AC Milan Soars Again: Resurgence of the Rossoneri

AC Milan tore up the script to clinch their 19th Scudetto this season after 11 years of hibernation in Serie A.

Avignyan Mukhopadhyay
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AC Milan tore up the script to clinch their 19th Scudetto this season after 11 years of hibernation in Serie A. The Italian club had not tasted league glory since 2011 heading into the latest campaign and that drought was very much expected to continue at the start of it.

Nobody anticipated Stefano Pioli's young, undecorated squad going on to become champions, with a top-four finish and Champions League qualification originally their prime target.

Nevertheless, sometimes the impossible can quickly become reality, and that was certainly the case for a Milan side who overcame many negative moments with pride and sacrifice to get their hands on the title.

Today we take a look at how AC Milan overcame all odds as old giants of the game to become Champion of Italy.

Return of the Prodigal Son: Paulo Maldini, the technical director and mastermind

AC Milan: Maldini | Sportz Point.

Paulo Maldini (Image- Sempre Milan)

It is difficult to pick out just a single charismatic leader from Milan's extraordinary and unexpected success, but there is one man who deserves most of the credit: Paolo Maldini. In August 2018 Maldini accepted a proposal from the Elliott fund and agreed to head back to the AC Milan, nine years after departing as a player. Four years on from that return, he has helped guide the club back to the top of Italian football.

The legendary former defender is the architect of Milan's reconstruction this season, both from a technical and financial standpoint, with his great diplomatic ability attracting several top players and restoring enthusiasm and energy to an environment which seemed to have lost all hope of returning to Serie A's summit.

After masterminding his first Scudetto as technical director, Maldini told Milan TV: 'It's all beautiful, after so many years for me and for Milan to win again is fantastic. Beautiful because deserved, after three crazy years.

'Fans have been exceptional in recent years, never lacking their support. We have to thank the spirit of the group that has never abandoned us.

Maldini quarreled with a small section of Milan's hardcore fans, who accused him of lacking respect for the club, on the day he waved goodbye as a player in 2009.

Yet after clinching the title at Sassuolo's Mapei Stadium he was serenaded with chants from the travelling support, marking a reconciliation between the two parties nine years on from that poisonous farewell.

This is now a club full of harmony from top to bottom.Maldini bolstered Pioli's ranks with the right players last summer and in January, however he was also responsible for keeping the head coach in his position. Back in 2020 Milan CEO Ivan Gazidis had already chosen Ralf Rangnick, Manchester United's unsuccessful interim boss this season, as his replacement.

That was until Maldini intervened, urging Gazidis to keep the faith with Pioli. In the end his advice paid off.

Stefano Pioli: How Pioli repaid faith after rousing the Italian giants from slumber

Sportz Point

Stefano Pioli (Image- Getty Image)

AC Milan supporters will look back on their club's gamble to stick with unproven coach Stefano Pioli as the decision that set them on course to winning their first Serie A title in 11 years.

The man who masterminded the title triumph collected the first trophy of his 19-year coaching career, but it could have been so very different had the club not shown faith in him at the start of Milan's journey back to the top.

Milan's fall from grace following their previous Scudetto triumph in 2011 was spectacular. Four years after their 18th Serie A triumph, the seven-time European Cup winners finished 10th in the standings and they spent seven seasons outside the top four of the Italian top flight between 2014 and 2020.

After Massimiliano Allegri's departure in 2014, six permanent coaches in five years tried and failed to turn things around, before Pioli came in to steady the ship.

The initial results were mixed after Pioli succeeded Marco Giampaolo in October 2019, before a fine end to the 2019-20 season secured Milan a return to European competition for the following campaign.

Pioli, however, appeared set to be replaced ahead of the 2020-21 season, with former RB Leipzig and Schalke 04 coach Ralf Rangnick reportedly coming in.

Sporting director Paulo Maldini instead decided to give Pioli a new deal, revealing that he felt Rangnick was not the "right fit" for the club.

Pioli restored Milan to the big time without breaking the bank, and by keeping things simple.

Astute signings last season, such as midfielder Sandro Tonali, Croatian forward Ante Rebic and Denmark captain Simon Kjaer, helped Milan to finish second in the standings, with the return of veteran striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic firing them back up the table.

A mix of exciting young prospects such as defender Fikayo Tomori, alongside more experienced signings like Giroud, took Milan to the next level this season.

Injury setbacks to skipper Kjaer, who missed much of the campaign with a knee injury, and Ibrahimovic were taken in Pioli's stride, too.

Inter's fine form in April saw them briefly retake the lead in the table, but Pioli ensured Milan kept going, making them hard to break down, with numerous 1-0 victories doing the job.

