To many the sudden up-turn in financial strength at AC Milan has been a great surprise. While their transfer forays have been ambitious to say the least, followers of the Rossoneri will none the less find some similarities to the not too distant past.
Recent memories of the Silvio Berlusconi ownership at Milan puts one in mind of free transfers, loan signings and the occasional big name addition. The transfer policies tended to come with a sense of nostalgia, with Kaka, Kevin Prince-Boateng and Alessandro Matri among those to return to the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in recent years.
Other transfer forays were completed with a faint hope of catapulting the once great Milan back into European contention.
However, wind the clock back to the beginning of the century and you will find an environment not too dissimilar to that at Milanello training centre today. Milan had finished in sixth the previous season and needed a fresh incentive in the shape of a new team, something Berlusconi was all too happy to provide.
The 2001-02 season marked the beginning of a surge in transfer activity at the San Siro, with the likes of Rui Costa, Filippo Inzaghi and Andrea Pirlo arriving to help shape an immensely talented Milan side. While it had been the case that the Rossoneri made sensational signings in the seasons prior to this, such as Oliver Bierhoff and Andriy Shevchenko, Milan were now at a stage where they could stretch their muscles and bring in multiple key figures for big money.
The arrival of Alessandro Nesta, club captain and talisman at Lazio, and Clarence Seedorf, two-time Champions League winner and property of rivals Inter, the following season was testimony to this fact. The big spending of the period is certainly reflective of the current state of affairs at Milan, with the club’s spending thought to have exceeded €200m in just three months. However, far from being the case of spending irrationally, the Rossoneri have put some thought into their transfers in the months prior to these events.
For every Rui Costa signed for eye-watering transfer amounts, Milan made two or three shrewd captures on the market that would later prove invaluable. Cristian Brocchi, Gennaro Gattuso, Nelson Dida and Serginho were among those to join the Rossoneri ranks during this period for comparatively small fees, all of whom would play their part in later successes.
While the old idiom of “money talks” certainly resonates both then and now, the history of Milan has often served as a great attraction for all those who have joined. Having ruled the footballing world at Barcelona and receiving the Ballon d’Or trophy in 1999, Brazilian great Rivaldo decided to set up shop at the San Siro with Milan after his release; with whom he’d lift the Champions League trophy.
He was joined by compatriot Leonardo and Jon Dahl Tomasson, both free transfers, the same season as the allure of the famous red and black jersey continued to leave it’s mark. After several years of intense business on the transfer market, Milan would be rewarded with a triumphant Champions League campaign. The squad that had been assembled seemed capable of rivalling the established elite, and it seemed destined to improve with Milan Lab ensuring the club got the very best out of their commodities.
In the years to come the club would cement their place in the history books, combining the solid core of youth exponents such as Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Costacurta with world famous superstars in Kaka and Ronaldinho. Such was the level of success and desire to prolong the era of excellence that Milan had great difficulty moving on from this period. Christian Abbiati, the only surviving member of this legendary squad, hung up his boots at the end of last season for a role at the club.
The similarities that can be found between present day AC Milan and a decade and a half ago are certainly striking. Fans should be quick to welcome the new era, leaving behind them a series of unforgettable seasons and hoping for dreams to be realised in the years to come. With notions of sustainability and consistency floating around, Milan should be looking to recreate the success of the past, but at the same time ensure they avoid slipping down the rungs in the future.