Milan (AFP) – AC Milan coach Vincenzo Montella paid tribute to Silvio Berlusconi by dedicating victory over Sassuolo in a seven-goal thriller to the club owner as he prepares to sell the Serie A giants.
Milan, who have not won the Italian league since 2011, looked to be on their way to a third defeat in seven games on Sunday as they trailed 3-1 at home to Sassuolo just before the hour mark.
But a Carlos Bacca-inspired fightback earnt the seven-time European champions an enthralling 4-3 victory.
“I got a phone call from the president, Berlusconi, who offered me his congratulations,” Montella told Mediaset, one of the several companies owned by Berlusconi.
“I told him the boys really wanted to win tonight to be able to dedicate this victory to him as a birthday present. He was very happy.”
The sides went in level 1-1 at the break but Francesco Acerbi and Lorenzo Pellegrini struck one apiece immediately after the restart to silence the San Siro.
But Colombia striker Bacca sparked a sensational fightback when he stepped up to beat goalkeeper Andrea Consigli from the penalty spot after Luca Antei was ruled to have hauled down M’Baye Niang in the 69th minute.
The stadium erupted only four minutes later when 18-year-old midfielder Manuel Locatelli came off the bench to burst the Sassuolo net with a stunning half-volley following a poor clearance.
Locatelli’s exuberant celebrations, which were repeated at the final whistle, were felt throughout the stadium.
And soon after, Gabriel Paletta rose above the Sassuolo defence to meet Niang’s superb cross from the left side of the area to beat Consigli with a powerful angled header at his far post.
“I’m still feeling emotional about him now,” said Montella of Locatelli.
“But that’s football, it’s full of emotions. I’m very happy for him, he’s a player with a good grounding and I hope it gets better for him.”
Locatelli said: “I dedicate this goal to my family and all those who believed in me.
“This is a moment every child dreams of, and I’m still in disbelief. When I heard the fans shouting, I couldn’t believe it.”
Berlusconi was feted throughout Italy last week as he celebrated his 80th birthday. It came as the former Italy prime minister prepares to sell the seven-time European champions to Chinese investors.
If completed by the scheduled deadline of the year’s end, it would see Milan follow city neighbours Inter Milan in falling into Chinese ownership. Inter were taken over by the Suning Group earlier this summer.
Milan have slumped alarmingly since their last title, unable even to qualify fore the Europa League, let alone the Champions League.
Since a third-placed finish in 2013 saw them qualify for the Champions League, their best finish over the last three seasons was seventh.