How do Milan replace Sandro Tonali?
Despite what pundits in England may say, Tonali wasn’t Milan’s best player over the last several years, but there’s little doubt that the midfielder was in the conversation.
Tonali had grown into the role after struggling in his first season at Milan in 2020/21. By the time he departed for Newcastle, Tonali was arguably Milan’s fourth-best player, just behind the likes of Mike Maignan, Theo Hernandez and Rafael Leao.
Those three are more critical to the Milan cause than Tonali. Maignan’s effect on Milan could be found in the run to the Champions League semi final. Stefano Pioli’s defence looked more assured when ‘Magic Mike’ returned after a lengthy injury layoff ahead of the second leg against Tottenham in March. Theo Hernandez has developed into one of the best in the world in his position, and Milan don’t look anywhere near as potent when Leao isn’t on the pitch, their only genuine world class attacker.
Yet that doesn’t mean that Tonali’s absence won’t be felt going into next season, especially if the club fail to replace the Italian correctly. In the aftermath of his departure, Milan have been linked with the likes of Valencia’s Yunus Musah, AZ Alkmaar’s Tijani Reijnders and Bologna’s Nico Rodriguez among others.
Despite comparisons to Andrea Pirlo due to their similar look and the fact that both started their careers with provincial side Brescia. Yet as most observers of Tonali recognise, there’s more grizzly Gennaro Gattuso in the 23-year-old than the luscious strides of Pirlo. Tonali is more athletic than Pirlo and covers more grass than the new Sampdoria coach ever did in his playing career.
In that respect, Musah would be a better fit to Pioli’s system, and it’s no surprise that links with the USMNT international have remained strong over the last several weeks. Musah, 20, has enormous upside for Milan. His potential is nowhere near realized and even if Valencia are demanding a figure in the region of €25m-€30m ($27m-$32m), Milan could resell Musah later down the line for a much bigger profit should that potential be fulfilled.
Despite selling Tonali for close to €70m ($76m) and the club set to post a profit in 2022-23 for the first time in years, Milan are still being operated in a frugal manner by owners RedBird, and there won’t be a big-money signing to replace the Italian. Ruben Loftus-Cheek has already been signed from Chelsea, with the club paying around €16m ($17m), plus add-ons. Loftus-Cheek will add physicality and dynamism to Milan’s midfield, but the 27-year-old, who’s had his injury problems over the last couple of seasons, won’t be suffice to appease the Milansti, who are still upset over Tonali’s shock departure.
Likely, what we could see is Milan signing one or two more midfielders before the end of the summer transfers window. This is also in part due to Ismael Bennacer’s knee injury, which was sustained towards the end of last season and will keep the Algerian out of action until Christmas. Bids for Musah and Reijnders have been rather on the low side judging by accounts, with Milan trying to buy players in the €15m-€25m ($15m-$25m) range.
Whoever the club bring in to replace Tonali, there’s little doubt the pressure will be on to reduce the Italian to a distant memory. Maignan did so brilliantly with Gianluigi Donnarumma, as did Olivier Giroud for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Franck Kessie, however, has yet to be replaced, both figuratively and physically.
Let’s see if the club can move on from Tonali as they did Donnarumma, or if Tonali’s ends up in the Kessie pile.