Quality on display at Copa America: Eight talents Milan should look at

By Ben Dixon -

With the Copa America well underway, we thought we’d look at some of the players who AC Milan should be (not are) looking at, with the intention of strengthening Paulo Fonseca’s squad.

The Americas have always been a hotspot for talent on the biggest stage, and the Copa America is a fantastic competition to watch, given the players on the show could be available for a better price than players playing at the European Championship.

In the current market, players with European nationality often sell for higher prices – which is understandable, given the regulations for clubs to have European players within their squads in both Serie A and the Champions League.

However, there are spaces in the registration rules that allow non-EU recruitment, and until this season, Serie A clubs could add two non-EU players to their squad, but one non-EU player was required to leave. Following a decision in May, though, now there is no need for a non-EU player to be sold to allow new transfers, but the cap remains in place at two per season.

Now with the legalities of the situation clarified, let’s get into the fun bit, the players.

What do Milan need?

Ahead of the mercato, the four positions being targeted in this window have been clear. A striker tops the list, and a new central defender follows shortly after, then a right-back and defensive midfielder are also requested.

There are three other things to note. Firstly, Milan will look for opportunities within the mercato, if things arise that are exciting or help to build a better squad, they will be evaluated. Secondly, just because the primary aim may be to sign a striker and central defender, it does not mean the budget for these positions will be diminished by one player.

In recent weeks, there have been reports suggesting that the Rossoneri are keen to add Joshua Zirkzee and Armando Broja to their striker department alongside Luka Jovic. Whilst the idea may be there regarding the players, of course, this can change, but it suggests that a player may be looked to grow and then become a prominent member of the squad, which has to be considered when searching for players for this list.

The final point is, perhaps, an extension of the second, but Milan’s Achilles heel last season was the depth in the squad, whether it be for injuries – we’re looking at the defence – or lack of viable, different options – the midfield. Therefore, this is another consideration.

Defence

Central defence is an area where recruitment is needed desperately, even before a decision was made about Simon Kjaer’s future. However, following the Dane’s decision, there is a need for at least two additions to the backline, and a right-back is another area being considered.

Piero Hincapie – Ecuador

The first player that fits the bill would be Piero Hincapie, the Ecuadorian defender. For Bayer Leverkusen, he has been a mainstay this season on the left of Xabi Alonso’s back three, and given Paulo Fonseca is keen on adding a left-sided central defender, this is a signing that would make a lot of sense.

At 22 years old, he often looks much older and delivers performances that would be taken for granted if he were in the prime of his career, which is extremely promising and is something that matches RedBird’s mercato plans.

As a player, Hincapie has often been praised for his level of technical ability and understanding of the game, especially tactically. Given Fonseca has utilised three defenders in his attacking phases of play, this is not a role that the Ecuadorian will struggle with, and given he is comfortable as a full-back himself, he can serve as a rotation for Theo Hernandez if/when needed.

Furthermore, he is remarkably quick and a physical monster, which is a must alongside Fikayo Tomori and a desired skillset in the football that Fonseca will look to play, making Hincapie an intriguing player to watch.

Jhon Lucumi – Colombia

The second player who will be the topic of heavy speculation this summer is Jhon Lucumi. The Bologna defender had an incredible season for Bologna, and alongside Riccardo Calafiori – who is an interest to Milan already – he made part of the defence which conceded the third least goals in Serie A last season.

Before the tournament, it was unknown what role the defender was going to play for the national team, but he started the first game against Paraguay, which showed he was firmly in Nestor Lorenzo’s plans.

However, he was forced to be substituted just 25 minutes into the first game, which caused some worry, but reports suggest there are no major fears about his condition, and he could return as early as the next game.

Whilst Calafiori often started as the left-sided of the partnership, Lucumi is left-footed and has played several times on the left side, which means he fits the parameters of what Fonseca wants. A physical, quick defender who has all the traits of the perfect modern defender, he could be the perfect partner for Fikayo Tomori.

There is a drawback, though. Given Calafiori looks likely to depart, given the extensive interest in his services, there is a chance that Bologna could be reluctant to lose two of their defensive stalwarts and may refuse to sell the central defender or add a premium to one or both of their prices.

Yan Couto – Brazil

Rumours have suggested that Milan are interested in a Brazilian full-back already – Emerson Royal – however, he is not the player we’re looking at here. Instead, Yan Couto is the player in mention, and given Emerson has not been called up to represent the Selecao this summer, he has a chance to feature for the Brazil squad.

Danilo was given the nod in Brazil’s first game, and as the captain, it remains to be seen how many minutes Couto will play. However, looking at the Brazilian’s performances in La Liga, he seems to be the heir to the position when he is eventually given the reigns.

Couto’s La Liga season was phenomenal, and he was a large part of the success of the Spanish outfit last season. After nine contributions, of which eight were assists, he could be a fantastic choice to succeed Davide Calabria in the short and longer terms.

The Brazilian spent the majority of his game time in the middle third of the pitch, as his heatmap (seen below) suggests, and given he was extremely active in the attacking third, it seems he could be the perfect parallel to Theo, especially with Fonseca often requesting his full-backs overlap often.

He is set to return to Manchester City in the summer and has a market value of €25 million, if not more, so it could be a difficult deal to pursue, especially considering the priorities are elsewhere for the Diavolo.

Midfield

Yangel Herrera – Venezuela

For the next player, we are staying with Girona and looking at Yangel Herrera. The 26-year-old has not been the star of the Spanish outlet’s team, let alone midfield, and this could be a fantastic thing for Milan.

A box-to-box midfielder who does not struggle in either phase of the game is a difficult profile to recruit in the current mercato, and whilst it may be arguable that Tijjani Reijnders can do this role in some manner, it does not get the best from him, and adding a player like Herrera could be a fantastic addition.

