The following is a Milan Q&A session with Matt Santangelo ahead of the Rossoneri’s Champions League match against RB Salzburg. You can follow her here on Twitter.
What are your thoughts on Maldini and Massara after these past few seasons?
Given how firm they have been with regards to renewals and how they have maximized the limited budget they have been sanctioned with, Maldini and Massara have done a very good job all things considered. You can point to the exodus of Donnarumma, Calhanoglu, Kessie and Romagnoli leaving without a fee in return, but the work done to sort out the wage bill and bring in the right quality to meet objectives deserves its praise. Many fans will be quick to highlight the the player that slipped or the one area unaddressed, but you won’t find many misses from the signings they have made.
Thoughts on this summers transfer business – is there anything lacking for you?
The right wing feels unimproved. Junior Messias and Alexis are more so the players to fill out the roster for depth purposes rather than handle the role for the bulk of the season. We have seen enough of both to realize they do not deliver the right quality necessary for Milan to continue to elevate from an attacking standpoint, so that remains a concern. Overall, the market has been solid despite a limited spend. Charles De Ketelaere has already begun showing why he was so sought after and how impactful he can be, while Yacine Adli and Tomasso Pobega will help the midfield in time. A late coup of three young U-21 talents (Thiaw, Vranckx and Dest) feels like a strong finish to an important summer.
What are your hopes/expectations for this Champions League group stage?
After bowing out with a fourth place finish in a difficult group last year, qualifying into the knockout round is the minimum goal – and an attainable one at that. Chelsea, Salzburg and Zagreb each have experience in the competition to different degrees, so it will not be an easy stroll for the Rossoneri. I’d like to think last year’s humbling against the likes of Liverpool, Atleti and Porto will serve as valuable experience for the core group to build upon.
Any regrets about missing out on Botman and Renato? Seems Milan are doing just fine without them
Botman at €30-40 million would have been excessive given that he would be competing with Fikayo Tomori and Pierre Kalulu for starting minutes; a luxury signing Milan cannot afford at this time. As for Sanches, there is some disappointment because Maldini and Massara really worked on that track since January and talks were moving towards a deal. But ultimately, PSG’s financial package to Renato was far too much for Milan to commit and it comes down to bringing in players who see the vision of the project, believe in it and want to be apart of it.
What are your thoughts on the RedBird takeover and longer term expectations from this new ownership?
I am very eager to see what heights Milan can return to under RedBird. From player recruitment and on the field objectives to enhancing the brand and commercial profile off it with a stadium, there is plenty of promise with this acquisition. Much more exposure in the US market with Yankee Global Enterprises as a minority stakeholder as well. After years of such a long, grim outlook, these last few seasons have really shown the strength behind Milan once again.
Do you think that a Scudetto win, some stability in ownership and a solid summer market are enough to propel Milan back to the centre stage in Europe again? (We miss the Milan of the 90’s/00s!)
Trust me, I miss them too! There is stiff competition throughout Italy and wider Europe, as well as an abundance of money that has strengthened the playing field for the spotlight. However, with Milan’s rich history, tradition and pedigree on the European stage, the goal should always be to reclaim that status as champions and that is what they must aim for.
Whats the objective for Serie A this season? (Do you think you have enough to win it again?)
Repeating is the goal, regardless of how improved the field is. Stefano Pioli has always emphasized focusing on themselves and the result, not the others. This team did lose Franck Kessie and Alessio Romagnoli, but a winning core remains intact and has been added to. With that being said, adding the second star is the goal.
Thoughts on Ibra and Giroud still leading the line? Will Origi be able to supplant them at some stage?
The hope is Origi and Giroud can split the duties until Ibrahimovic returns. From there, you might see Origi play off the shoulder of one of the two as he has the traits to do so. While Origi regains full fitness and settles, expect Giroud to take the lead up front.
Expected outcome for the opening game v Salzburg and the approach Milan should take?
This will be a tricky visit to Austria, especially off the back of a derby with Inter. But it is paramount that the club gets off to a good start in the UCL; Pioli knows this and so do the players. I expect Milan will endure its struggles in part of the already crowded scheduling, but the result will be there for them.
Who is the best player in the Milan team right now?
Ismaël Bennacer. He looks to be in mid-season form already through the first set of league matches, and is a clear cut difference maker in the midfield. His mobility with the ball and ability to release the quick passes makes him plenty press-resistant. Rafael Leão, despite a bit of a rocky start, is still the player that can break defences down and torture opponents; his MVP season has earned him that respect as a top player.
Your best XI for that match?
Maignan; Calabria, Kalulu, Tomori, Theo; Tonali, Bennacer; Messias, De Ketelaere, Leão; Giroud.
Expected score line?