‘The time has come’: The legacy Abate leaves after a three-year journey with Milan’s youth sector

By Oliver Fisher -

When the three whistles blew to signify the end of the 2023-24 season for Milan Primavera, many did not know that it would also signify the premature conclusion of Ignazio Abate’s time with the club.

Indeed, the Primavera’s campaign reached a cruel finale on Saturday evening as they drew 1-1 with Lazio in their play-off, which was not enough to secure progress to the next round.

The regulations stated that if a quarter-final is a draw after 90 minutes, the team with the higher placing in the regular season goes through, which meant that the Diavolo had to beat Lazio inside 90 minutes.

We spoke in a recent feature about the fact that Abate’s future at the club was far from certain, given the fact his contract is about to run out and he seems ready for a job at a senior side.

At the end of the game, Abate officially announced that he is leaving the Rossoneri during an interview with Sportitalia: This was my last match as Milan coach, I feel ready for professional football.”

A three-year journey

The crossroads could not be avoided. Abate waited until the end of the final year of his contract with his beloved Milan so as not to find himself in the position of making a radical choice. Yet it wasn’t possible.

Due to the expiration date on his deal and the position that he has found himself in with regards to his path as a young and ambitious head coach, a middle ground did not exist: he either had to stay or go, to turn left or right.

Thus, the former defender chose with his gut and that meant saying goodbye to Milan: “I’m ready to go with the big boys in a professional league.” For someone who has such a connection with the club and considers the red and black shirt a second skin, this was not easy.

The journey began on 2 July 2021, when Abate was appointed as the head coach of Milan’s U16 side. He led them all the way to the final that season where they lost to Roma, yet summer 2022 was still seen as the right time for him to take over from Federico Giunti with the Primavera.

Thus, the ‘Abate Era’ began for the U19 side, and it would be a successful two-year spell. In the first season he reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Youth League, which was the first time in the club’s history that they had gone so far.

In his second campaign, the one that has just ended, they got to the final of the Youth League and returned to the play-offs in the league. This time too Milan returned home without trophies, but Abate did the most important thing that is asked of a Primavera coach: developing the talents.

How did he do so? A playing style that was aggressive, geared around moving the ball quickly, with pressing and counter-pressing, plus a defensive phase that always looked to keep the team on the front foot.

A formation of either a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 was something he chose without obligation from above, and it helped those who would go on to make the jump to the senior side this season.

Then there was the rapport and the close bond he built up with the players on a micro level. Abate is only 37 years old and is therefore not far removed from being a player himself, which thus translates into the ability to speak and be understood by those he is in charge of.

Gems polished

Looking through some of the players that Abate has worked with in the past couple of years, it is clear to see that the environment has had a profound effect in helping certain talents to begin fulfilling their potential.

Starting from the back there is Noah Raveyre, one of the great protagonists of the Youth League journey. He arrived last summer from Saint-Etienne and made 30 appearances this season, quickly becoming a leader and a penalty shootout hero in Europe.

Jan-Carlo Simic did so well under Abate’s orders that he made his debut at San Siro against Monza on December 18th, even scoring. He played 29 games for the Primavera, and now could go to the European Championship with Serbia.

Another summer arrival was Alex Jimenez on a loan with option deal from Real Madrid. Abate used him more as a left-back and he made 24 appearances, plus five with the first team such was the nature of his explosion.

One of the leaders shaped by Abate is the captain Kevin Zeroli, who on social media thanked the coach: “I will always carry with me your determination, your advice and the memories of unforgettable moments.” He made 33 appearances, with seven goals and three assists, and a future with the first team awaits.

Francesco Camarda became the cover boy of Milan’s youth project when he became the youngest debutant in the history of Serie A at 15 years, 8 months and 15 days. He got there thanks to the seamless transition he made under Abate when he jumped into the Primavera, playing over 40 times this season.

Mattia Liberali was almost always the first substitution for Abate. An attacking wild card who is often useful for breaking down defences with talent and quality, he played 25 games, with seven goals and five assists.

