AC Milan ended a 52-year wait for their eighth Champions League success in the summer of 2059 as Robinho Lazaró led an exciting crop of youngsters to an unlikely treble. And the 75-year-old was convinced to stay in Italy for another year with a bumper £125,000 weekly salary.
One of the biggest regrets of Lazaró’s long career was not working with Juarez, who he managed at Wolfsburg and Liverpool and won the Ballon d’Or under his management, through the peak of his career. The Brazilian had been scandalously wasted at Liverpool since Lazaró left – only playing a maximum of 25 league games in each of the last nine seasons.
So when the striker requested to leave Anfield, Lazaró jumped at the opportunity to reunite. In truth, he massively overpaid with a deal worth an initial £24 million rising to about £50 million. But it was absolutely worth it, if only for sentimental value and to bring a little extra experience to the squad. And Juarez is still outrageously good, getting the rarity of an A- rating from the Milan fans.
Kicking off with silverware
As European champions, Milan took on Bayern in the glorified friendly that is the UEFA Super Cup. And, despite being dominated by 21 shots to eight, an Anders Lassen strike was enough for a 1-0 victory.
Serie A defence begins
Despite winning two titles on the bounce, Milan were still predicted to finish third behind Inter and Juventus with odds of 3/1 to retain their title.
The season began with a mass of injuries to midfielders and strikers. Despite that, Juarez scored on his debut from an Iliya Kolev corner. Roma scored with their only shot of the first half but Kolev rescued his side with a long-range winner.
Juarez scored again to nick a 1-0 win at Genoa then he and Kolev bagged braces in a 5-0 thumping of Torino. In three games under Lazaró, he’d already scored more goals than in 18 for Liverpool last season. But he wasn’t done there, scoring two more in a 3-1 win at Sassuolo then, after a 0-0 at Napoli, scored in wins over Atalanta, Salernitana, Crotone and Lazio, then bagged a brace in a 3-0 success at Frosinone before missing six weeks with sprained knee ligaments.
Milan were unbeaten through 11 games before, as usual, they played Juve and Inter in back-to-back games. First up was a trip to Juventus Stadium, which Milan dominated and led through Jordan Montano, only for Juve to score their only shot on target on 85 minutes. Then at home to Inter they got a flyer as Jan Mares sent academy product striker Andrea D’Avino through to score on his 100th league appearance. Inter were handed a dubious penalty on their first attack but Kolev immediately restored the deserved lead. And that proved enough as, after 20 shots to six, Milan somehow only won 2-1.
Milan headed into a new decade of the 2060s still unbeaten in Serie A – having won 14 and only conceded seven goals in 16 games. And they led Juve and Inter by 7 and 9 points respectively. Milan’s players top the individual charts, with Juarez leading the way with 12 goals and a 7.94 average rating, Mares having the most assists (7), Kolev the most player of the match awards (7) and the third-most goals (10), Michielsen the most clean sheets (9) and Antonio the most bookings (9).
And the 2050s ended with centre-back Oscar Rendón winning FIFA Best U21 Men’s Player and European Golden Boy, 34-year-old Michielsen winning FIFA Best Men’s Goalkeeper, World Golden Glove and Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year, and Michielsen and Kolev making the FIFA Team of the Year.
Champions League group
Milan’s Champions League defence began with a tough group alongside Man City, Valencia and FC Kobenhavn. But any reasons for concern were blown away by a 4-0 thrashing of City in the group opener with goals by Kolev, Juarez, Lassen and D’Avino. Then, out of nowhere, they took a 4-1 hammering in Valencia! But wins home and away over Kobenhavn and a Lassen brace at home to Valencia sealed qualification and the group. So Lazaró rested the entire first 11 for City away and only lost 2-0 – but Valencia knocked City out!
Into the 2060s
The 2060s began with more silverware as a completely changed 11 defended Milan’s Coca-Cola Supercup crown on penalties after a 1-1 draw with Fiorentina. That was Lazaró’s 50th all-time trophy as a manager – with 28 league titles and 22 cup wins. But could he add to that this season?
League-wise, the new decade began in classic Milan fashion as Kolev nicked a 1-0 win at Udinese. Then Juarez returned from injury to score the winner in an unusually wild 4-3 win at home to Bologna, which Milan trailed 2-0 and 3-2. The Brazilian striker picked up where he left off before the injury, scoring a brace in a 4-0 win at SPAL.
Milan’s unbeaten start ended with a 3-0 loss at high-flying Torino in late January. But they got back on track by beating Cagliari then Juarez and Lassen goals earned a 2-0 win over Napoli and a Kolev double sealed a 3-0 win over Sassuolo. And the form continued into a five-game winning streak, including Juarez bagging a hat-trick and Lassen a brace in a 5-0 thumping of Frosinone.
That moved them a huge 14 points clear with eight games remaining, which they maintained as a Juarez brace sealed a 3-0 win at Sampdoria. That ted up a title decider at home to Juve, who took an undeserved lead in the first half. Lassen drew Milan level with an unbelievable curling 30-yard strike only for Juve to score with their third shot on target – but substitute Montano nicked a late equaliser.
