Our FM22 stories began in Italy in the Sempre Samp series. Now we’re heading back to where it began as Robinho Lazaró moves to AC Milan, where we began FM21 in our Rossoneri series! New to the series? Play catch-up at the start of the journey in the job hunt stage or pick it up at club 1 Puerto Montt, club 2 Universidad Católica, club 3 New York Red Bulls, club 4 River Plate Montevideo, club 5 América de Cali, club 6 Alianza Lima, club 7 Puebla FC, club 8 Palmeiras, club 9 FC Edmonton, club 10 Newell’s Old Boys, club 11 Godoy Cruz, club 12 Flamengo and international teams Brazil and Colombia. Or dip into the start of the European leg of the journey at club 13 Wolfsburg, then club 14 Liverpool, club 15 Barcelona or club 16 Sporting.
Throughout his 35-year Football Manager career, Robinho Lazaró had yet to walk into a club for which he had a genuine affinity. Sure, he liked Sporting and Newell’s Old Boys but he’d never watched one of their matches before taking charge. AC Milan, however, was a completely different kettle of fish.
Lazaró had fond memories of watching Rossoneri in episodes of Gazzetta Italia that had somehow ended up on Colombian TV channels via Channel 4. He’d fallen in love with the classic 1990s team that included legendary footballers like Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, and Zvonimir Boban. And now, fresh from wrapping up league title number 26 and cup competitions 17 and 18, the 72-year-old was one of them – signing a one-year deal worth £40,000-per-week.
AC Milan in 2056
Lazaró walked into a club with 21 Italian titles to its name, having won three during this save in 2048, 2051 and 2055, but hadn’t added to its seven Champions League wins. In fact, no Italian side has won the Champions League in this entire save. Last season, Milan slipped to fifth in the league 14 points back from winners Inter, having won the title the previous season.
Unsurprisingly, Milan weren’t in great financial health with a balance of just £10.6 million. But Lazaró’s new board ominously handed him a £46.5 million transfer budget and a £3.7 million weekly wage budget, of which they were spending £3.4 million. However, they did have perfect 20 training and youth facilities, junior coaching and youth recruitment! And they still play at the now 130-year-old San Siro.
As usual, he walked into a heavily aging team, with 12 players over 30 and 15 over 25. However, several of those were retiring in the summer – including four defenders over the age of 34! – and there was some decent talent coming through. But a big issue was key players deciding they fancied a move away to secure Champions League football.
The best player remaining at the club is 142-time capped Belgian goalkeeper Lander Michielsen. The next best is a familiar face in Lazaró’s former Liverpool winger Jon Azparren, who joined permanently for a dubious £59 million after a successful loan move. And other key players will be 21-year-old homegrown striker Kalu Alozie, right-winger Rosario Pagliero, Egyptian centre-back Hamada Badr and Mexican/Brazilian midfielder Sócrates.
There was also plenty of potential with the likes of 18-year-old striker Andrea D’Avino, 17-year-old attacker Lorenzo Crestani, 16-year-old striker Pierluigi Mele, midfielder Carlos López, right-back Gennaro Capello and goalkeeper Ivo Magosso.
Big summer rebuild
Lazaró instantly stamped his mark on the Milan squad, selling 20 players for over £200 million. That included star midfielder and club icon Yassine Busse, who’d made 514 appearances for the club, moving to man City for £24 million as he wanted Champions League football and was out of contract the following summer. Those sales, combined with the retirement of several high-earners, saw the wage spend more than halved to £1.8 million. It also left Lazaró with just 16 first-team players and, miraculously, only two players over the age of 27!
One thing he had to be wary of was Italy’s silly limit of two non-EU signings per season, which would prevent him from building a Sporting-esque Colombian collective.
He immediately returned to Sporting to snap up midfield wonderkid Jan Mares for a snip at £12.5 million rising to £25 million. He also moved quickly to sign a player he’d been tracking for several years, bringing in Lyon wonderkid Iliya Kolev for £35 million potentially rising to £75 million – and he looks ridiculous. A big gap in the team was the total lack of a left-back, so Lazaró bucked with his trend of signing youngsters by bringing in his former Wolfsburg player Roman Petrik for £12.5 million.
With those star players signed, Lazaró now had to strengthen his squad. The first player in was another he’d been tracking for a while in right-back Miroslav Petrous, who joined for £12.25 million from Slavia Prague. Next was another player he knew very well as his former Barcelona hot prospect Mislav Grubisic arrived for a minuscule £2.5 million. The next man in was former NxGn top-five player Marcel Dinter, who’d requested to leave Nurnberg and was available for £3 million.
Lazaró picked up a backup goalkeeper in 19-year-old Strahinja Ognjanovic, who cost £4.8 million from Partizan. And he added a backup striker in Marcel Dittmer for £4 million from RB Leipzig, before returning to Sporting to snap up defender/midfielder Antonio for a measly £8 million. Then he added backup left-back Edgar Ruiz for £3.9 million from Valencia.
