Milan Have Looked Clueless So Far in Seeking Sandro Tonali’s Heir

After securing Champions League football by a tiny margin, Milan couldn’t have hoped for a worse start to the summer transfer window. Fans were barely given time to recover from Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s decision to retire before the early summer days dropped a bombshell of epic proportions. 

It all happened too fast for Milan supporters to comprehend. Only days after the news of Newcastle United’s interest in Sandro Tonali first made the headlines, the Italian midfielder was undergoing medicals at St James’ Park. It took the Magpies a couple of days and 70 million reasons to convince the new Rossoneri hierarchy to release the 23-year-old. And just like that, he was gone.

Viewed by many as a future leader and a long-term Milan captain, Tonali didn’t even have time to say goodbye to San Siro. The highly-rated midfielder packed his bags in a hurry to meet his new employers, leaving the Rossoneri faithful bamboozled. While his departure served as an ominous reminder of the Serie A powerlessness, Newcastle boss Eddie Howe must be rubbing his hands. 

But what about Stefano Pioli? The man needed minimal investments to break Milan’s decade-long Scudetto drought in 2021/22 and help the club reach the Champions League semi-finals for the first time since 2007 the following year. For those asking for his departure last season – shame on you.

However, the question remains – how long can Pioli keep pulling rabbits out of the hat? It’s true that Milan cannot compete with wealthy Premier League clubs in the transfer market. For the sake of argument, they spent the entire summer of 2022 trying to beat Leeds United to Charles De Ketelaere’s signing. 

De Ketelaere flopped in his first season at San Siro. But if he were to choose Elland Road over Milan, he’d be plying his trade in the Championship next season. Still, he was the only expensive signing the Rossoneri made last summer, suggesting the significance of choosing their targets wisely. 

Milan will be operating on a tight budget again this summer. Therefore, they can ill-afford another pure judgment, especially now that they lost their midfield mainstay. Can anyone replace Tonali? Or more importantly, does the new management have any idea of how terrible was the decision they made? 

It’s all irrelevant if they’re unable to fill the void. Let’s look at the names courted by Milan. 

Lazar Samardzic – Udinese

An unknown entity until last season, Samardzic’s rise to prominence at the Dacia Arena has caught Milan’s eye. The Serbia international established himself as a first-team regular under Andrea Sottil in 2022/23, tallying 37 league appearances. 

However, let’s face it – he can never replace Tonali. It’s one thing to excel at a downtrodden club and another to shine under the tremendous pressure of wearing the Milan shirt. It takes the matter to a whole new level. At 21, Samardzic could be a decent investment for the future.

But Milan cannot afford to wait. Or worse, help develop the Serb into a senior star only to let some anonymous Premier League club take him away in a year or two. 

Verdict: Smart future investment; inadequate immediate solution

Florentino Luis – Benfica

The sole idea of Florentino filling Tonali’s shoes creeps Milan fans out. There’s no doubt Benfica have been a factory of talents in recent decades, but is the 23-year-old a valid candidate to replace the former Brescia man? Based on his output, it doesn’t seem so.

Benfica steamrolled to the Primeira Liga title last season, scoring a staggering 82 goals in the process. Would it be too much to ask from a midfielder who made 33 appearances to at least score once? Florentino thinks so. 

Don’t make a mistake – Milan didn’t just lose a midfield architect in Tonali. They also lost a decent source of goals and a true set-piece specialist. Florentino doesn’t tick any of those boxes. 

Verdict: Not Milan caliber

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic – Lazio

Sergej is a textbook definition of a must-buy player for Milan. With eight Serie A seasons and over 100 goal contributions under his belt, the 28-year-old is the only viable candidate to fill the vacancy. It’s hard to imagine Lazio securing Champions League qualification last season without his intimidating midfield presence. 

Sophisticated touch, goalscoring ability, aerial prowess, and a regular flow of assists are some of Milinkovic-Savic’s notable qualities. He’s a complete package and won’t warrant a significant transfer fee after rejecting a new deal in Rome. 

With a year left to run on his contract at the Stadio Olimpico, Claudio Lotito is finally open to negotiating his sale on a cut-price deal. That’s an opportunity Milan cannot pass on if they’re to stay relevant in the Scudetto picture next season.

Verdict: Must-Buy

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