AC Milan the winners over Juventus as Gonzalo Higuain, Mattia Caldara head to the San Siro
Losing a player considered their marquee signing last summer, who was club captain last season as well as the figurehead in their push to restore former glories, should seem like a major blow for AC Milan.
Fortunately for the Rossoneri faithful, new sporting director Leonardo has pulled off a masterstroke having secured the signings of Mattia Caldara and Gonzalo Higuain in negotiations with Juventus over the return of their former defensive stalwart.
Caldara arrives in a straight swap for Leonardo Bonucci, while Milan will take Higuain on an initial loan deal with an option to permanently buy next year. Naturally, the club will hope that the arrival of the duo takes them closer to returning to the top four in Serie A in the upcoming campaign.
Breaking the deal down into two parts, the acquisition of Caldara to replace Bonucci is arguably the most impressive aspect. While it will be a blow for Milan to lose the latter given his leadership, experience and winning pedigree, the fact that they've signed a player considered a future defensive pillar for club and country suggests how talented Caldara is.
The 24-year-old has gained crucial experience over the last two years with Atalanta both domestically and in Europe. Having had a chance to develop his game and mature into a classy centre-half, he will be expected to fill the void left behind by Bonucci immediately.
Perhaps the most exciting part of his arrival though is the partnership that he could potentially forge with Alessio Romagnoli moving forward. On paper, they should complement each other well, and given they're both of a similar age, they have an opportunity to build a pivotal base on which Milan can flourish, perhaps as long as the next decade.
Add Gianluigi Donnarumma to the mix between the posts, along with Andrea Conti and Davide Calabria, and Milan have a young group of Italian defenders capable of cementing the club's back line for years to come. Patience will be needed as they develop together, but it's an exciting plan long-term, nonetheless.
Leonardo deserves praise in particular for this part of the deal, as reports suggest that Milan made it immediately clear that the only way Bonucci could return to Turin was if Caldara was included in the deal. To not only have the vision of the club's best interests but to execute it and stick to their guns, the Rossoneri really do merit immense credit for this move. As for Higuain, Milan now have a forward who has double-figure scoring tallies for the past decade, while scoring 20 or more goals in eight of those campaigns. Admittedly, he has failed to deliver on some big stages in the past, but the firepower that he now provides could be crucial for Milan to take that next step.
While the reported figures do seem like a significant amount of money in total for a player who turns 31 in December, the fact is that the immediate impact Higuain is capable of making could be the difference in Milan forcing their way into the top four this season.
As seen at Napoli, he thrives with two wingers on either side of him. Should Gennaro Gattuso stick with a 4-3-3 system with Suso and Hakan Calhanoglu supporting his new talisman, it could be the ideal role to get the best out of him.
Further, the experience, knowledge and winning mentality that he possesses could be pivotal in the development of younger stars such as Patrick Cutrone and Andre Silva, provided the latter stays.
Ultimately, this three-man deal makes Milan stronger than they were last season. They've acquired a defender who has proven he can deliver in the short-term and has an even brighter future, and a world-class striker that has been desperately needed for years.
While their squad isn't yet complete given the need to strengthen in key areas such as midfield and in the wide positions, this move is a step in the right direction for the club.
Having been limited to free transfers for a large part of the summer as the uncertainty over the ownership situation and their FInancial Fair Play issues loomed large, it seemed like Milan were set for an underwhelming transfer market.
However, they've now made a statement and with just over two weeks remaining in the window, Leonardo will hope to move swiftly to perhaps even strengthen the squad further while ensuring that the club's finances remain in order to avoid any fresh issues with UEFA.