AC Milan finished the season unbeaten in 16 league games – unbeaten Serie A runs have become a staple of Pioli's reign – with a consistency his predecessors had been unable to find.

Such continuity takes time to build, something Pioli was afforded after Maldini's decision to stand by him.

Childhood fairytale comes true for Tonali

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Sandro Tonali (Image- Getty Images)

In the 92nd minute of their clash with Lazio, Sandro Tonali popped up with the most important goal of his career and perhaps Milan's entire season on April 24. It sealed a vital 2-1 win in their bid to become champions, and without it the title would be Inter's.

Fairytales typically have happy endings and in the case of Tonali his story is full of tears and love for Milan. It began in his childhood, when he enjoyed playing in the Rossoneri shirt in a church courtyard just outside of his school.

At that time Carlo Ancelotti's side were kings of Europe and the world, and in the midst of their success Tonali was carving out his own journey to the top while dreaming of becoming a future Milan star.

Two years ago he called Gennaro Gattuso and asked for his blessing to take the famous No 8 shirt, now he sits as one of the heroes in his beloved club's 19th Scudetto win.

AC Milan's Tomori Investment Pays-off

AC Milan Tomori |Sportz Point

Fikayo Tomori (Image- Getty Image)

One of Chelsea's biggest regrets of the last 18 months is allowing Fikayo Tomori to depart, which was undoubtedly a mistake on behalf of Frank Lampard, his successor Thomas Tuchel and the club's hierarchy.

The young English defender had shown clear promise in his debut season at Stamford Bridge, was bizarrely cast to one side by Lampard in the first half of the next campaign and then sent to the San Siro on loan the following January.

After completing a permanent £25million move to AC Milan last summer, Tomori quickly established himself as one of Piolo's most trusted centre-backs in the 2021-22 campaign. An injury to Simon Kjaer offered him greater responsibility and provided Pioli with new tactical and technical solutions, while helping Pierre Kalulu become a more intelligent player.

Tomori and Kalulu's solid partnership gave the Milan backline more of a European footprint, but it was the former who was largely responsible for reducing their average number of league goals conceded by a quarter; a very important statistic which played a key part in capturing the Scudetto.

The former Chelsea man was Maldini's biggest investment as Milan chief and just one year into his San Siro career he has justified that price-tag.

The Kalulu Surprise

As one of the best to ever do it, Maldini can recognise the qualities of a defender simply by observing them in training.

One of his trusted assistants kept tabs on Kalulu at Lyon and relayed feedback on the player, before they made the decision to take advantage of his contract expiration in 2020.

AC Milan snapped up the French defender, who had not made a first-team appearance for Lyon, on a free transfer and handed him a salary well under £1million per year.

Yet last season he showed great concentration when afforded minutes by Pioli, and this term he has taken his game to another level alongside Tomori, racking up 28 appearances in their title-winning campaign.

Kalulu's winning goal against Empoli back in March was the first of his career and went a long way to deciding the fate of the Serie A title race.

Olivier Giroud Ends No.9 Curse

AC Milan: Giroud | Sportz Point.

Olivier Giroud (Image-Getty Images)

Since Filippo Inzaghi ended his iconic Milan career in 2012, every striker who has donned the famous No 9 shirt has failed and left the team after disastrous seasons. 

The likes of Alexandre Pato, Fernando Torres, Gonzalo Higuain and Mario Mandzukic struggled under the weight of Inzaghi's former jersey.

This season, however, Olivier Giroud well and truly banished that curse to help the Rossoneri achieve historic success.

The 35-year-old produced a return of 11 goals in 29 league appearances, which worked out as one every 173 minutes, including a brace in their title-deciding fixture away at Sassuolo. In the process, he broke Cristiano Ronaldo's record as the oldest player to reach double figures in his debut Serie A campaign.

He was another discarded Premier League gem stolen by Maldini to help transform Pioli's side into title-winning diamonds. Giroud arrived in Milan last summer as a European champion, but after being deemed surplus to requirements by Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel he set his sights on a new challenge.

12 months on from winning the Champions League he became an Italian champion, becoming somewhat of a lucky charm for Milan. The French frontman quite literally dragged them to glory by scoring some priceless goals, such as a double in their derby victory away at Inter.

His great personality, physical strength and tactical savviness allowed him to experience a sporting rebirth in his mid 30s.

During an interview with L'Equipe he confessed his love for Italy and the city of Milan, saying: 'As a boy I had very nice friends who had Italian origins, they came from Corato, in Puglia.

Giroud is the man Milan supporters have pinpointed as the protagonist of their unforgettable ride to the Scudetto, despite admitting to have almost joined Inter in the past.

'There are many pizzerias and as a boy I used to go to many Italians to eat. Italy was in my destiny.

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