry to show the world what they are all about. Most importantly, they play for the badge.
The current Milan squad is far from being like many great previous AC Milan squads but there are a lot of similarities in this team compared to one that brought a lot of joys to the Milan faithful during the early 2000s.
For starters, the Milan squad of the early 2000s had a big GK who would do the talking on the pitch with a strong personality: Nelson Dida. The current squad happen to have the same with Mike Magnian, who got was by Dida during his first season at the club as the former Brazilian goalkeeper was the GK coach during the Scudetto-winning campaign.
Just like Dida, Mike does not say much but the moment he steps on a pitch you feel his presence, his leadership and he is an unsung hero to this Milan team, just like Nelson was 20-odd years ago.
Both are great shot-stoppers, but Mike brings something to his game that Dida did not have or need much back in the day: great footwork.
The back four have many similarities too. At right back we now have Calabria, a Milanista through and through having come through our academy and in every way being one of our own. In the 90s and early 2000s we also had another player who occasionally played right-back who just like Davide came through the Milan ranks and, except one loan spell at Monza, was a one-club man: Alessandro Costacurta
Alessandro Nesta was another big reason behind many successes back then, Malick Thiaw will hopefully be one now. Both are great on the ball but what they have in common is the amazing defensive skills that they have been blessed with. Thiaw is far from equal to Nesta as a player, but he has definitely shown that he possesses all the qualities needed to get to that level one day.
At left-back we had Mr Milan, our captain Paolo Maldini who was and still is the best left-back in the history of the game. We now have one of the best left back in the world in Theo Hernandez, who learnt a lot from Maldini himself. The Frenchman is the vice-captain of the team but whenever he puts that armband on, he seems to take his game up a notch.
A great leader and a great player, just like Paolo was. Let’s hope he sticks with us for the rest of his career just like Maldini did. Still a long way to go but it is just refreshing to see that we have another world-class left-back who is this attached to the badge.
The resemblance between the past and the present of Milan stretches beyond the backline. In fact, the midfield has the most similarities.
For starters, Yacine Adli recent emergence as a defensive midfielder reminds me of a certain Andrea Pirlo who, just like Adli, was an attacking mid when he joined the club but was put as a defensive mid and did wonders for the club.
It is still very early days, but Yacine has followed a similar journey to Pirlo in terms of adapting to a totally new position in midfield and, although it is very soon to judge, has shown his qualities and made Milanisti wonder why Pioli did not play him sooner. That added with the long hair naturally brings similarities with the number 21.
Dutch players are also known to be successful in the red and black colours. From the famous trio of Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard to Kluivert, Seedorf and more. It is the latter who has some similarities with another Dutch player in the current Milan team who is hoping to keep the Dutch success rate high: Reijnders.
Aside of the nationality, Tijjani is a very elegant footballer, always calm on the ball and great at starting attacks and powering forward, something his Dutch compatriot was great at doing too. Let’s hope that with time, Reijnders also learns how to shoot like the former number 10.
This summer, Milan lost their ‘grinta’ from the sale of Tonali. The same ‘grinta’ that in the early 2000s through Gattuso gave life to the entire team. Although it is still very early days, the arrivals of RLC and Musah have brought that lost energy from Tonali back into the squad, the same energy Rino gave to the entire squad 2 decades ago
Finally, during the early 2000s, there was one specific player in the Milan squad who always got the job done, played when he was asked to play, gave his all to the shirt without ever complaining but never got the recognition he deserves. I am talking about Ambrosini.
Massimo was the most underrated player at Milan for many years, always getting overlooked by the flashier players but he gave his all for the shirt. We now have someone who just like him is not very flashy, but he never complains, plays wherever the manager asks and does a decent job. I am talking about Rade Krunic. The Bosnian has always given his availability to the manager, played pretty much in every position on the pitch and always gave his all because he loves the red and black colours.
Milan have had some of the greatest forwards to grace the beautiful game. From Ballon D’or winners, to league top scorers, Rossoneri fans have had the blessing of witnessing some of the best lead their attack.
This summer, the attack had a massive revamp and has become a lot stronger compared to last year. Despite the many changes in attack, the reference point is still there, the man whom AC Milan rely on most of the time. The player who committed his future to this club till 2028 just a couple of months ago.
I am talking about none other than Rafael Leao, a young kid when he joined the club, but with the hunger to show the world what he was able to do. Back in 2003, another kid joined Milan when nobody knew who he was and then went on to become the best in the world. Care to guess who it is? That’s right, Riccardo Kaka.
Although they’re both very different players, they both have a similar story with Milan in terms of how it began. Kaka fulfilled all his dreams and potential with the red and black colours and let’s hope Rafa will too. He is for sure on the right track to do it.
To conclude, I am in no way trying to say that this current squad is like the ones we had before. It is far from it but on the right track to achieve what past squads did. What I am trying to say is that, despite the many changes in football, lots of players being money-hungry and the banter era at Milan, the tradition and values never left the club.
Milan is and always will have players who will play for the club, and give their all to honour the red and black colours. It is what makes this club so special.