That result virtually wrapped up the title. But Juarez bagged a brace in a 4-0 win over Cagliari, in which academy product left-back Norman Schmidt scored his first goal for the club. A first chance to clinch the title came at city rivals Inter but they lost 2-0 then a Kolev goal earned a draw at Parma while Inter beat Atalanta and Juve put seven past Salernitana.
But they wrapped up a third successive title as a Lassen brace and Kolev and Juarez goals sealed a 4-0 win over Udinese. And the season concluded with a 5-0 thumping of bottom of the league SPAL led by Juarez and Kolev braces and a hat-trick of assists by left-back Edgar Ruiz.
They ended the season with just three defeats and 93 points, scoring a joint-high 81 goals and conceding a league-low 24. Juarez led the way with an impressive 30 goals from 30 starts, Kolev broke two record with his 7.82 average rating and 13 player of the match awards, Michielsen topped the clean sheets with 22, and right-back Miroslav Petrous and Antonio got the most bookings with 17 and 16 respectively.
As a result, Juarez won Serie A Player of the Year, Top Goalscorer of the Year and the bizarre-sounding Exemplary Career Serie A Player of the Year, Lassen won Goal of the Year, Michielsen won Goalkeeper of the Year and Milan won Best Club of the Year.
Champions League knockouts
The first knockout round saw a repeat of last year’s final as Milan took on Lazaró’s former club Liverpool. The English side raced into a two-goal lead but a Kolev strike gave Milan hope for the return leg. The return leg was a completely different story. Juarez came back to haunt his former club with a second-minute goal then hit the post with a piledriver early in the second half. Then Kolev deservedly put Milan ahead with a wonderful strike on 64 minutes, Juarez chipped home six minutes later then completed his hat-trick with a beautiful curled effort and Lassen hit a fifth in injury time! Milan had 28 shots to four and absolutely dominated – making this possibly the best performance of Lazaró’s entire career.
It didn’t get much easier as Real Madrid were up next! But Milan were amazing in the first leg as Mares bagged a brace inside 21 minutes then Juarez’s 90th-minute strike sealed a 3-0 home win. And the wonderful Juarez scored two more in a brilliant 3-1 win at Santiago Bernabéu!
That teed up a semi-final with Lyon, which didn’t start well with a disappointing 1-0 defeat in France. But the ridiculously impressive Kolev teed up a second successive Champions League Final as his brace sent it to extra-time, then youngster Frederik Sonderby came off the bench to nick a 119th-minute winner!
Champions League Final
Lazaró was looking to seal a fourth Champions League title as his Milan side took on English opposition for the second year in a row. This year’s opponents were Man UFC and Lazaró had a fully fit squad to choose from, so he selected:
Michielsen; Petrous, Rendón, Veríssimo, Ruiz; Mares, Antonio, Gronnesby; Kolev; Juarez, Lassen
Subs: D’Avino, Lombardi, Schmidt, Drewnowski, Sonderby, Montano, Canciani, Guinot, Pikaus, Tarnogradzki, Capello, Marques
Milan got off to a flyer as Mares slid Juarez through for the opener after five minutes then the striker teed up his partner Lassen for the second on 21 minutes. And Milan were 2-0 up from two shots and just 0.2 xG! Nothing happened after the break until Kolev picked out an excellent pass for Juarez to chip the keeper for his 40th goal of the season on 86 minutes.
Milan won back-to-back Champions League titles!
This season’s star man was the incredible Juarez – aka Juarez The Great – who scored a new club-record 40 goals in 44 in all competitions with another new club-record 7.69 average rating – including a brace and an assist in the Champions League. And he won the European Golden Shoe. Surely he is the greatest player in Football Manager history?
Pushing him close was the amazing Kolev, who scored 26 and got 19 assists and averaged 7.83 in 51 appearances from attacking midfield. While Lassen scored 22 and got six assists with a 7.44 average rating from 48 games. The next top scorer was D’Avino with eight followed by Sonderby, Montano and Mares (4). While Mares got 15 assists, Petrous got 14 and midfielder Thor Gronnesby got seven but didn’t score in 50 appearances!
Kolev, now recognised as an elite attacking midfielder and has become absolutely ridiculous, won fans’ player and young player of the season, Juarez was signing of the season, and Lassen won goal of the season. While Juarez also won Champions Cup Golden Boot and Forward of the Season, Kolev won Midfielder of the Season and Michielsen was Goalkeeper of the Season. This team is ridiculous!
Additional special mention has to go to Kolev, who became Lazaró’s first player since Juarez in 2051 to win the Best Player in Europe award. And this kid has become seriously special!
Lazaró’s success this season saw him become the third-best manager of all time, only behind Julian Nagelsmann and Thomas Tuchel. He now had what has to be a world record 29 league titles and 23 cup wins. Which is just silly!
He had been considering moving on this summer, but when AC Milan offer you a new deal worth £165,000-per-week, surely you can’t say no? And he didn’t. Plus, he couldn’t reject the chance to work with Juarez The Great in his absolute pomp.
That was combined with zero interesting job opportunities appearing in the last 12 months – so Lazaró decided to remain in Italy for a fourth season.
Could 76-year-old Robinho Lazaró bag a fourth successive and three Champions Leagues on the bounce? Join us next Monday to find out!