Sandro Tonali, the one player that seemed poised to become AC Milan’s heart and soul, has unexpectedly parted ways with the Rossoneri.
The 23-year-old Italy international will sign a six-year deal with English Premier League side Newcastle United, triggering the anger of the AC Milan fans who are forced to painfully bid farewell to one of the club’s most emblematic footballers.
Meanwhile, many are now wondering which player could fill the vacancy left by Tonali in the central midfield position.
June hasn’t been the happiest of months for the AC Milan community, who only rejoiced at the news of Rafael Leao’s contract extension.
Technical director Paolo Maldini and sporting director Ricky Massara, the main architects behind some of AC Milan’s major deals in recent years, were laid off following disagreements with Gerry Cardinale, the AC Milan owner and CEO of New York-based private investment firm RedBird Capital Partners. A few days later, the city and club mourned the death of Silvio Berlusconi, the winningest Italian president at the international level and AC Milan’s biggest icon for the last four decades.
Now, Tonali, who had been dubbed “future captain” for his outspoken love towards the Diavolo, has completed a move to England’s Newcastle United.
AC Milan pocketed a significant amount from Tonali’s sale, cashing in about €80 million including add-ons and bonuses, Sky Sport in Italy reports.
That is approximately a €50 million profit on the investment that the club made to sign Tonali from then-Serie B club Brescia back in 2020, when he joined AC Milan on loan and was later acquired on a permanent deal.
The Lodi, Lombardy native took some time to adjust to Serie A’s faster pace. After a sluggish debut season with AC Milan, Tonali rose to the role of protagonist in the 2021/22 campaign, earning a starting spot in Stefano Pioli’s lineup as the Rossoneri moved on to clinch their first Scudetto in 11 years.
Last season, Tonali played a key role in AC Milan’s outstanding run in the UEFA Champions League, when they managed to knock out Tottenham Hotspur and Napoli before surrendering to arch rivals Inter Milan in the semifinal stage.
At 23 years old, Tonali combines superb tactical understanding with the ability to effortlessly cover a lot of ground thanks to innate athletic skills. He’s also gifted with accurate long and short passes, as highlighted by his seven assists during the 2022/23 Serie A campaign. On the human side, he quickly became a fan favorite for the unparalleled effort that he would regularly display on the pitch.
Over the last two years, his partnership with Algeria international Ismaël Bennacer made them one of the most solid and hard-working midfield duos across the entire Italian league.
With Tonali’s departure, AC Milan will look to invest a portion of his transfer fee into a midfielder that can replicate his defensive and offensive contribution. But the club needs to carefully evaluate a profile that will also suit Pioli’s 4-2-3-1 playing system.
Transfer reports from Italy’s most credible sources like Gianluca Di Marzio suggest that AC Milan have entered the race for Sassuolo and Italy talented midfielder Davide Frattesi. The 23-year-old mezzala, who is renowned for having a knack for scoring goals, has a €40 million price tag.
Another hot name of this transfer session is Sergej Milinković-Savić, who has consistently been ranked among Serie A’s best midfielders in the last few years.
Because his contract with Lazio is set to expire in June 2024, the Biancocelesti might settle for a €35 million fee to avoid losing the Serbia international as a free agent at the end of the 2023/24 campaign.
Both Milinković-Savić and Frattesi, however, are on the radar of Europe’s major soccer clubs, a factor that contributes to making the race to sign them all the more competitive.
If AC Milan decide not to draw from Serie A, they might turn to the Netherlands, a country that has become increasingly more appealing for talent scouts in Italian soccer.
AC Milan have reportedly eyed Tijjani Reijnders, the Dutch midfielder featuring for Eredivisie side AZ Alkmaar. While Reijnders would represent a cheaper alternative to Frattesi and Milinković-Savić, AZ Alkmaar are not accepting any offer below €18 million, Di Marzio explained.
Benfica’s Florentino Luis and PSV Eindhoven’s Ibrahim Sangaré are also on AC Milan’s watchlist.
What is certain is that AC Milan are expected to make a strong statement in this summer’s transfer session.
The American ownership has recently been put under strong pressure by the fans, who during the club’s final match of the season displayed an unequivocal message in the stands: “It’s transfer market time,” read a banner from the ultras section.
The next few weeks will tell us more about the Rossoneri’s strategy to build a competitive roster ahead of next season’s Serie A and UEFA Champions League.