Getting back to Europe should be seen as a big achievement for AC Milan
With their win over Bologna on Sunday, AC Milan confirmed their place in the Europa League qualifiers later this summer. Given that this was a well-publicised objective prior to the start of the season, there were scenes of celebration after the game, with Vincenzo Montella hoisted into the air by the players as they reveled in their success.
For the most part, Milan supporters would have been delighted to see the Rossoneri return to Europe for the first time since 2014. Although it might well be "only the Europa League," it's an important next step for the club as a whole, as they have undoubtedly shown signs of progress this season.
Putting it into context, Montella had little financial backing the past two transfer windows and has done an excellent job to secure a top-six finish in Serie A. In a season in which the usual suspects contended for the Scudetto while Lazio and Atalanta enjoyed impressive campaigns, to continue to push for that sixth spot and get back into Europe must be seen as a big achievement.
Admittedly, it isn't the ideal end result, in terms of where Milan want to be. The Italian giants should be in the Champions League where they belong, but gaining crucial experience next season at this stage where they can be competitive will help in the building process.
Montella insisted that he was proud of his team on Sunday, as they had essentially met their objectives. Having secured a piece of silverware with the Italian Super Cup, they sealed European football next. Ultimately, they had every right to celebrate and enjoy the moment, despite what some disappointed supporters might have thought.
Milan hero Alessandro Nesta shared that sentiment this week, as he insisted that times have changed at the club, but this is undoubtedly an important step in getting back to the levels they enjoyed during his time at the San Siro.
Given the emphasis that the club, Montella and the players have placed on getting back into Europe, there should be no reservations in terms of Milan looking to go all the way next season. However, the main concern at this point ahead of the summer transfer window is fleshing out this squad and ensuring that it can be competitive both in Serie A and in Europe.
Milan have struggled this season with a lack of depth, and that's without the added pressure of midweek games in Europe. Add those to the fixture list, and the entire situation gets a little more complicated.
The early signs with regard to the summer transfer window are promising, though, and that has certainly reduced the sense of anxiety over whether Milan can get through the qualifying rounds and be a real force in the Europa League next season.
Mateo Musacchio underwent a medical earlier this week, Ricardo Rodriguez and Franck Kessie have been heavily linked with moves, and countless others have been paired with a switch to the San Siro but without the same level of substance behind the reports.
In turn, it looks as though CEO Marco Fassone and sporting director Massimo Mirabelli are working hard to get things in place as soon as possible, and they'll have to, as Milan's season will effectively begin at the end of July. Combine the success on the pitch with the endless stream of speculation off it, and we're undoubtedly looking at a very exciting summer ahead. There could be a whole host of changes made to this squad, but certain comments and reports have stood out this week so far.
Montella's handling of Gianluigi Donnarumma's future was impeccable, as he implored the youngster, whom he suggested he "loves like a son," to make a decision with just over 12 months remaining on his contract, and he reminded him that Milan are doing everything they can to ensure he stays.
Add to that the sight of Musacchio at Casa Milan as real evidence that things are in motion on the transfer front, as well as the return of Gennaro Gattuso as the Primavera youth team coach, and it all adds up to a promising situation.
Getting into the Europa League is an achievement that should be celebrated, not scoffed at, especially in Milan's current situation. As Manchester United have shown this season, it can be an important stepping stone in getting to where the club really want to be.
Sumeet Paul covers AC Milan for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @SP_Calcio.