The Rossoneri achieved fantastic domestic growth in 2021, but the club and management must not become complacent and instead strive for more, writes Matt Santangelo.
At around this point last year, Theo Hernandez’s last-gasp header sunk Lazio as Milan eventually managed to secure Winter Champion status. In the process, the club’s overachieving allowed all with a vested interest in the Rossoneri to dream bigger in the form of a Scudetto run.
As things would turn out, rivals Inter overtook them shortly after the New Year and never looked back as they’d eventually unseat Juventus as the kings of Italy. While Stefano Pioli and company secured second and a return to Europe’s main stage of UEFA Champions League football, the conversation began to shift towards how the Italian giants can better position themselves to compete for a title and become a world power once again.
So far this season, Milan have fared well, overcoming an abundance of injuries during key stretches to finish the calendar year four points off the table-topping Nerazzurri. Their win against Roma was the ultimate proof that Pioli has shaped a strong and balanced group that is often stronger than adversities.
Though unable to play consistently due to periodic injuries and load management, Zlatan Ibrahimovic remains a sublime force capable of carrying the club through slumping phases. Young talents such as Rafael Leao and Sandro Tonali have taken big strides forward, proving they should be entrusted with more responsibility and faith as pillars for the project. Then there is Fikayo Tomori who, in just a year on Italian soil, has taken like a duck to water, emerging as a top defender – and one of the most important players.
Players and results aside though, Milan must aspire for more in 2022. Champions League qualification must now be the conventional norm and a minimum goal, regardless of the balanced nature of Serie A.
Milan’s history and European pedigree, despite finishing in the cellar of their Champions League group, speak to a club rich in winning tradition and culture. For most clubs, a top-four finish is to be celebrated as a massive achievement, but Milan aren’t most clubs and they should not be
acting like it. The mindset from Elliott and upper management must be to strive for bigger and better in the form of larger investment, premium players and a mentality on the pitch to match.
Ibrahimovic is virtually the only member of the current squad to have tasted the glory of a trophy-winning season, but at 40, his body is beginning to betray him and wear down. The project cannot continue to be put onto his shoulders to carry through turbulent times. There must be a period where the Swedish international can ensure a smooth transition and proper sending off knowing he did his job to steer the club back on track.
Since returning two years ago, Ibrahimovic has helped aid in re-establishing a winning culture that was so desperately needed around the San Siro. Along with Pioli, Kjaer and a crop of bright-eyed young stars, the club has been able to galvanize a fanbase and show some
semblance of being elite again. After announcing ‘The Cathedral’ as the new home, the time is now for Elliott to go all-in so that come 2027 when the doors officially open, Milan shall take the field as royalty once again.