Leonardo spoke to the press as his two first signings as the General Manager of Milan’s technical side were presented, saying the team is already competitive, but the mercato can be surprising.
Last Thursday, Leonardo was presented to the press at Casa Milan, as he was brought by Elliott Management to take care of the sporting side at the club and conduct the summer transfer market.
Today (Friday), Leo was at the Rossoneri HQ with two of the Diavolo’s new signings: Mattia Caldara and Gonzalo Higuain. Caldara, 24-year-old, arrives on a direct swap with Leonardo Bonucci, who returns to Juventus, while El Pipita, 30-year-old, joins on an €18m loan plus option to buy at €36m.
Leonardo worked on this deal tirelessly and in the end got the result he wanted. Milan signed a very strong striker in Higuain, and an already excellent defender with a bright future in Caldara.
“The negotiations? I believe that every deal is a story upon itself, each one can start off in a different way,” the Brazilian director told the press during the presentation of Mattia Caldara. “The thing I’m happiest about is that the atmosphere was very positive, there could’ve been a lot of ways to reach this final end but the deal worked out best for both sides. We had to consider all the possible scenarios that could’ve been possible in this moment, including the Financial Fair Play; this deal is a deal which was quite difficult to work out, but in the end it works out great for everyone.
“Why did I choose Caldara [Juventus offered other players]? I believe the reason is obvious. Over the last two years at Atalanta we’ve seen a lot of talented youngsters and Caldara is just another example of such great players. He’s a modern defender, capable of contributing to the attack as well and scoring goals. Those aren’t his essential characteristics but are added bonuses. He’s a physically strong defender who is also very intelligent on the field. He joins a group of very young defenders, completing it: we have Caldara, Romagnoli, Calabria… young Italian defenders who all have a very bright future ahead of them; they can make the backbone of Milan defense for a long time.
“Caldara having the same value as Bonucci despite being younger? The value is determined by the markets, both players have highly expensive prices, for reasons we’ve already stated. When it comes to swapping players, it’s also important to remember the moment that both players are going through. Bonucci was signed to be the symbol of the great turn of Milan, but things didn’t quite work out, so when it came time to evaluate, I think that Mattia has the potential to be as good as Bonucci.
“Leonardo’s value is his immediate effect on the team, Mattia is here for the present and for the future. He has immense margins of growth. Values are based on when the deals are made. We have not changed our objectives this season, we know what milestones we have to reach and what paths we have to follow. Clearly, this deal has given us a lot of energy and has added a new dimension to the team, even though it’s a single deal. It does give us reason for be fairly optimistic. This was a great opportunity we had, but we know that it will still take time for the team to grow and develop.
“If this is the final deal for the defense [Milan also sold Gustavo Gomez]? I think the group is developing. Overall, we might make 1-2 small changes but we also need to think about what players may be leaving the club. I think, if you take a look at the time, overall, it is already competitive. If any further deals do happen, it will depend on opportunities that present themselves.
“If I had projects before becoming the General Manager? I didn’t have any specific objectives. I knew Milan very well, I knew the club well, having worked here and played here. We were not the only team to be following Mattia; a lot of clubs were paying very close attention to his developments. I knew I wanted to focus on young Italian players and look for whatever opportunities I could find. I think that with this deal, with two players coming in, which are a bit hard to distinguish because they arrive from the same deal, we have managed to complete the team very well.
“What are the priorities until the end of the mercato? As I said earlier, the market can often be quite surprising nowadays. We have to study very carefully, look for the best opportunities we can find, see what our possibilities are, but we also have to be careful.”
During Caldara’s presentation, Leonardo also revealed that “Higuain told me that when he faced Atalanta, he used to attack the opposite side to avoid meeting Caldara.”
Striking a deal for Caldara was the easy part of the negotiations: what was more difficult is convincing Higuain to join Milan. The Argentine said that the presence of Leonardo was the key for the operation, and the former Milan midfielder spoke about it during the presentation of Gonzalo:
“There were a lot of nights involved in making this deal. I don’t need to tell you what Milan is. Milan has an appeal, regardless of the moment that the team is going through, whether the team is at the top or struggling, there is always a massive appeal from Milan. It’s important to remember the legend of Milan and how appealing it is to players: not just what Milan won, but how Milan won. This club has a style and a way of doing things that are permanent. And that is one of the things that helped me convince Higuain to join us immediately. And now the important thing is to put everything together and get the team back to the top. The negotiations [to bring Higuain] were special and beautiful. I think the decisive moment was when we met face to face.
“At my presentation I said there will be no big deals and then signed Higuain? I believe all great teams aim to sign great players. Some deals are possible, others not so much. This deal was born from a number of elements. Having a player like Higuain now does change Milan’s dimension. To be honest, it is something we dreamed of, but in our first press conference it wasn’t something that looked likely. But the market changes and evolves and sometimes it offers you opportunities.
“With a bit of luck you can sign someone like Gonzalo, who is now sitting by my side. Having a player like Higuain certainly increases the appeal of a club like Milan. However, we still need to be very careful and consider every move we make.
“Anything news on the sales of Bacca and Kalinić? These are deals we’re working on. I think a good deal, is a deal that is good for everyone. When things changes, there are new choices to be made. At the moment we’re trying to move forward with the situation we have in our hand.”
There are two more weeks until the end of the mercato and Leonardo will continue to work: some exits need to be made, while a winger and a midfielder are likely to arrive to strengthen the squad.
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