Pessimism rippled through the veins of Milanisti in mid-August. It was accounted for by multiple factors. AC Milan fans had suffered through the five-season nightmare of watching fierce enemies Inter Milan tie Juventus’s 75-year-old record of successive Serie A titles. They had witnessed their own team win just four of their last 12 games the previous term to crawl home ten points behind second-placed Roma. Their reins had just been assumed by Massimiliano Allegri, who had never coached at a higher level than Serie C1 until two years earlier and had lost his first five matches in charge of previous club Cagliari.
Then there were players concerns. Christian Abbiati, Alessandro Nesta, Massimo Oddo, Gianluca Zambrotta, Marek Jankulovski, Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo, Massimo Ambrosini, Clarence Seedorf and Filippo Inzaghi were another campaign closer to retirement. Milan’s only arrivals were modest: goalkeeper Marco Amelia and defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos from Genoa, and 34-year-old centre-back Mario Yepes from Chievo. Plus Thiago Silva was being fervently courted by Real Madrid, and Ronaldinho appeared unsettled.
Another season of failure appeared the only feasible conclusion to 2010/11, but the subsequent two weeks emphatically transformed emotions. Kevin-Prince Boateng, fresh from thriving at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, made the Rossoneri jersey his new uniform on 17 August, and 11 days later, after Thiago Silva had declared he was remaining in Lombardy, the club made a signing that sent shockwaves through planet football. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who had excelled for Juventus and Inter between 2004 and 2009 – he scored 57 goals in 88 league appearances for the latter and was named Serie A Footballer of the Year in his last two in Italy – joined Milan on a season-long loan with the option to purchase him outright from Barcelona for €24m.
The 28-year-old Sweden striker was in the San Siro the following day to watch Milan overwhelm Lecce 4-0. Alexandre Pato scored twice in that rout, four days before his 21st birthday, while Ronaldinho turned in an exhilarating performance worthy of his exceptional pomp.
The red and black half of the world’s fashion capital was abuzz, and that enthusiasm was elevated to new heights on 31 August, when, just hours before the transfer window shut, Milan announced the capture of 26-year-old Seleção stand-out Robinho. Now Milanisti – and the neutrals – are salivating over the prospect of watching Ronaldinho, Robinho, Alexandre Pato and Ibrahimovic form an irresistible attacking quartet.
“Milan have the best strike force in Europe,” enthused Ibrahimovic. “Pato and Ronaldinho are fantastic players. Robinho is like a magician and will bring a lot to the team. Attack is always the best form of defence. We are going to make the fans very happy.
"I have come here to win trophies. I am sure we will. I will not leave this team until we have won everything. I believe we are the strongest team in Italy and one of the strongest in the world.”
Proving that will require silverware, and Milan’s sights are firmly focused on winning the Scudetto and, especially, the UEFA Champions League, in which they have been placed in an examining group with Real Madrid, Ajax and Auxerre.
“I know I won’t get a good reception from the fans at the Bernabeu, but I’ll definitely celebrate if I score in Madrid,” said Robinho. “It would be wonderful to beat Jose Mourinho’s side and a dream to play Barcelona in the Champions League final. At the moment Milan and Barcelona are the two strongest sides in the world.”
Mourinho, who improbably conquered Europe as Porto coach in 2004, and guided Inter to the Champions League in May before taking over at Real Madrid, believes Milan are genuine contenders for this season’s crown: “With Ibrahimovic and Robinho, this is another Milan. Robinho and Ibrahimovic are among the best in the world. Certainly Milan is much stronger than it was a year ago. I Rossoneri are among the teams that can win the Champions League.”
The first indication on whether the new-look Milan are capable of ruling Italy and Europe once again will come at Cesena on Saturday, before they host Auxerre and Catania and then take on Lazio in the capital. Rome may not have been built in a day, but perhaps Milan laid the foundations to glory in four memorable days in late-August.