Milan return to the Champions League and Miguel Agyei dives into the Rossoneri’s struggles over the last few years, explaining why they can’t be written off against Liverpool and in the tough Group B.
After almost eight years of heartbreak, disappointment, and mediocracy in Serie A, the big stage has been set as Italian giants Milan make their return to Europe’s best club football tournament. The Rossoneri, with a decorative and extensive history of success in the competition, have the second most Champions League titles with a total of seven trailing behind Real Madrid, who currently have 13.
The fall from grace started in 2013-14 when Atletico Madrid brutally maltreated 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 prime peak of their football careers.
After a change in management from Regency to Yonghong Li, which failed drastically, and after hefty investments in mediocre players and a hefty loan of €415m debt which Mr. Li could not pay back, Elliott Management decided to take over. The red and black faithful and have managed to steer the ship in a positive direction ever since they arrived in 2018. But it wasn’t an easy path. Since Max Allegri’s departure in 2014, there was never continuity in the coaching scheme for the team.
Many old faces and previous players tried to take Milan to be the old giants, but all failed to achieve the task. The person closest to achieving this feat was Gennaro Gattuso, who managed to get Milan in 5th place one point away from clinching a Champions League berth in the 2018-19 season.
Putting their foot down after the failed Marco Giampaolo project, Milan decided to take a different route of investing in young talented players and moving away from old ageing players with high wages. Hiring Stefano Pioli was the beginning of a new chapter despite many fans combatting this move with #PioliOut trending on Twitter even before the official announcement. This hire brought forth the reunion of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and, under these two, a young Milan team have grown immensely on the pitch.
Milan legend Paolo Maldini has worked tirelessly behind the scenes scouting young talent with Geoffrey Moncada and signing the likes of Theo Hernández, Ismaël Bennacer, Rafael Leão, Ante Rebić, and Simon Kjær, who paid off immensely. These key additions played a huge role in leading Milan to a 6th place finish under Pioli in his first season at the club. Ralf Rangnick was supposed to replace him, but Milan’s brilliant results after the break due to the COVID pandemic convinced the owners to confirm the Italian coach, avoiding another technical revolution. It was the right choice.
Finishing in 6th launched Milan into a Europa League playoff spot in 2020-21. The Serie A giants moved to add loanees Brahim Díaz, Diogo Dalot, Sandro Tonali, Fikayo Tomori, who played a massive role in the success of the season. Milan went to the Round of 16 of the tournament and were defeated by Manchester United. Therefore, they catapulted their focus into Serie A and managed to finish in 2nd place, launching them back home into Champions League despite a tough loss.
Upon returning to the big ears tournament, Milan have been placed into Group B with Atlético Madrid, Liverpool, and FC Porto. Their first task will be to play Liverpool at Anfield Road for the first time in their history. It won’t be an easy task given the Reds’ experience in the competition, their quality and their pace in every department of the pitch.
Also, it’s impossible not to think about Liverpool vs. Milan without mentioning the two Champions League Finals in 2005 and 2007. The Rossoneri incredibly lost the first one after losing grip on a 3-0 lead at halftime. However, Carlo Ancelotti’s side managed to get their revenge two years later in Athen thanks to a Pippo Inzaghi brace. Liverpool have the potential to reach a Champions League Final again, Milan not quite, but this doesn’t mean they have no chances tonight.
Milan’s reinstatement into the Champions League is hugely significant due to the club’s emphatic history along with desperation to return to domestic and European success. As one of the youngest teams in Europe, Milan have rebuilt themselves with quality talent 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 team to believe in themselves and that nothing was ever impossible for them to achieve.
The Rossoneri have broken out the new season with much confidence and swagger, playing to their strengths. Although this Champions League group stage won’t be easy, don’t count Milan out as anything can happen. As the Rossoneri head to Anfield Road to play the Reds, they will fight to the death as sleeping giants for a chance to make it past the group stages and launch themselves into the elimination round of 16. After such a long time, Milan are back home.