AC Milan’s campaign last season can be best described as one of two halves—a dismal beginning that saw them flirting with the relegation zone followed by a dramatic turnaround that saw them clinch 3rd place and ensure that they qualified for the CL through the knock-out rounds. All this was even more impressive primarily due to the fact that the Rossoneri had been severely handicapped with the departure of some key players, notably Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimović in a €65 million sale to Ligue 1 side PSG, who, thanks to a 2011 investment by the Qatar Investment Authority was now suddenly flush with cash as they prepared to bolster their squad for league and continental competition.
This sale, of course, had many fans pessimistic about their team’s chances of competing in Italy, let alone Europe, and when no real notable changes arrived to replace the star duo or key veterans such as Alessandro Nesta, Clarence Seedorf or Mark van Bommel, the “doom-and-gloom” feeling just seemed to be something that would be the natural thing for the 2012-2013 campaign. However, there were certainly quite a few surprises to write home about: young attacker Stephan El Shaarawy really came into his own as a key player, even leading the scoring charts with 14 league strikes going into the winter break.
Most important, like many key players much older than he, many of il Faraone’s—as he’s known to many of his supporters—goals were oftentimes the only reason that his club were even in the top half (7th place) of the table before the holiday break. His carrying the team paved the way for fellow attacker Mario Balotelli, who arrived in January, to quickly step in and continue where his international teammate had left off, and former Inter attacker Giampaolo Pazzini provided his fair share of goals throughout the season as well.El Shaarawy will be a real key for AC Milan this season
As for El Shaarawy, while he only netted twice after the winter break, the whole team seemed reinvigorated after the winter recess, going on an impressive 14 game unbeaten streak in the league (and only suffering one defeat to Juventus in round 33) to seize that last all-important CL spot at the cost of Fiorentina in a race that literally went down to the wire. In terms of European competition, despite qualifying with the lowest points—a measly eight—from the group stages, they surprised some by managing to defeat seemingly perpetual CL opponents Barcelona 2-0 in the home leg at the San Siro before perhaps not surprisingly, being overrun by the Catalans 4-0 in the return fixture at Camp Nou.
So, after that tumultuous season, many fans were relieved that the Rossoneri had achieved what they had thought impossible after the massive exodus of key players and looked ahead to what the team can achieve in the following season. This season so far has not seen Milan really successful in pre-season, with two third place results in the Audi and Guinness cup (although with the latter, one can perhaps note that they only finished third to the likes of Real Madrid and Chelsea, well ahead of fellow Serie A rivals Juventus and Inter who finished last and second-to-last respectively) and losing out to Serie A new-boys Sassuolo in the Trofeo TIM.
But, unlike last season, there is no massive outflow of star and veteran players, and at the very least, fans are now adjusted to the make-up of the current squad. Balotelli’s arrival was certainly a crucial one to helping to finish in a respectable third place and it’s certain that once he recovers from injury that he will continue to establish himself as a key player in this new team, which some have referred to as starting from “year zero” last season as they hit certainly what one can describe as rock-bottom before slowly beginning to rebuild. Now at year one, they’ve primarily focused on promoting youth players such as midfielder Bryan Cristante and striker Andrea Petagna, acquired full rights to defenders Cristian Zapata and Kevin Constant (both of whom an overall solid season in the last campaign) and also much-talked about Italian international Andrea Poli from Sampdoria as well as added Inter defender Matias Silvestre on loan with an option to purchase at the end of the season. And, of course, there’s the never-ending rumors linking them to CSKA Moscow’s Keisuke Honda and Fiorentina attacker Adem Ljajić as they attempt to sharpen their midfield as well as bolster their attacking line due to the long-term injury layoffs to most significantly, Giampaolo Pazzini, as well as Robinho. Finally, the “will he or will he not depart” issue surrounding head manager Massimiliano Allegri was finally put to rest in the earlier stages of the summer, a fact that surely has assuaged many of the players before the start of the league and European campaigns.
Hence as we head into the start of Milan’s campaign—which will begin with their attempt to qualify for the CL against Eredivisie side PSV Eindhoven there is a sense of, if not raging optimism, at the very least, hopeful positive feelings among many Rossoneri supporters that after the uncertainty and tumultuous nature of last season, and after hitting rock bottom, things can only get better going forward.