On a warm evening in Athens just five years ago, AC Milan capped yet another ascension to the throne of European football. There, in the final of the UEFA Champions League, the Rossoneri claimed with conviction the seventh title. Theirs was a special squad; the type of squad so gilded with talent and flowing with class that it takes on an identity of its own. A stable of players so intimately connected with the Milanese outfit coalesced finely at the optimum moment, enshrining in history their importance and significance.
This stable of players included an imperious Alessandro Nesta at the back, a simultaneously feisty and poetic midfield duo of Gennaro Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf, and a goalscoring demigod, Fillipo Inzaghi, atop the pitch. It was with such eminently-recognisable players that AC Milan forged and created an identity as a club. Just hearing the name of the club set forth numerous silhouettes of these great players in the mind, making this an unmistakably club with an identity.
Now, these heroes do not remain. Silvio Berlusconi, ever the controversial owner of his hometown club, has embarked this summer on a campaign of transition. At the confluence of a flailing Italian economy and a marginal domestic failure last season, a monumental firesale has emerged. Four of the greatest servants in the clubs history have been dispensed of, with Gattuso now snapping like a midfield alligator for FC Sion, and Nesta now floating with effortless grace in Montreal. Seedorf too is gone, providing his timeless swagger and probing efficiency to Botafogo of Brazil. Filippo Inzaghi now loiters as a free agent, a frightening sensation for a player so intricately and inexorably synonymous with the red and black of Milan. Legends have left the San Siro.
The quickfire paring of talent may have focused on players of past greatness, but those of current and future greatness was too let go. The sale of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to PSG will inspire the most headlines and receive the most journalistic ink, but that blockbuster was not even the most symbolic of this transition. In selling Thiago Silva, undoubtedly one of the greatest defenders in the world, Milan raised more questions than they answered. Whilst a reasonable rationale can be prescribed for the leaving of Seedorf and Inzaghi, Nesta and Gattuso, none can be found for the loss of Silva. He is irreplaceable.
Thus are Milan in need of a revolution. In selling and releasing a cadre of marquee players, the club now appears to lack an identity. Now, when AC Milan are mentioned in passing, what instantaneously pops into the mind? No longer is it possible to identify with a handful of mesmeric players that once formed a history for the club. Rather, a blank nothingness fills the mind. AC Milan may well be in the midst of much-needed transition, but they too are toiling in an identity crisis.
Emphasis now shifts onto the clubs youth development. That department has, in a direct consequence of such shedding of character, been charged with a great task: produce for us a new brand. AC Milan will now seek to become younger, fresher, and more conditioned to the future. Only time will tell whether too many stars left the San Siro too quickly, but many traditionalists fear that this is already the case.