ROME — It’s the type of freewheeling spending spree that has been the domain of Middle East sheikhs and Russian oligarchs in recent years.
Only this time it’s the new Chinese owners of AC Milan who have been dominating football’s transfer market.
The signing of prized Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci from six-time defending Serie A champion Juventus on Friday boosted Milan’s off-season spending to 211 million euros (nearly $250 million) — easily the most in Europe.
Other recent signings by the Rossoneri have included forward Andre Silva from FC Porto; midfielders Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti (Atalanta), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen) and Lucas Biglia (Lazio); and defender Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal).
With teenage goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma having agreed to extend his contract until 2021 and another big forward signing expected, Milan could be in position to challenge for its first Serie A title since 2011.
It’s the type of outlay made by the likes of Roman Abramovich when he took over Chelsea in 2003, Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City in 2008 and the Qatari investors in Paris Saint-Germain in 2011.
The overhaul reminds former Milan coach Arrigo Sacchi of when Silvio Berlusconi took control of the club three decades ago and quickly acquired the likes of Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, Carlo Ancelotti and Frank Rijkaard.
The important thing, Sacchi said in an editorial in the Gazzetta dello Sport on Saturday, will be for the new owners to give Milan coach Vincenzo Montella the time to mould a proper squad.
“Berlusconi and (former Milan vice-president Adriano) Galliani were extraordinary and determined with me, showing confidence and respect for me even though we were far from the top by Christmas,” Sacchi wrote.
“Montella’s job won’t be easy,” Sacchi added. “He’s going to have to create the right chemistry and find a system of playing that makes all of these players thrive.”
Milan went on to win two European Cups under Sacchi and ushered in a period of dominance by Italian clubs.
With seven European and Champions League titles in all, Milan sits second only to Real Madrid’s 12.
But after three years without any appearances at all in Europe, Milan is looking to regain its place among football’s elite.
The Chinese-led consortium that purchased Milan from Berlusconi for $800 million in April has infused the club with cash.
By the time Serie A starts in mid-August, Milan’s starting 11 could consist of nine new players.
While Bonucci is considered Italy’s top defender — which is saying something in a nation that prides itself on its defending — the last piece of Milan’s transfer puzzle could be the one that alters the balance of power in Serie A.
If Bonucci, as he has intimated, is able to convince former Juventus teammate and current Real Madrid forward Alvaro Morata to join him at Milan, the Rossoneri might just have enough firepower to end Juve’s stranglehold on the “scudetto” (title).
The other forwards Milan is considering signing include: Andrea Belotti, who scored 26 goals for Torino last season; Nikola Kalinic, the scrappy Fiorentina striker; or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the still-improving Borussia Dortmund marksman who ended his youth career with Milan.
Whoever Milan chooses, he will pair in attack with the 21-year-old Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo’s wingman with Portugal, whose transfer cost 38 million euros ($42.5 million).
Bonucci’s transfer fee topped the 40 million euro ($45 million) mark, and the centre back was signed to a five-year contract worth up to 10 million euros ($11 million) per season, including bonuses — making him the highest-paid player in Italy.
In an unusual move, Milan will also make Bonucci the club’s captain before he even plays a match for the team.
“The truth is they’ve gone beyond expectations,” former Milan stalwart Demetrio Albertini said of the new owners. “But if amount of money invested were the only measure that counted, Paris Saint-Germain should have won at least a couple Champions League titles by now.”