Hugo Cuenca is also on the list of forwards that developed quickly. Part playmaker and part midfielder, he played 23 times this season with three goals and three assists, and was often used by Abate as a weapon to open up the most difficult matches.

A winger with work rate and quality, Diego Sia is perhaps one of the players Abate will feel closest to because he made the leap with him from the Under 16s to the Primavera in 2022 leap to the Primavera. This year he was the top scorer in the side with 15 goals (and 8 assists) in 43 appearances. He also renewed until 2028.

Finally, Filippo Scotti also grew arm in arm with Abate. A fast and technical winger, quick to run and easy on the eye with his dribbling, he made 46 appearances in 2023-24, with six goals and nine assists to his name.

Other names deserve a mention too like Lapo Nava in goal, Davide Bartesaghi, Adam Bakoune, Andrei Coubis and Clinton Nsiala in defence, Victor Eletu in midfield plus Alexander Simmelhack and Alessandro Bonomi up front. All have benefitted in some way from the coach.

The next step

There is a question mark that is emanating around social media and the newspaper columns at the moment: why did Ignazio Abate actually have to leave Milan? Was there not a sufficient pathway in place?

A move from the Primavera to the U23 side seemed very logical, yet at the time of writing the official registration of a team in Serie A is yet to come. It is not guaranteed that Abate would have seen it as an ambitious enough step, but even still he could not hold on for an opportunity that might not yet arise.

Instead he will evaluate the proposals and choose the one he deems best for his next step. There are no certain ideas yet, but what will count above all will be a project within which he can continue to grow in conjunction with the team.

Abate himself spoke to TMW earlier this week to reflect on his time at the club and reveal some of the motivations for his desire to take a leap of faith.

“It’s a wonderful experience, they’ve been two intense and beautiful years, working with young people enriches you, even on a human level,” he said.

“The Youth League allows you to compete with top-level teams in Europe and we were lucky enough to do it, the boys and I will carry it with us. I couldn’t ask for anything better for me and the kids. I think the time has come to compete with the big boys.

“I just have to thank him [Pioli], they were two good years, in which I was lucky enough to be in close contact with him. He made me grow, we talked often and, like never before this year, five or six of my boys have moved up to the first team and I’m happy they gave a hand.

“It’s an incredible thing, no one in Europe has brought so many of them to the first team on a permanent basis. I’m close to the coach and I wish him good luck for the future.”

In theory, there are no limits: Ignazio has the UEFA Pro licence on his CV, as well as his sporting director’s licence. There has been talk of a move to Serie B, where a club like Pisa might well be a good fit: a side that are looking to relaunch after a difficult year by playing exciting football.

The elimination in the preliminary round of the play-offs against Lazio is perhaps a bittersweet end to the three-year journey Abate has had in the youth sector. However, he left a mark on many players along the way, meaning his legacy could be seen for years to come.

Tags AC Milan Ignazio Abate


  1. He’d be wise to assist Carlo or Pep or some other top jack for a year or two before embarking on his solo career.

  2. I unfortunately didn’t watch the Italy u17 match against England u17 but I can see that the AC Milan youth seems to have been instrumental in their 1-1 draw and eventual penalty kick competition. Liberali equalizing England u17s lead. Longoni saving a penalty kick, Liberali again scoring on a penalty kick and then Camarda ending England u17s misery 🙂 Anyone who watched the match ?

    In the semis Denmark u17s awaits
    I’m a bit in limbo here as a Dane and AC Milan fan as I want our Italians to succeed but I also want my national team to succeed and we have a really huge talent there in Chido Obi who plays for Arsenals u18s also sixteen years old who has scored 32 goals and assisted 3 for them in 24 matches combined. He is at least for now playing for Denmark where he is born but has also played youth international matches for England and could play for Nigeria as well. That guy seems like a huge talent so the semis will be quite interesting to watch. Might go either way.

        1. Yeah liberalis goal was magnificent a true gem. Longoni definitely had a great game from the looks of it even if he also made a few mistakes as well.

  3. Grazie mister abate. I hope you success as head coach and will comeback someday coaching ACM senior team

Comments are closed

Serie A Standings

Live football scores . Current table, fixtures & results.