This past summer was one of huge upheaval all across Serie A, with a quick glance at the league table enough to highlight how those sweeping changes have transformed the landscape of Italian football.
After four years of trailing in the shadow of an all-conquering Juventus side, the likes of AS Roma, Fiorentina and Napoli now lead the way, with a resurgent Inter also climbing the standings after intelligent investment ahead of the 2015/16 campaign.
Meanwhile, the reigning champions sit in mid-table but have enjoyed a recent upturn in fortunes, finally appearing to forge a new identity without the likes of Carlos Tevez and Andrea Pirlo. However, sitting just one point ahead of Max Allegri’s new-look Juve are Milan, their own major overhaul seemingly not enough to break the malaise which has besieged them over the past two seasons.
Having sold or released over half their squad, the Rossoneri then replaced them at a net loss of almost €80 million, only to see the mediocrity continue. Even the arrival of Siniša Mihajlović on the bench has failed to provide any tangible lift, Milan remaining as fragile as ever despite the Serbian’s reputation as a man capable of instilling a strong team spirit and work ethic.
After pushing Sampdoria into a Europa League spot last term, the coach was expected to make the San Siro giants a force once again, yet only Carpi have conceded more goals than them thus far. Mihajlović’s inability to find a cohesive partnership in central defence is hurting the side every time they step on the field, while an unimaginative and limited collection of midfielders appear incapable of protecting the backline or supporting the attack.
Indeed, the reason Milan are not much lower in the table can be summed up in two words: Carlos Bacca.
The club’s most expensive summer signing, the Colombian striker joined from Sevilla at a cost of €21 million and has enjoyed a fine start with Milan. Vice-President Adriano Galliani has compared his movement to that of Andriy Shevchenko and while that is clearly hyperbolic, Bacca is routinely finding time and space in a league where both are often at a premium.
Despite the high praise, he has fallen foul of Mihajlović’s volcanic temper on at least one occasion, the coach leaving no doubt as to how he felt watching the striker attempt to score with a rabona against Palermo last month.
“If you do it and it goes in, that’s fine,” a visibly annoyed Mihajlović snapped at his post-match press conference. “But if you don’t, someone will have you up against the dressing room wall!” Fortunately for both the player and the foundations of San Siro, Bacca had already made amends by grabbing a 75th minute winner to seal all three points for his side, and he has arguably had a more immediate impact than any other summer arrival on the peninsula.
In just 624 minutes of domestic action, Bacca has netted five times, a tally bettered only by Éder (7), Gonzalo Higuaín (7) and Lorenzo Insigne (6) who have all received more playing time. He has also done so from far fewer attempts on goal, with statistics in the graphic above showing he averages less shots per game than that aforementioned trio.
Displaying a level of tactical intelligence that is essential for any player moving to Italy, the timing of his runs has been consistently excellent and he has handled Serie A’s renowned physical style of defending comfortably. Nevertheless, that impressive goal scoring ratio and unerring accuracy belie the fact that he only turned professional seven years ago, arriving in Europe back in 2011 with Club Brugge.
It took him twelve months to adapt to being so far from home, but his second season saw Bacca smash 25 goals in 35 appearances and earn a move to Spain as Sevilla invested €7 million in the former bus conductor. Contributing 49 goals and 15 assists in 108 outings for the Andalusian side enhanced his reputation further still, and prompted them to cash in on him after two excellent years.
Strong interest from Arsenal, Man Utd and Liverpool meant that it was something of a surprise that he opted to join the Rossoneri, but the man himself insists nowhere else could provide him with the challenge he accepted. “Milan is the right place for me,” the 29-year-old told La Repubblica earlier this year. “I didn’t choose this club because of money, as I would’ve earned more in China, Saudi Arabia or England.”
“I was fascinated by the objective of getting back into the Champions League,” he added, although the performances of the Rossoneri and their rivals mean that aim still seems some way off.
Yet the blame for their shortcomings certainly does not lay with Carlos Bacca, undeniably Milan’s most important player and a striker those Premier League clubs must regret missing out on.
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