By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer
And so the inevitable has happened. From the moment Mario Balotelli responded to being handed an AC Milan shirt when he was still an Inter player by pulling the jersey over his head, it was obvious that he would one day play for the club he claims to have supported from a young age. It was a move that was always going to come to fruition eventually.
The €20 million switch from Manchester City comes after a two-and-a-half year stint in England which has been as controversial as it has been successful. He returns to the bel paese as a Premier League champion and FA Cup winner, but will be remembered just as much for his questionable attitude, hilarious off-field antics and training ground misdemeanours.
But for Milan he represents the latest step towards the ‘New Rossoneri’. Following the release of a swathe of old heads last summer, the club has gradually built a fresh platform of young talent, and Balotelli is just the latest name in that production line. While their form on the field has gradually improved over the last two months, the bright outlook for the future has been infinitely more promising.
The Diavolo began last season with the Champions League’s oldest registered squad at an average age of 29.2 years. Even without Filippo Inzaghi in the 25, the Milan list included the likes of 35-year-olds Alessandro Nesta and Clarence Seedorf, Gennaro Gattuso, 33, and the 34-year-old trio of Massimo Ambrosini, Gianluca Zambrotta and Mark van Bommel.
This was nothing new for the Rossoneri. They had been a figure of fun for many over a period of several years, having won the 2007 Champions League final with an 18-man squad with an average age of 31.17 and responded by giving many of the old heads new contracts. As Father Time caught up with those ageing players, Milan suffered.
But the revolution of last summer has changed the face of the club completely, and it has been done with a series of targets in mind above and beyond the simple aim of freshening up Massimiliano Allegri’s first XI.
|THE CHANGING FACE OF THE ROSSONERI
The pressing issue of Financial Fair Play has had a huge say. While the release of players such as Nesta, Van Bommel, Gattuso, Seedorf and Inzaghi was done for the sake of the club’s future on the field, the sales of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to Paris Saint-Germain were done solely for the improvement of the bank balance. Milan’s revenue has actually gone up over the last two years from €193.1m to €256.9m, but in comparison to the game’s other big hitters, their rise has been much less dramatic.
In line with that, the sale of Alexandre Pato – albeit at a price €20m shy of what PSG were willing to pay 12 months ago – has helped to pay for Balotelli, whose transfer fee will be paid in five instalments. This has been done to ensure that the outlay is manageable, and remains in line with the club’s FFP targets without exhausting their market funds in the short to medium term.
All in all, the entrance of Balotelli ticks all the boxes. With Stephan El Shaarawy, M’Baye Niang and Mattia De Sciglio having shown at various stages this season that they can each be important for the club’s future, there have also been flashes from Bojan Krkic to suggest he could be kept on by the club beyond this term and used to decent effect. Throw in Italy’s first-choice No.9, and there is a distinct possibility that Allegri could call upon five players under the age of 23 in any one game before the 2012-13 campaign is out.
For a club that appeared so stricken in mid-November, these are becoming increasingly exciting times. Although there has been a distinct lack of quality opposition laid in front of the Diavolo of late, results have still been a huge improvement on earlier this season. Add to that the way a brand new, potentially long-lasting, forward line of El Shaarawy, Balotelli and Niang is being dangled in front of Milanisti eyes, and there are plenty of reasons for the mouth to water.
The defensive half of the team can still be vastly improved, and strength in depth is still a huge issue, but things are most definitely on the up. And now, with Balotelli as the focus of the Milan of the future, the Rossoneri revolution has just been cranked up a notch.
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