Milan’s much talked about youth project has long since been discounted as a thing of the past. The sale of promising youngster Bryan Cristante to Benfica simply reinforces this point. Rhys Montanarello does not hold back as he puts into words his disappointment and anger at the deal.
While AC Milan have begun their season on the tail-end of a surprisingly successful transfer campaign; acquiring the likes of Menez, Alex, and Diego Lopez, there is one piece of business which was a huge disappointment for Milan fans around the world: the sale of 19-year old Bryan Cristante. Over the past few seasons, Cristante has been the shining gem of Milan’s youth set-up and it seemed that this year would be the one where he would get the opportunity to showcase his talent. Technically he will be doing just that, but not with Milan. Cristante will be plying his trade in Portugal this season with Benfica.
There was plenty of speculation regarding the future of the midfielder at the start of the transfer window, with both Benfica and Sassuolo seeking out the services of the player. However these rumors were quickly put to bed by Galliani who stated that Milan had no intention of selling Cristante, much to the relief of the fans. Cristante travelled with Milan to the USA for their pre-season tour and was one of the few players to impress during the tour. Fans began to believe that Cristante was ready for a step up to the first team, hopefully displacing the likes of Essien and Muntari who had been seeing ample minutes during the previous season while the youngster did nothing but sit on the bench. Well it is safe to say that that was far from the truth. Not only would Muntari and Essien continue to get minutes that would have been valuable for Cristante’s development, but Van Ginkel would be there too.
Signed on a loan deal from Chelsea, Van Ginkel’s signing appeared to be the final nail in the coffin for Cristante’s time at Milan. Here was yet another midfielder he had to compete with, and one that probably would not have a long term future with the club at all. Van Ginkel’s signing would have made sense if Essien/Muntari had left, but signing him before merely shipping him back to Chelsea a better player while getting rid of one of their own talents just makes no sense. Of course Van Ginkel is talented, but how much first team action has he seen in the last year? Practically none as he was injured for all of last season. Would it not have made more sense to put your faith in your own youngster rather than take a risk on a player that will just be sent home to Mourinho in a year? Cristante had finally had enough. Milan wanted to loan him out for a year after signing Van Ginkel, but the player wanted a permanent move, probably to a club that would actually show some faith in his abilities. So in swooped Benfica, returning with an offer of €6 million (in June their offer had been €4 million), one that turned out to be sufficient for Galliani. If there was any doubt remaining that the “youth project” put in place after Silva and Ibrahimovic were sold was nothing but a hoax, it was vanquished after this sale. Here is Milan, in dire need of some positivity heading into the new season, selling one of their brightest young talents because they could not find a way to fit him into a midfield rotation that included players like Essien and Muntari. The reaction from the fans was understandably one of anger, and many were yet again calling for Berlusconi to sell the club, because it seemed as though he, along with Galliani, has really just lost all interest in improving the side (they had just signed Torres at this same time as well, so that just made things worse).
Now, one could argue that Milan will be better off heading into next season after selling Cristante because the money gained from that sale went directly towards acquiring Giancomo Bonaventura on deadline day from Atalanta, and they would not be wrong. But as great an acquisition as Bonaventura was, the idea that Berlusconi could not scrape together €6million of his own money to make this happen while keeping Cristante is just depressing. The man is worth billions, and here he is preaching about how he wants to take Milan back to the top, but then cannot even invest a sum of €6million into the team. That amount is paltry in the current transfer market, and he probably could have gotten that much from the likes of QPR/Hull City by selling Essien and Muntari, and kept Cristante in the process while allowing Inzaghi to properly integrate him into the side. So yes, the squad has improved since the sale of Cristante, but the manner in which it did so epitomizes how Milan have struggled financially in recent years. At least Bonaventura did not have to pay some of his transfer fee to come to Milan like Adil Rami.
With both Cristante and Balotelli now gone, Milan’s only true young players that will play a role in the side this season will be El Shaarawy and De Sciglio (Hachim Mastour does not count here, as the odds of him seeing minutes are about as good as mine). Thankfully they have been treated better than Cristante was when they moved to the first team, but if this starts to become a regular occurrence with young players then Milan will have more problems like this in the future. You cannot just allow youngsters to train with the first team and then say that you have faith in them. The players have to be given minutes to prove themselves and then if they impress, you can start talking about having faith in them. Look at the two matches Cristante played last year; against Atalanta, and Sassuolo. He did not even play all 180 minutes yet he was still able to notch up a cracking goal and assist in the process. But what happened after that? He was once again demoted to the bench where he would sit for the remainder of the season while Muntari, Essien, and even Montolivo constantly disappointed. Maybe Seedorf was just obsessed with experience, or maybe Cristante just was not good enough? Either one could be true, but it is hard to imagine that he would have performed much worse than the aforementioned players.
It can be argued that Milan both won and lost with this sale. If Bonaventura is a success then it likely will not be an issue. But if Cristante gets regular time in Portugal and starts showing the talent that was so insanely hyped by the Milan management, it will go down as yet another misguided move by the big men upstairs, and Milan fans will have yet another player about whom they could ask “what if he had stayed?”, much like Aubameyang. This move leaves a sour taste in the mouths of the Milan faithful, but hopefully Inzaghi can do enough this year to make everyone forget about this moment of darkness in an otherwise brilliant transfer campaign.
Written by Rhys Montanarello.
Read all our articles in the “Maldini’s Class” Team Blog.
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