By Peter Hall
(Reuters) - Italian second-tier side Monza were only promoted to Serie B last June after a 19-year absence, but with a little help from some eye-catching names, on and off the pitch, they are dreaming of reaching the top flight for the first time in Lombardy.
Located some 15 kilometres outside of Milan, it is difficult to attract attention of fans away from the city's footballing giants Inter Milan and AC Milan, but Monza are doing their best to turn a few heads.
Bought by former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in 2018, Monza sit second in Serie B at the halfway point of the season after Monday's win at Brescia. It is unchartered territory for a side who have never competed in Serie A and not above the third-tier since 2000-01.
Berlusconi was previously owner of AC Milan for three decades during the club's most successful period and, along with Monza chief executive Adriano Galliani, Berlusconi's CEO in the Milan glory years, the 84-year-old has turned to some familiar faces to spearhead his latest project.
Former Milan and Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli scored four minutes into his Monza debut last month before getting injured, while another former Milan forward, Kevin-Prince Boateng, is revitalising his career in Lombardy.
Veteran defender Gabriel Paletta completes a trio of former Milan players making an impact just outside the city, while coach Cristian Brocchi was also a Rossoneri player and enjoyed a short spell as manager at the San Siro in 2016.
"They (Balotelli and Boateng) arrived here in Serie B thanks to the acquaintance they had with Berlusconi and Galliani and even with me as a manager," Brocchi told Stats Perform News this week.
"They settled in very well, they always train hard, they lead by example by showing the will to take me, Berlusconi, Galliani and Monza to Serie A.
"So far they have been important, let's hope they can give us even more in order to make this dream (of promotion) come true."
While the experience of the former Milan connection has proven vital for Monza this season, some impressive young players have also played their part.
Boateng is Monza's top goalscorer in Serie B so far with four goals, alongside 22-year-old Dany Mota and Davide Frattesi, 21, on-loan from Sassuolo.
"Monza are a mix of experienced players and great young talents," Brocchi added. "The right mix to achieve our goals."
(Reporting by Peter Hall in Leeds; Editing by Christian Radnedge)