European football key to luring transfers, accelerating Milan's rebuild
Ever since Marco Fassone and Massimo Mirabelli were appointed AC Milan CEO and sporting director respectively following last month's takeover, transfer speculation has been rife over potential targets moving to the San Siro this summer.
Some reports have naturally been more believable than others while this past week has seen certain rumours strengthen regarding key additions. Atalanta midfielder Franck Kessie has been strongly linked as being the first significant signing of the new regime, and while we await official confirmation, one major positive of all the talk is that the Rossoneri are seemingly wasting no time in trying to get deals done.
With the squad likely to report for training at the start of July, Milan will participate in a pre-season tournament in China at the back end of the month. Further, depending on this weekend's results, the Serie A giants could also be looking at a Europa League playoff clash in August and so it promises to be a busy summer ahead.
In turn, it is absolutely essential that they work quickly on the transfer market where possible. Vincenzo Montella has expressed his confidence over being at Milan next season in recent interviews, and he'll be keen to bring in much-needed new faces.
The more time those new signings have to acclimatise and settle in, coupled with Montella having ample time to test out tactics and flexibility with his line-ups and systems, make it imperative that deals are wrapped up quickly ahead of what is going to be a very important summer for the club.
It's a smart strategy from the Rossoneri, and it's one that is likely to continue in the coming weeks with more names being paired with a move to the San Siro. However, what matters most of course is who officially signs between now and early July rather than what reports tell us.
In addition, a show of ambition and intention with a real statement signing to kick things off after the season ends will also be a major boost for the current squad, supporters and other players considering a move to Milan.
With the likes of Gianluigi Donnarumma and Suso in contract renewal talks, a signing like Kessie would surely send the right message and help all concerned get on board and change the air of uncertainty to a sense of excitement and desire to push on as of next season.
The key for now though is for Montella and his squad to remain focused on the task at hand this weekend. Milan host Bologna on Sunday, while their rivals for sixth place, Fiorentina and Inter, are away at Napoli and Lazio respectively.
It's a perfect opportunity to wrap up the last Europa League qualification spot as Milan will be ready to pounce on Sunday in the event of a Fiorentina slip-up on Saturday night, but qualifying for the competition has also sparked debate.
On one hand, it's evident that Milan don't possess a squad capable of challenging for a top-three spot in Serie A, let alone trying to juggle that with a run in Europe where their lack of depth would surely be badly exposed.
In addition, entry into a UEFA competition will require further Financial Fair Play conditions to be met, and that could lead to issues with Fassone meeting with officials last Friday in Nyon.
As a result, there are understandable concerns that come with qualifying for the competition, but those, in my opinion, are strongly outweighed by the benefits of participating.
First and foremost, it would be a welcome return of European football to the Milan fixture list. Having been out of contention for three years, it would be exciting to see it back on the schedule. Further, it represents a chance to win another trophy, and with it comes the jackpot of securing a passage to the Champions League the following year.
Beyond that, it could be a crucial part of the growth of this squad. Admittedly, reinforcements are desperately needed, but assuming that they will arrive over the next few months, it will be vital for them to gain experience in European competition sooner rather than later and it will be a selling point for possible targets.
All in all, it has to be seen as a positive and the majority of Milan supporters will surely agree. The new ownership and hierarchy have made no secret of their desire to get back into Europe as soon as possible, and even though they've looked like throwing it away in recent weeks, Milan could provide a real boost for all concerned this weekend as work off the pitch continues in earnest.
Sumeet Paul covers AC Milan for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @SP_Calcio.