At the age of 17, Gianluigi Donnarumma is already considered the heir apparent to Gianluigi Buffon.
After only seven Serie A appearances, 18-year-old Manuel Locatelli is drawing comparisons to Andrea Pirlo.
M’Baye Niang, a relative veteran at 21, is providing the kind of consistency at forward that Mario Balotelli couldn’t.
AC Milan is fully embracing a youth movement as it endures a third consecutive season out of European competition. In a league where the top clubs have had a tendency to rely on veterans and the odd Brazilian teenager, seeing so many young faces wearing the familiar Rossoneri colors is a novelty.
“There’s less fear in Italy now, even though some clubs still prefer veterans,” Niang said. “We’ve got the right mix. When you have great players that can win matches by themselves it throws the other players off balance.”
The Milan side that beat Chievo Verona 3-1 Sunday was the youngest average team of the weekend in Serie A at 24 years, 231 days. Seven of the players were born in the 1990s — Donnarumma, Locatelli, Niang, Alessio Romagnoli, Suso, Mattia De Sciglio and Gianluca Lapadula.
“I don’t feel like a young player anymore. I’m nearly 22 and I’ve been a pro since I was 16,” Niang, who made his Ligue 1 debut with Caen in 2011, said in an interview with La Repubblica. “(De Sciglio and I) have got to be examples for the actual kids, like Donnarumma and Locatelli.”
Riding a five-match unbeaten streak, Milan is in third place, level on points with second-place Roma.
Up next for Milan is a match against five-time defending champion Juventus on Saturday at the San Siro. It’s a rematch of last season’s Italian Cup final, which Juventus won 1-0 after extra time.
Milan hasn’t beaten Juventus since November 2012.
“It reminds me of Juve from a few years ago,” Buffon said of Milan, recalling Juve’s transformation after a 2006 match-fixing scandal that saw the Bianconeri relegated to Serie B. “They just need time and experience to improve.”
The last time Milan collected 16 or more points over its first eight matches was in 2010-11, when the Rossoneri won their last title. A year after that title, Milan sold top players Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to Paris Saint-Germain — part of a mass exodus of veterans instigated by a drop in investments by club president Silvio Berlusconi.
The overhaul sparked a downward spiral that has seen Milan fail to finish higher than seventh the past three seasons, including a dismal 10th in 2014-15.
Since current Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri was fired by Milan in January 2014, five different coaches have taken charge of the club. Berlusconi is in the process of finalizing the sale of the team to a group of Chinese investors.
Unlike Clarence Seedorf, Filippo Inzaghi, Sinisa Mihajlovic and Cristian Brocchi, current coach Vincenzo Montella has been able to restore some pride in the seven-time European champion.
“Montella has brought back the joy of the game,” midfielder Giacomo Bonaventura told the Gazzetta dello Sport of the manager who was known as the “Aeroplanino” — the Little Airplane — as a player for his small stature and trademark goal celebrations, when he spread his arms like wings.
“It shows in the fact that we’ve reached this point with more or less the same squad as a year ago,” Bonaventura added. “He’s improved things on the pitch and he’s changing our mentality. It’s been a pleasant surprise.”