Throughout the season, the Rossoneri struggled with balance, given a lot of the midfielders are more attacking-minded, but have an ability to play deeper – for example, Reijnders, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, and Yacine Adli.

Whilst the trio can all perform in a deeper position – an 8, maybe not a 6, even if they were trialled there at points – they excel in a more free, attacking role, and giving them someone who can operate in both boxes would be a fantastic addition.

Defensively, Herrera is fantastic at recovering the ball and excels in duels, especially aerially and Fbref records the midfielder in the top 97th percentile for winning aerial duels. However, he is also a fantastic progressor of the ball and often gives his teammates exceptional options to progress from defence easily and, more importantly, quickly.

Giovani Lo Celso – Argentina

The case of Giovani Lo Celso is confusing, yet one that Milan could profit from nevertheless. When he originally joined Tottenham Hotspur, he seemed like he would progress quickly with the North London outfit, but his progress slowed quickly in recent years.

This season for Spurs, he played 22 times, but only started four times, and now in the ‘prime’ of his career, it could be his time to leave permanently for regular football, which the Diavolo may be able to offer, albeit with some alterations.

When you think of Lo Celso, you think of a more attacking midfielder, but he is also capable of playing in the middle third as well and partnered with Reijnders, they could form a formidable partnership in the middle of the park, albeit the third party in the trio would have to be a defensive-first minded player, which is a role that the club have been looking at.

However, Lo Celso could provide an opportunity to Milan that cannot be turned down. Given his contract expires in the summer of 2025, he will likely be available on a cut-price, and with Spurs looking to invest this summer, getting rid of players like the Argentine midfielder could open doors for them.

Manuel Ugarte – Uruguay

It is difficult to describe Manuel Ugarte’s season debut season with Paris Saint-Germain, simply because whilst he has only featured in 25 of the club’s, he started in nearly all of those appearances, but reports suggest he could already be on the move this summer.

As recently as May, it had been reported that PSG were offering the young midfielder to Milan, and given there had been previous interest, it seemed like a deal might have a good chance of happening, and it could be another fantastic opportunity.

Reports suggest that a deal could originally be manufactured as a loan, given the Parisians paid €60m for him last summer, and if anything this is probably a preferred method for Milan, as it gives them a chance to see how he may acclimatise to Italian football before offering any permanent fees.

Signing a player like Ugarte could unlock so much for the Diavolo, the Uruguayan is a rare breed of midfielder, similar to Herrera in that sense. However, instead of being a more box-to-box player, he specialises in defensive areas and is one of the better solely defensive-minded midfielders that could be available this summer.

As Driblab highlighted, the Uruguayan ranks at the top of tackles and recoveries in Europe’s top five leagues and ranked highly in terms of ‘aggressive actions’, but his greatest trait arguably is the freedom he can offer other midfielders, and if Milan opt to go for a facilitating defensive midfielder to allow the two other midfielders more freedom, Ugarte could be the top choice.

Attack

Jhon Duran – Colombia

The 20-year-old striker has already been linked with a move away from Aston Villa this summer, and if the same fate is awaiting following the Copa America, it could be a fantastic opportunity for the Rossoneri.

Recruiting youth talent is among the top priorities for RedBird, and whilst Duran may not be able to take the reigns that Olivier Giroud left, he may be able to in years to come if he works with Luka Jovic and another incoming striker this summer.

He came to the limelight in the latter parts of the season, mainly due to a brace against Liverpool, but he has been a bit-part player for the club all season, scoring five times in 23 Premier League appearances.

Chelsea have had a long-standing interest in the young Colombian striker and have already made attempts to sign him in the upcoming mercato after failing to do so in January, so they will likely remain interested following his Copa America campaign.

However, Milan have also had a previous interest in the striker, and he could be a perfect option as the other rotational option that the club desires, even if he could cost around €40m.

Santiago Gimenez – Mexico

The Rossoneri’s interest in Santiago Gimenez has been clear to see, and with the Zirkzee pursuit stalling, reports suggested it could be due to Fonseca’s striker preference.

Until now, it has seemed a more technically-minded striker would be the incoming Olivier Giroud heir, but instead, Fonseca seemingly prefers someone with a similar profile to the Frenchman, and Gimenez provides that.

Whilst Zirkzee has had a phenomenal goalscoring season, Gimenez has just delivered 29 goal contributions, of which 23 were goals, and this figure almost doubles the Dutchman’s output. In addition to this, he also bettered the Bologna striker’s assist tally, which can remove any discussions about his ability to bring others into the game.

For Feyenoord, the goal is for him to be the striker instead of playing a more team-oriented game, which is why he is often described as a fox in the box, and his goalscoring map suggests the same thing, given his goals are almost exclusively from inside the box.

However, Gimenez has struggled to match his goalscoring tally at club level for Mexico, and whilst there cannot be doubts about his ability, whether he can perform in a different system is the challenging factor.

Should he change that this summer for Mexico, though, a move would be anticipated if it were not already, and if the Rossoneri would prefer a striker in the mould of Giroud, the heir is seemingly staring the club in the face.

Tags AC Milan Giovani Lo Celso Jhon Duran Jhon Lucumì Manuel Ugarte Piero Hincapié Santiago Gimenez Yan Couto Yangel Herrera

10 Comments

  1. Manuel Ugarte is a pure DM and tough tackling. They won’t let him go for cheap, but he’s probably the key one I would look at of these choices. Could definitely fill in for us in a big way.

  2. I could see us splashing for Ugarte. He solves so many problems and makes the need for a new Top CB far less.

    In the US the talk is that Gimenez is struggling under the pressure. I also think he struggled with no quality players around him.

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