In the past eight years of heartbreak, disappointment and mediocrity in Serie A, the big stage has been set as the Italian giants AC Milan make their return to Europe’s best club football tournament. The Rossoneri, with a long history of success in the competition, have the second most Champions League titles with a total of seven behind Real Madrid, who currently have 13.
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The fall from grace began in 2013-14 when Atletico Madrid brutally mistreated them, advancing to the quarter-finals with an aggregate score of 5-1. The likes of Kaká, Phillipe Mexès, Daniele Bonera, Robinho and many others were no longer at the peak of their football careers.
Furthermore, after a takeover from Regency to Yonghong Li, which went bankrupt drastically, and after huge investments in mediocre players and a hefty € 415 million loan of debt that Mr. Li was unable to repay, Elliott Management decided to take over. The Rossoneri faithful have managed to steer the ship in a positive direction since their arrival in 2018. But it was not an easy path. Since Max Allegri’s departure in 2014, there has never been continuity in the team’s technical scheme.
Many old faces and previous players have tried to bring Milan like the old giants, but they all failed to reach the goal. The closest person to achieving this feat was Gennaro Gattuso, who managed to take Milan to 5th place one point after winning the Champions League spot in the 2018-19 season.
Setting foot after Marco Giampaolo’s failed project, Milan decided to take a different path by investing in talented young players and moving away from older players with high salaries. The hiring of Stefano Pioli was the beginning of a new chapter despite many fans fighting this move with #PioliOut trending on Twitter even before the official announcement. This hiring led to the meeting of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and, under these two, a young AC Milan has grown immensely on the pitch.
PAOLO MALDINI HAD WORKED BEHIND THE SCENES FOR MILAN
Milan legend Paolo Maldini worked tirelessly behind the scenes looking for young talent with Geoffrey Moncada and signing Theo Hernández, Ismaël Bennacer, Rafael Leão, Ante Rebić and Simon Kjær, who paid off immensely. These key additions played a huge role in bringing Milan to sixth place under Pioli in their first season at the club. Ralf Rangnick should have replaced him, but Milan’s brilliant results after the break due to the COVID pandemic convinced the owners to confirm the Italian manager, avoiding another technical revolution. It was the right choice.
THE SIXTH POSITION LEADED TO PLAYOFFS
Finishing in sixth place launched AC Milan into a Europa League playoff spot in 2020-21. The Serie A giants moved to add on loan Brahim Díaz, Diogo Dalot, Sandro Tonali, Fikayo Tomori, who played a huge role in the success of the season. Milan went to the round of 16 of the tournament and was defeated by Manchester United. Therefore, they catapulted their attention to Serie A and managed to finish in 2nd place, relaunching them at home in the Champions League despite a severe loss.
Upon returning to the big ears tournament, AC Milan were placed in Group B with Atlético Madrid, Liverpool and FC Porto. Their first task will be to take on Liverpool at Anfield Road for the first time in their history. It will not be an easy task given the Reds’ experience in the competition, their quality and their pace in every department of the field.
Furthermore, it is impossible not to think of Liverpool-Milan without mentioning the two Champions League finals in 2005 and 2007. The Rossoneri lost the first after losing control at 3-0 at half-time. However, Carlo Ancelotti’s team managed to take revenge two years later in Athens thanks to a brace from Pippo Inzaghi. Liverpool have the potential to reach a Champions League final again, Milan are not enough, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a chance tonight.
BACK TO UEFA ELITE FOOTBALL THIS TERM
AC Milan’s reintegration into the Champions League is hugely significant due to the club’s emphatic history coupled with the desperation of returning to domestic and European success. As one of the youngest teams in Europe, AC Milan has rebuilt itself with quality talents and strong leaders. Paolo Maldini, Ricky Massara, Ivan Gazidis, Stefano Pioli, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Simon Kjaer have all played a significant role in influencing and guiding this young Milan to believe in himself and that nothing has ever been impossible for them to achieve.
The Rossoneri started the new season with a lot of confidence and bravado, leveraging their strengths. Even if this Champions League group stage will not be easy, don’t count Milan because anything can happen. As the Rossoneri head to Anfield Road to face the Reds, they will fight to the death like sleeping giants for a chance to get through the group stage and launch into the round of 16. After a long time, Milan have returned home.
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