Milan, second in Group E, still need a point against RB Salzburg (3rd, one point) on Wednesday (20:00 GMT) at San Siro, to clinch their ticket to the knockout stages of the Champions League.

It would be the first time since the 2013/14 season that the most successful Italian club in C1 (seven crowns) reached this stage.

After the title of Italian champion in May, the first since 2011, returning among the sixteen best teams in Europe would confirm the recovery of the club which fell into anonymity during the 2010 decade.

The American investment fund Elliott Management had recovered a moribund Italian giant in 2018, a year after the sale by Silvio Berlusconi, its owner for more than thirty years, to an obscure insolvent Chinese investor.

In four years, Elliott restored the accounts and built a competitive team, based on young people with high potential (Rafael Leao, Theo Hernandez, Fikayo Tomori, Pierre Kalulu, Sandro Tonali) and a mentor in his forties named Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Maldini Guarantee

To acquire this Milan, which has become attractive again, RedBird Capital, another American fund, spent 1.2 billion euros this summer.

Redbird Capital Partners founder and AC Milan owner Gerry Cardinale (c) chats with AC Milan technical director Paolo Maldini (d) before the Serie A match between AC Milan and AC Milan Inter Milan, September 3, 2022 Isabella BONOTTO AFP/Archives

Far from wanting to revolutionize everything, this fund specializing in sports, managed by the financier of Italian origin Gerry Cardinale, remains in the footsteps of Elliott, both in terms of wise financial management and the organization chart.

He first gave a guarantee to the tifosi by confirming at the head of the technical sector the legend Paolo Maldini, 54, and the sports director Frederic Massara, 53, at the origin of the clever and successful recruitment for three years.

Monday, despite the misstep in the league on Sunday against Torino (1-2) and even before knowing the verdict of the group stage of C1, the new boss sent another signal of continuity: the extension, until 2025, coach Stefano Pioli, whose contract ran until next June.

AC Milan technical director Paolo Maldini during a match in Empoli on October 1, 2022 Alberto PIZZOLI AFP/Archives

"I appreciated the timing, but also the fact that the club could have extended for a year but did it for longer. It is a sign of our common desire to continue to grow Milan", said delighted the coach on Tuesday in front of the press.

Eleven matches in C1

Like Maldini, Pioli embodies the revival of AC Milan.

The ex-Fiorentina technician, however, only seemed promised an express lease when he arrived at the beginning of October 2019 on the bench of a drifting team: seven coaches (including Filippo Inzaghi, Sinisa Mihajlovic or Gennaro Gattuso) had succeeded in just over five years before him.

Champions League: AC Milan against Salzburg Vincent LEFAI AFP

But the 57-year-old has been able to nurture young players and build a seductive, rhythmic game on the move that makes Milan one of the most "European" clubs in the calcio, looking more to the English Premier League than the Italian tradition. .

With his contract until 2025, he can approach in seniority club legends like Carlo Ancelotti (eight seasons), Fabio Capello (seven seasons) or Arrigo Sacchi (five seasons).

All three took Milan to final victory in C1 (1989 and 1990 for Sacchi, 1994 for Capello, 2003 and 2007 for Ancelotti).

Such a horizon is very distant for Pioli, whose experience in this competition is limited to eleven matches, over the last two seasons.

He would already be content with great happiness to discover the flavor of the knockout matches in February.

AC Milan's Portuguese striker Rafael Leao (on the ground) congratulated by French defender Theo Hernandez after scoring a goal during the Champions League match against Dinamo, in Zagreb, on October 25, 2022 DENIS LOVROVIC AFP/Archives

"My reality has become a dream. I want to enjoy it day after day and extend it as much as possible," he said on Tuesday, not forgetting to thank his players.

© 2022 AFP