Even with all those new signings, the weekly wage spend is now just £2.2 million – which is half that of Inter and Juve and a saving of £1.5 million every week! And the squad now has an average age of just 22.3 having ditched all the old-timers. Having assessed the players available, Lazaró decided to start out with a standard 4-2-3-1 approach. But that could easily change very quickly and, say quietly, he was contemplating a long-overdue revival of his trademark Caosbala approach.
Life in Italy begins
The media expect Milan to finish fourth, giving them 20/1 odds to win the title. And Michielsen is the only Milan player in the media dream 11.
Lazaró began life in Italy with a goosebump-inflicting first taste of a sold-out San Siro against Torino. It began in frustrating fashion with both wide players missing chances but Alozie put one away as he raced onto a Michielsen clearance to slam home. Milan dominated but continued to miss chances, including Pagliero missing a penalty won by Kolev. But Azparren eventually put one away after lovely play by debutant Mares then Paglkiero finally scored from a dinked Petrik cross. Torino somehow scored their first proper attack but that couldn’t ruin Lazaró’s mood after a solid victory.
Milan also won Lazaró’s first away game 2-0 at newly-promoted Cremonese, who were in Serie A for the first time in 60 years since being relegated in 1996. A trickier test followed with a trip to local rivals Atalanta and they fell to a narrow 1-0 defeat. But they had Pagliero to thank for getting back to winning ways as he scored twice in a 3-0 success over Cagliari, got an injury-time winner at Sassuolo, in which Grubisic played a 7.5 on his debut, and scored a penalty in a 2-1 win over Salernitana.
Another 1-0 away defeat followed at Fiorentina but the impressive home form continued as Kolev scored his first Milan goal to nick a 1-0 win over Bologna. It’s safe to say the goals were not flowing freely, as proven by another 1-0 win – a third successive 1-0 result! – decided by Pagliero at Lazio.
An exciting moment arrived as the run of boring games ended, as homegrown hero D’Avino scored his first senior goal in a 3-0 win over struggling Genoa. And that took Milan top of the league for the first time this season. However, they had yet to face the big two in Italy…
Facing Italy’s big three
That soon changed as they faced off against rivals Juventus – who’ve been the dominant force of this save with 21 more titles – Inter and Napoli in a two-week period.
First up was a trip to the six-year-old Juventus Stadium where, despite having seven shots in the first half-hour, Milan went into the break at 0-0. But that changed on 70 minutes as the referee awarded them a pretty dubious-looking penalty for a “push” on Azparren and Pagliore slammed it home. Four minutes later, a rare Alozie goal had them 2-0 up and, despite a Petrous red card, Juve didn’t even threaten the Milan goal.
Star man Pagliero picked up an injury before welcoming city rivals Inter to San Siro. That showed as they lacked a clinical edge before getting mugged by a refereeing performance in the opposition’s favour, handing them a penalty out of nothing then a ridiculous straight red to Alozie. A similar story looked to be unfolding at home to Napoli, who scored from pretty much their first attack late on, only for Dittmer to rescue a point off the bench. And Lazaró was fairly happy with four points from those tough games.
Lazaró celebrated his 1,600th match as a Football Manager with a trip to SPAL. But it was far from a celebration of flowing football as they ground out another 1-0 win through a Sócrates penalty. And they finished up 2056 at Frosinone, where they went wild by scoring twice, with both goals from the exciting D’Avino.
Milan went into the winter break in a strong second position, two points behind Inter and five clear of Juve in third. After 16 games, they’d lost three and drawn but only conceded seven goals and scored 24. Pagliero was undoubtedly their key player, with his nine league goals only bettered by Roma striker D’Orsi’s 10. While Michielsen had a league-high nine clean sheets. But Lazaró had concerns over the likes of Alozie, who’d scored just three times in 16 games.
Europa League group
Milan got an interesting group alongside Hoffenheim, Red Star and Torpedo Moscow and Lazaró used it as a chance to trial Caosbala. They started by playing well at home to Hoffenheim but missed a host of chances and drew 0-0, then came from 2-0 down after 16 minutes to win 4-2 at Red Star.
Young starlet D’Avino bagged four goals in a 6-0 romping of Torpedo before a 5-0 away win led by Mares running the show with a goal and two assists, which secured qualification with two games remaining. A fully rotated 11 still beat Red Star 3-0 with López bagging his first two Milan goals but crueely lost 1-0 to a 94th-minute goal in Hoffenheim.
Lazaró was unconvinced by the 4-2-3-1 approach he’d started with in Milan, mainly due to a few unconvincing performances. He’d started training the 4-3-1-2 he used with great success in Sporting and Caosbala worked quite well in Europe, but probably wasn’t worthwhile in the long run. But overall, he was pretty happy with his start in Italy.
Join us next time as Robinho Lazaró looks to take the Serie A title fight to city rivals Inter!