nly one club (Real Madrid) have won the European Cup/Champions League more often than AC Milan, so it may seem odd that they are slumming it in the Europa League now, but that’s a fair reflection of their status and their fall from grace, on and off the field.
Milan haven’t been in the Champions League since 2013/’14, when they outclassed Celtic in the group stages, but were themselves well beaten by Atletico Madrid in the knockout stages and they weren’t even in European competition last season, serving a one-year UEFA ban for breach of Financial Fair Play rules, a ban which has only now expired.
They had been given a two-year ban in 2018, but had that penalty lifted on appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). However, they were in trouble with UEFA again and got a second ban.
Their last Europa League campaign (two seasons ago) was pretty grim, with Milan losing 3-1 away to Olympiacos and failing to beat Real Betis over two games as they were unable to make it any further than the group stage.
Last season they were 12 points off the pace in the race for Champions League qualification, so they are where they deserve to be.
How much is their current squad worth?
Give or take a few euro, the squad cost €132 million to assemble in transfer fees alone, not including the astonishing costs of paying the wages of someone like Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
It was over-spending on player transfers which landed Milan in trouble with UEFA in 2018 as UEFA argued, and proved, that Milan’s spending of €200m on players
(2015-’17) took them well over the limit of €30m which clubs are allowed to run up in losses. So what a player is worth and what Milan paid for him is questionable.
They have not taken all of their stars to Dublin, only travelling with a 20-strong squad, so players like Lucas Paqueta, said to have cost Milan €35m, stayed at home.
Some of their squad is home-grown (Daniel Maldini, son of club legend Paolo as well as Matteo Gabbia and Davide Calabria), but there were some costly purchases on that flight to Dublin last night: Hakan Calhanoglu (€20m), Theo Hernandez (€20), Ismael Bennacer (€16m), Samu Castillejo (€15m), Diego Laxalt (€14m), Sandro Tonali (€10m initially, rising to €35m), Leo Duarte (€10m), Franck Kessie (€10m), Rade Krunic (€8m), Alexis Saelemaekers (€5m), Simon Kjaer (€3m), Ciprian Tatarusanu (€1m).
What’s their recent form like?
Due to the disrupted nature of the year, Milan are still in pre-season mode with four friendly games played since the Serie A season finished 47 days ago.
Their form pre-Covid was patchy and a 2-1 loss at home to Genoa in March had coach Stefano Pioli under pressure. But Milan were a revived side post-lockdown, with 15 goals scored in the first five games after the restart, including a 4-2 win over champions Juventus, and they finished with an impressive five wins and a draw from the last six games.
That wasn’t enough for Champions League qualification or even an automatic place in the Europa League group stages – the finished four points behind the side who nabbed that prize, Roma.
But that vibrant finish to the season, with Ibrahimovic in his pomp, was a signal that perhaps Milan were on their way back.
Apart from the obvious (Ibrahimovic), who are the ones to watch?
For nostalgic reasons, fans of a certain age would love to see Maldini junior play, but despite his talent and promise the 18-year-old is likely to be on the bench.
Spanish winger Castillejo, now in his third season with Milan, is much-admired, attacking midfielder Calhanoglu is probably the best talent Turkey have right now, and it’s only a matter of time before promising defender Hernandez (22) makes the breakthrough with France.