AC Milan have become synonymous with some of the greatest Brazilian footballers to grace the field since the turn of the century.
Renowned for their silky skill moves, elegant movement and eye for the spectacular, Milan fans have seen them all come and go. From the imposing Nelson Dida in goal, to the marauding runs of Cafu and Serginho on either flank. Midfield magicians in Leonardo and Kaka would feed the ball through to the great Ronaldinho or Ronaldo.
There’s no doubting the appeal of the inventive, joyful approach to football South America has endorsed over the years, but for every Brazilian wonderkid, a tough, gut-busting Eastern European has been there to put in the hard graft. None have been more successful or influential in a Milan jersey than Andriy Shevchenko.
The Ukrainian is only surpassed by Gunnar Nordahl as the club’s all-time top goalscorer, scoring an incredible 175 goals in 322 appearances for the Rossoneri. His uncanny ability to find the back of the net ushered in a new period of success at the club, with Shevchenko himself benefiting from linking up with the likes of Kaka.
Both Shevchenko and Kaka would go on to cement their own legendary statuses at Milan, but together they represented a perfect marriage of skill and precision; master craftsman who together could produce a work of art.
Their efforts were complimented by a wealth of talent from both Eastern Europe and South America. The tough-tackling Kakha Kaladze and industrious Marek Jankulovski reinforced an already imperious defence, while the precocious Alexandre Pato joined in 2007 and became an instant sensation.
Gradually the emphasis moved toward focusing on reinforcements from Brazil, with few capable of disputing the unique selling factor the ‘samba stars’ brought to the table. The likes of Zvonimir Boban, Dario Simic and Dejan Savicevic seemingly a distant memory as the club plunged head first into the Brazilian market.
The club struck gold with Thiago Silva, but soon began to lose their way. The turbulent situation at Milan coincided with poor, inconsistent performances on the pitch, seemingly going from one dismal recruit to another. Wretched stints for Luiz Adriano and Nikola Kalinic personified how dramatically the seven-time European champions had fallen from grace.
However, renewed optimism has returned to the San Siro with the arrival of Lucas Paqueta and Krzysztof Piatek in the winter transfer window. The Brazilian and Pole cost the club in the region of €70 million combined, but their impact as been nothing short of immediate; showcasing once again the success the club has had in combing the ethos of both footballing cultures.
Piatek has made in four goals in four games since arriving from Genoa, including two on his debut against Napoli. His bustling, direct approach has forged a focal point in attack and one that brings teammates into the game. With 19 goals in his first 21 appearances in Italy the 23-year-old looks set to continue his early season form and is arguably the striker Milan have been missing for many years.
The acquisition of Paqueta from Flamengo is perhaps the most encouraging of the signings Milan have made this season, demonstrating a nous on the transfer market that had seemingly become a thing of the past. His quick-feet, intelligent passing and speed have drawn comparisons with the aforementioned Kaka, with few doubting the talent Milan have at their disposal.
In the brief appearances both Piatek and Paqueta have had together on the pitch there is certainly plenty to suggest the two have developed an understanding. Paqueta launched the ball forward for Piatek to score his second against Napoli and found him in the box to open the scoring against Roma. Their connection bodes well for the future, just as it did for Shevchenko and Kaka.
Milan will be hoping the scoring exploits of Piatek continue beyond his debut season in Serie A and that they can coax the very best out of Paqueta as the club targets a return to European football.