Looking over the Summer transfer activity of Milan, you would be forgiven for thinking they had been forced into an austerity approach similar to that of Mario Monti's technocrat government. Major assets have been sold off in the shape of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with replacements brought in that are of course on a level below these 'fuoriclasse'. Bojan Krkic joins to add depth to the attack, Giampaolo Pazzini and Antonio Cassano swapped places essentially, and Ricardo Montolivo came in to the midfield. But not since the signing of Ibrahimovic, initially on loan from Barcelona, have Milan bought a recognised star.
Let's take a look at some of the purchases of the past, and see if we can find a trend that may replicate itself in the future.
Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi began his second spell as Prime Minister of Italy on June 11, 2001, beginning the longest reign of any Italian PM in the post-war era, stretching as far as May 2006. In times when Berlusconi was in charge of the country, he would be at pains to avoid a conflict of interest, and therefore management of the club would fall to Adriano Galliani as vice-President. However all transfers in this spell would ultimately be approved by Silvio. This was a golden period for signings, with many big names joining the Rossoneri:
Berlusconi as PM, June 2001 - May 2006
Filippo Inzaghi, Andrea Pirlo, Manuel Rui Costa, Leonardo, Alessandro Nesta, Rivaldo, Clarence Seedorf, Kaka, Cafu, Hernan Crespo, Jaap Stam, Christian Vieri, Alberto Gilardino.
At a rate of around two per year, the big stars, as many of these were or would become, were signed. Interestingly, the season before Berlusconi got in power, the main transfers included Kakha Kaladze, Julio Cesar, and Dida - no star names there.
Let's look at the transfer campaign once Berlusconi was out of power in 2006 then, up until he came back to power in May 2008:
Milan signings May 2006 - May 2008
Emerson, Guiseppe Favalli, Daniel Bonera, Massimo Oddo, Pato, Ronaldo.
At first site there are some big names in the signings category. Unfortunately this was an aging Ronaldo, who would go on to score nine goals in his Milan career, and cost less than Oddo. Pato is a different case - Pato was signed in a 24m Euro deal in the summer, but could only play from January 2008 - just as Silvio Berlusconi's electoral campaign was beginning, which would see him elected five months later. This was a signing to invigorate all the Milan tifosi again, and create a good atmosphere around the club that he hoped would transfer to the general public.
It should also be noted that hidden in this out of power stage is the sale of star striker Shevchenko, who went to Chelsea for 35m Euros. A backlash in the Summer after losing political power was no problem. Jaap Stam and Rui Costa also left the club at the same time. Maybe it was coincidence - let's look at Berlusconi's third spell as PM:
Milan signings May 2008 - November 2011
Gianluca Zambrotta, Ronaldinho, David Beckham, Klaas Jan-Hunterlaar, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho, Antonio Cassano.
The big name signings speak for themselves - huge stars brought in, who in turn make the PM more popular. But the sale of Kaka was unwanted initially by Berlusconi, as this would be cause a real backlash from the fans, while he was still in power, and facing a tough time. But that is not to say he didn't benefit when he could.
In January, Berlusconi was having marriage problems after his wife had gone public over his behaviour with women - distractions were welcome. Meanwhile on the football field, Manchester City and Real Madrid were circling for Milan's Brazilian playmaker, and Kaka wanted most of all, a move to Madrid. Berlusconi proceed to accept an offer reported to be in the region of £100m for the player, but knowing (or finding out) the player would likely refuse, and in the face of political unpopularity, and a football fans backlash, became the hero by insisting the player would not be sold. Of course when Real Madrid came in the Summer, Kaka's wishes had to be accepted, and appropriate star names were brought in as replacements before the new season started, mainly in the shape of a then very highly-rated Ronaldinho.
When times got tough politically at the beginning of 2011, there was something that Berlusconi could do to side-track the real issues. In January he had just been told by the Constitutional Court that Berlusconi's immunity from prosecution as a Prime Minister was not automatic, and prosecutors also announced an investigation into claims that he had slept with an underage prostitute. A few days later, Antonio Cassano signed for Milan from Sampdoria.
This summer did not see any genuine star names brought into the side. However that could change in January. In April Italy's technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti is set to stand down and call a general election, to which Berlusconi is set to stand for re-election. Due to high unpopularity during 2011, and a current popularity rating of 20% amongst possible candidates, he needs all the good news he can be associated with as he begins an election campaign not long after the January transfer window.
Therefore a big money signing in January looks set to tick all the boxes. Who that player is we can't know, but it will be a big name - Milan fans will hope it is a big name of the present rather than the past, with recent credible rumours linking the Rossoneri with a move for out-of-favour Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas. With no star names left to publicly hold on to, watch out for Berlusconi kicking off his electoral campaign alongside football's finest at the San Siro in January.