At start of the Summer of 2021, the squad performance was evaluated both holistically and individually. Personnel within the squad were identified as requiring an upgrade in the positional sense, most notably in the left-sided attacking midfield slot. Following a relatively poor showing for both Rebić, whose loan period ended, and for De Paul, whose signing in the last summer window could be placed in the “could have gone better” box, scouts were tasked with finding recruitment targets who could provide improvement and for the criteria desired by the Board. This is namely sign under-23 players for the first-team with a view to developing them and selling them on.
Other areas that were identified as areas for possible strengthening were at centre back to replace Mussachio given his aerial failings and at centre midfield to provide more depth. Beyond that, the squad looked initially well-balanced, bar any incoming bids for our players. Given the reputation bump the Club received for winning Serie A and regaining Champions League football again, bids would be easier to reject with less pressure from the players to demand any offers were accepted and the market value of players had risen considerably following our success.
With these targets areas picked out, time was invested into looking at the players already scouted by the recruitment team led by Chief Scout Geoffrey Moncada.
The start of the transfer window saw Czech youngster, Adam Hložek, join the Club after he had agreed terms during the 2020-21 season but outside of the transfer window. The hot prospect was signed for his minimum release fee of £12.75m to develop in the B-team initially with his performances monitored both on the pitch and on the training ground before evaluating when/if the step up to the Senior side is the right one for him or if he needed to be loaned out to gain more first-team experience first. The right-sided, right footed winger will be trained to develop his positional and tactical understanding of the AML inside forward role to better fit the current tactics employed.
With Hložek signed, this meant that Samu Castillejo could be moved on after being surplus to requirements over the previous season. He was only on the field for 534 minutes, making just six starts and nine appearances off the bench. He was sold to Lazio for £14.5m.
The first Senior team target put forward to bring to the Club was Fiorentina defender, Nikola Milenković. The Serb could provide depth at both centre and right back and would cost the Club £31m in transfer fee. A bid was put forward to La Viola by Director of Football, Fredric Massara, which was accepted by their board. Negotiations with Milenković were well under way when an alert came through that fellow Florentine, Federico Chiesa had put in a transfer request. Given the available transfer funds, it quickly became clear that only one of these two deals could go ahead. Personal terms with Milenković and his representatives had been agreed whilst the two boards came to an agreement over the Chiesa price, so this first deal had to be placed on hold given the greater priority for the Club to recruit a top quality player for the attacking left midfield slot. The Chiesa transfer also gave the Club a chance to recruit an Italian home-based player who could be at the Club for a long time given his relative youth at 23 years of age. The added benefits of signing a player familiar to the League and obviously already being fluent in Italian should help his transition into life at AC, whilst also weakening a domestic rival.
Chiesa quickly agreed terms with the AC Milan board and signed a five-year deal, stating he was pleased to be joining a club in the Champions League.
Chiesa may not have created the same level of NPGs as Milan pair Buendi and Suso, but his passing and creativity for his team mates means that he could be a creative force when deployed down the left-side of the attacking trident for AC Milan. With 1.64 KP/90 and a percentage of pass completion of 85%, ranking him in the top 7%, this indicates that he is a high quality creator of chances for those around him. His 0.25 assists per ninety could well improve with a top-level striker such as Piątek on the end of his passes. Accordingly, the Milenković deal was cancelled due to a lack of immediate cash with the existing structure of the transfer.
Yet there were still some available funds left in the coffers and further deals were sought to strengthen the central midfield unit. With metrics beast Sergej Milinković-Savić well out of the Club’s price range, the Club identified other targets within its means. Dani Olmo had had a solid season at Dinamo Zagreb, scoring nine goals and created seven assists, yet his minimum fee release clause of £18.25m had not as yet been triggered. His combined goals and assists/90 saw him in the top 11% of any other central midfielder aged 23 or less. His attacking runs from a wide central midfield berth in the mezzala role could add more attacking threat to the side. Whilst Olmo was more accustomed to playing in the advanced attacking centre midfield slot, a position left vacant in the preferred tactical set-up at I Rossoneri, it was felt by the recruitment team that he could build upon his existing tactical understanding and adapt further to a deeper position to influence the game. A deal for his release clause was struck and a 5-year contract signed. The layout on Olmo’s wages was something of an initial concern, especially given his agents insistence upon a clause pushing his wage up to £200k/week, which activated after five international cap. Yet, there was a reminder that expenditure towards player wages strongly correlated with success on the field.
When Freiburg came in for Bonaventura, the Club were at first reticent to allow the most creative midfield playmaker go following his output over the previous two seasons. However, the playmaker only had one more year left on his contract and at the age of 30(??) he wanted a significant pay rise, given this would be the last chance he would have to cash in on his not inconsiderable talents. Everyone understood that he was most likely at his peak and they could reasonably expect to see a dramatic drop off of his playmaking abilities so it was better to cash in now rather than look over the edge of a cliff that could arrive at any time. He was sold for £15.75m.
With one in and one out in the midfield area and more depth still the order of the window, the recruitment team met once more to put forward another bold suggestion for the centre midfield berth, that of Calvin Stengs. The 22-year old had had a somewhat unremarkable season at AZ Alkmaar playing in the right-hand side of their midfield in the AMR slot, predominately as an inside forward. Yet the scouting team were confident that with his technical, mental and physical skills sets, alongside his player traits, he was equally well-suited to playing on the left-hand side of the central three midfielders given his stronger left foot. There was only a hint from his key passes (top 12%) that he could adapt, but in a stronger side, it was generally felt that he could thrive. A deal for £39.5m was struck with AZ Alkmaar and terms swiftly agreed with Stengs and his representatives, making him the third signing of the window.
This gave AC Milan six quality players across the three midfield roles: Tonali, Domínguez, Paquetá, and Guimarães alongside new boys Olmo and Stengs.
It was hoped that deals were to be rapped up as the season began but in the first few games Conti had a serious calf strain and would miss the first month of the season. Leaving just Calabria as the only right back in the squad and with no hot young prospect to promote, another option was required. Scouts were quickly assigned to a number of initial targets on a relatively small budget. With Milenković now well out of the Club’s price range after the deals already done, Fiorentina were demanding north of £32m for their Serbian asset, Sergi Palencia was selected as the best option by value and relative attributes. The La Masia graduate joined fellow Barcelona youth players Olmo and Cucarella in the AC Milan squad. Palencia did not meet the criteria of signing players under 23, but there were deemed to be no outstanding options with the given confines of both player age and transfer budget. The Spaniard became the Club’s fifth and final signing of the window for £10.75m, happy to be a rotation option, and one that it was felt could contribute when required as much in an offensive sense as well as defensive. His pass completion and dribbles per ninety highlighted that he was a good technical player and well-versed in attacking down the right flank to provide width as the inside forward cuts in towards the 18 yard box.
That concluded the deals done during the transfer window, with a net spend of around £80m. The deals done largely added to the quality of the squad and brought in youthful players who should only progress, both in their own attributes, but also in value. With the majority of the key areas addressed which were outlined at the start of the window, the Club could now set about defending its League title and look to impress in the Champions League once more.
Join us next time when we review the 2021-22 season!