By Brian Homewood
WITH a new coach, a new investor and possibly a new stadium on the way, AC Milan look as if they can finally put several years of confusion and mediocrity behind them in Serie A this season.
Milan should join AS Roma and Napoli as the main challengers to champions Juventus, who are aiming for a fifth successive title but must rebuild their side after the departures of playmaker Andrea Pirlo and marksman Carlos Tevez.
Goal-line technology will make its Italian debut, with Serie A organisers having finally decided to take the plunge following a series of controversial calls by officials over the last few years.
Tiny Carpi and Frosinone will appear in the top flight for the first time, Bologna return to Serie A after one year’s absence and Milan, Napoli, Udinese, Sampdoria and Fiorentina all start with new coaches.
Fiery Serb Sinisa Mihajlovic became Milan’s fourth coach in just over 18 months when he moved from Sampdoria in the close season.
His appointment marked a clear change in direction by Milan, whose two previous coaches, Clarence Seedorf and Filippo Inzaghi, were both long-serving former Milan players with no senior coaching experience.
Mihajlovic, on the other hand, has no Milan connections but plenty of coaching experience after stints at Catania, Fiorentina, Sampdoria and the Serbia national team.
“Milan have always been a side to be feared and I want that Milan side back. I want my Milan team to instil fear in other teams,” he said on his official presentation.
“We will be like our motto, a team of devils, red like fire and black like the fear we will instil into our opponents.”
Over the last few seasons, Milan have appeared rudderless, pledging to put their faith in youngsters developed by the club while simultaneously signing players in the middle or latter stages of their careers.
This close season there has been a clear statement of intent, however, as the club have splashed out about 78 million euros on forwards Carlos Bacca and Luiz Adriano, midfielder Andrea Bertolacci and defender Alessio Romanogli.
The spending spree came as owner Silvio Berlusconi signed a pre-sale agreement to sell 48 per cent of the club to a group led by Thai businessman Bee Taechaubol by the end of September.
Milan, a dismal tenth last term, have also cleared the biggest hurdle in their plans to build a new stadium after their bid to acquire the city’s former trade fair grounds was approved.
Still, they have a lot of catching up to do to get anywhere near Juventus, who have taken Italian football by the scruff of the neck since opening their new stadium four years ago.
Juve have won four successive titles since then, although the departures of Pirlo and Tevez could make them vulnerable.
They are not short of replacements, however, having signed strikers Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic and Simone Zaza, and Germany midfielder Sami Khedira, while fending off bids for Pirlo’s heir apparent, Paul Pogba.
Roma, runners-up for the last two seasons, have brought in forwards Edin Dzeko and Mohamed Salah on loan while talismanic playmaker Francesco Totti will start his 24th season at his only club.
Like Inter Milan, however, Roma’s spending has been curbed after they fell foul of UEFA’s break-even Financial Fair Play rule.
Roberto Mancini has struggled to get his Inter team into gear after taking over from Walter Mazzarri last November and has seen Mateo Kovacic, the player he described as “Inter’s future”, leave for Real Madrid.
Napoli, exasperatingly inconsistent in their two seasons under Rafael Benitez, have given Maurizio Sarri the biggest break of his coaching career as they look to pick up the pieces after missing out on a Champions League spot last term.