From retirement home to nursery: Donnarumma, Locatelli & Romagnoli give Milan a bright future

The Rossoneri are a totally different team now than 10 years ago when they won the Champions League, and can finally look forward to the future


If Juventus are called the Old Lady, AC Milan could easily have been called the Old Man.

However, unlike Juve's affectionate nickname, one would only have been calling Milan a club of old men in a derisory way. The Serie A giants have long been seen as a retirement home for players looking to wind down their careers at a successful and competitive club.

Donnarumma crowned NxGn winner

When they won the Champions League 10 years ago, they did so with an 18-man squad whose average age was 31.17. Five years later, their Champions League squad average age had dropped, but only slightly to 29.2 years. This was a team filled with big names like Alessandro Nesta and Clarence Seedorf, legends of the game - a wonderful appraisal, but a title never bestowed on young players.

Ten years on from their triumph over Liverpool at the Olympic Stadium in Athens, Milan are a totally different side. Back then, 38-year-old Paolo Maldini captained the side, and was one of eight over 30s in the starting XI, with Kaka the youngest player at 25.

GFX PS AC Milan 2007 UCL Final

While Carlo Ancelotti's side were one of the greatest in Champions League history - having reached three finals in five years - their age, coupled with the end of president Silvio Berlusconi's big spending, meant that a big crash was just around corner. And indeed it was as, after claiming their last Scudetto in 2011, Milan have endured a miserable period both on and off the pitch - signing mainly cast-offs and veterans.

However, the future finally looks bright again. Ahead of their buyout by Chinese consortium Sino-Europe Sports, Milan have focused on young players and it is now paying dividends. Early this season, the average age of the starting XI against Lazio was 24.92-years-old - the youngest side put out by AC Milan since May 2003.

NxGn: The top 50 teenage talents

The Rossoneri of 2017 is a much more energetic and youthful side whose trajectory is up rather than down. Key to the new youthful Milan is goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, a record-breaking phenomenon, who just turned 18 in February. The giant shot-stopper is the second youngest goalkeeper to play in Serie A, and the youngest goalkeeper to ever line out for the Italy national team.

NxGn Donnarumma

Gianluigi Donarumma NxGn

Unlike many prodigious talents who are thrown into the deep end, Donnarumma looks like he belongs. Last season, he established himself as the club's number one, and has kept his place ever since. It is no wonder that the Italian this week won Goal’s NxGn prize, which ranked the world’s 50 best teenage talents born 1998 and after.

Milan’s goalkeeper of 2007 believes that Donnarumma will surpass him, with Dida telling Sportmediaset that "he has great talent and I think he can do more than I did with Milan's colours, because he is very young... Gigio has already demonstrated his value, and I think he's going to develop even more."

Donnarumma can be better than Buffon

Donnarumma is key to coach Vincenzo Montella's future plans, along with fellow teenager Manuel Locatelli - who finished sixth in NxGn after a series of great midfield displays this season which included a thunderbolt goal versus Juventus - and 22-year-old defender Alessio Romagnoli who is considered the heir to Giorgio Chiellini for Italy. Already, Montella has guided his reshaped side to their first trophy since 2011, beating Juventus in the Supercoppa Italiana on penalties in December with Donnarumma saving the decisive spot kick.

Manuel Locatelli Milan

Alessio Romagnoli Milan

GFX PS 2016 AC Milan Supercoppa Italiana XI

Milan's final two penalties were converted by 23-year-old forward Suso, who has kickstarted his career after a disappointing introduction at Liverpool, and then 21-year-old Mario Pasalic, one of Chelsea's many young loanees gaining first team experience on the continent.

Having gone through a period of transition over the past five years, giving time to 88 different players in Serie A (the 10th highest number of players used from all the top five leagues), this Milan side is finally starting to settle and mature under Montella.

NxGn Cartoon 1920

Donnarumma's brother reveals all

Article continues below

“This team is only at the beginning, so there is a big margin for improvement. If you have this many young players, the side is destined to get stronger over time," the 42-year-old said.

“I’d like there to be a few more headlines on these lads, as they deserve greater praise.”

If they keep playing the way they are under Montella and the long-awaited cash-fuelled takeover finally goes through, a return to the Champions League is destined to happen, with headlines talking about Milan's young men rather than Juventus's Old Lady.