AC Milan patron Silvio Berlusconi has stated more than once over the past couple of years of his desire for his side to be filled with a majority of Italian players.
In an effort to build for the future by utilising the domestic league’s Italians while also nurturing players through their own academy, Milan are looking to form an identity in the present day after consecutive seasons of disappointment. The Rossoneri want to emulate clubs like Torino and Sassuolo who are currently fielding nearly an entire starting XI of Italians, and have found success doing it.
The former Prime Minister must have been pleased to note that eight out of Milan’s starting XI against Lazio were indeed Italian. Moreover, with the 3-1 win in the capital, Sinisa Mihajlovic’s men sit just four points off third-place.
Although the club’s past transfer windows have often been unable to forge a sense of completeness and stability to the squad, the additions of Alessio Romagnoli from Roma and Davide Calabria from Milan’s primavera side have been noteworthy and exceptional.
At just 20 and 18 years of age, the introduction of these two defenders in this campaign creates a real possibility of forming a formidable backline for years to come.
Romagnoli spent last season on loan at Sampdoria under his current manager, making 30 league appearances and winning plaudits from around the peninsula. The Italian giants purchased the left-footed centre-back in a deal worth €25 million plus possible bonuses, and has already proved to be a great signing for Milan.
The 20-year-old possesses great technique in his dribbling and passing abilities and can also feature at left-back. His intelligent positioning allows him to meet defenders head on and eloquently dispossess them of the ball. Impressively, the former Roma man has won 78% of his headed duels and recorded 86% passing accuracy this season.
Composed and confident, Romagnoli’s patience on the ball speaks volume for how mature he is for his age.
Romagnoli has had to pair up with Cristian Zapata, Alex and Rodrigo Ely in the back this season under Mihajlovic. But despite the shuffling of defenders, the 20-year-old has kept his concentration levels high and has been one of Milan’s bright spots so far this season.
However, as he appears quite lean, the young centre-back should enhance his game by bulking up and getting stronger in order to battle the game’s fiercest attackers.
While Romagnoli is marshalling the centre of defence, Calabria has stepped in and provided quality at right-back. The 18-year-old rose through the ranks of the Rossoneri’s academy, making 47 appearances, before making his senior debut this season.
Calabria has a delicate first touch and great close control. In his three matches played so far, he has showcased considerable pace down the right-flank as well as an impressive amount of stamina and endurance.
Explosive, dynamic and alert, he has proved to be a solid right-back option for the likes of Ignazio Abate and Mattia De Sciglio.
The youth product completed his debut against Palermo in the fourth round of Serie A play, coming on for the injured Abate, helping his side to a 3-2 win.
Calabria was then handed a start in the club’s next match against Udinese. He put in a solid shift and surprisingly, was subbed off for Alex just five minutes after half-time.
It turned out to be a poor move by Mihajlovic as the Rossoneri would concede a pair of goals and almost threw away their 3-0 lead. Nonetheless, the academy product would complete the full 90 away to Genoa, which unfortunately ended in a 1-0 loss.
Looking at his performances, Calabria has prided himself in moments of decisiveness. Not daunted by the high level of play, the right-back has averaged 4.7 tackles and 1.3 appearances per match.
Aggressive and always looking to push forward to join the attack, Calabria represents the modern day fullback. He also has the ability to pick out a pass, having created three chances thus far, the second most of any other Milan defender.
An area in which Calabria should look to improve in is his overall passing. While he possesses good intentions, his over eagerness at times lets him down, resulting in numerous misplaced passes. He has recorded 67% passing accuracy this term, which is the lowest return of any outfield play of his side bar Philippe Mexes.
Calabria will have to continue to battle with Abate and De Sciglio for a starting place this season, but when called up, the 18-year-old will show his quality. Furthermore, his good form won him a call-up to his country’s under-21 setup last month.
All in all, with Milan’s hopes of returning to the pinnacle of Italian football, entrusting in two young, Italian talents in Romagnoli and Calabria is a wise choice in establishing a solid foundation for future success.
About the author – Matthew Amalfitano
Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, the Independent, Betfair, beIN Sports USA, Squawka and others.