By Anish Bharadwaj
Sweet sweet revenge for A.C. Milan in Athens as they beat Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League Final. Two agonising years since the UCL final of 2005 which Liverpool fans dubbed ‘The Miracle of Istanbul’, evaporated and left in its wake the intoxicating scent of Milanese sweat and passion. Ancelotti did it again, his 2nd UCL title with Milan and a 7th UCL title for the Rossoneri. Truly European giants.
Take away a decade, and BOOM, A.C. Milan are Europa League strugglers. They haven’t won the Serie A since the 2010-11 Scudetto success and haven’t finished in the top 4 in the Serie A since 2013. Moreover, they have had 8 managerial changes in 5 years. Makes you scratch your head and wonder, “how in hell did that happen?”
Milan were unlucky not to have won the 2005 UCL title with an allstars squad and although they went ahead to clinch the title in 2007, they were showing some concerning signs of deterioration. The most important one was their ageing squad. The likes of Maldini, Cafu, Seedorf, Nesta, Ambrosini among others were already were in their thirties, some even approaching forty. This was really concerning as these players constituted the backbone of the club and with them approaching retirement, the core of the club was at risk.
Milan’s worst fears eventually came true as they started losing key players. Among them were players who spent most of their footballing career in the club. By 2012, players such as Maldini, Pirlo, Seedorf, Inzaghi, Nesta, Gattuso all left who are considered legends of Milan. Milan needed some positive transfers as they prioritised winning the league title. Max Allegri replaced Leonardo as Milan manager in 2010. Following this, Milan brought in a number of players including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho, Thiago Silva, Sokratis, Cassano, Van Bommel and Kevin-Prince Boateng to help win silverware. Allegri came through with his Milan team to win the 2010-11 Scudetto. But the board failed to foresee the repercussions of such haphazard recruitment. The immense wage bill subsequently forced Milan to sell heavily in the next few seasons and as a result of this their whole organisation and future plans toppled like dominoes.
Allegri was sacked in January 2014 as Milan were struggling at 11th position in the Serie A table. With all the experienced veterans as well as the star signings moving away from the club, Milan were exposed. This was certainly not helped by the board’s indecisiveness and impatience as Milan changed 8 managers and 3 ownerships in 5 years pushing them into a dark pit of instability, frustration and agony.
SHORTCOMINGS OF THE BOARD
The A.C. Milan Board has made some of the worst decisions in the last decade in terms of recruitment and financial management (mismanagement would be the more appropriate term). The board was blinded by Milan’s success in the past and was busy chasing glory instead of preparing the team for tougher times ahead and reinforcing the club’s foundation. They decided to fulfil short term goals instead of seeing the bigger picture. The club signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Robinho highlights the board’s short-sightedness. We can all agree to the fact that Zlatan played a massive role in securing the Scudetto. But he stayed only for a couple of seasons. Milan’s wage bill was beyond them and they had to release all these star players and had to start from scratch.
The board sacked 8 managers in a span of 5 years. It all started with Max Allegri’s sacking at the end of the 2013-14 season. He later went on to pile up trophies as Juventus’ manager. He was succeeded by Clarence Seedorf (2014), Filippo Inzaghi (2014-15), Sinisa Mihajlovic (2015-2016), Cristian Brocchi (2016), Vincenzo Montella (2016-17), Gennaro Gattuso (2017-2019), Marco Giampaolo (2019) and finally Stefano Piolo (current manager). This amounted to extreme distrust and immense (or rather, foolish) expectations from new managers who have to work under monumental pressure and a toxic work environment. Milan were without a sporting director or chairman for a long time and finally appointed Ivan Gazidis as the new Executive on 1st December, 2018. Although Milan saw a comparatively improved league standing of 5th in the 2018-19 season, still Gazidis has carried his shortcomings from London to Milan and A.C. Milan are still not in the Champions League.
Silvio Berlusconi, the former Prime Minister of Italy as well as the former owner of A.C. Milan bought the club in 1986 and maintained ownership for 31 years. Berlusconi’s reign is of legendary status in the history of Italian football as Milan stacked their trophy cabinets with an incredible amount of silverware, winning 8 Serie A titles, 1 Coppa Italia, 7 Supercoppa Italiana and 5 elusive UEFA Champions League titles.
On 13th April 2017, Berlusconi announced that his company as well as A.C. Milan’s parent company Fininvest will sell their shares to a Chinese investment management company, Sino-Europe Sports Investment Management Changxing Co., Ltd.
It was a shady ownership, and although they invested a great deal into the club, it was mostly promotional and as a result couldn’t manage to keep hold of it as they were unable to pay their debts to Elliott Management. They finally were forced to sell the shares to Elliott Management., an American investment management fund in 2018.
Elliott Management can’t care less about the football club. They are a management group known to run companies threadbare and feast on them till there’s nothing left, basically a Vulture. And they are running A.C. Milan as a business rather than a football club.
Taking all of these points into consideration, Milan are potentially in a world of trouble now and are still without a coherent plan to propel the club forward.
CURRENT STATE OF THE ROSSONERI
Marco Giampaolo was sacked during the 2019-20 Serie A campaign after managing just 7 games, which is really harsh treatment for a newly appointed manager. Giampaolo was replaced by the former Inter Milan and Fiorentina manager, Stefano Pioli. Pioli didn’t receive the reception he thought he would as his recruitment was met with heavy criticism from the fans. This was due to two reasons –
1) Pioli is an underachiever and he hadn’t achieved anything significant is his 16 year managerial career prior to joining the Rossoneri.
2) Yet again, the board displayed its impatience and brutal treatment of new managers when they pulled the rug under Giampaolo after just over half a dozen matches.
Prior to the recruitment of Giampaolo and subsequent dismissal, A.C. Milan recruited former players and club legends Zvonimir Boban (as Chief Football Officer) and Paolo Maldini (as Sporting Strategy and Development Director, and later Technical Director) to help guide the club into a new direction and bring forth stability. But Boban was severely disrespected by the Board and referred to his stay in Milan as living in “North Korea under a dictatorship”. He vacated his position following clashes with CEO Ivan Gazidis who was taking over the sporting side of the club which was supposed to be Boban’s domain of expertise and did not even inform him of the subsequent arrival of Ralph Rangnick to take over his position. The move for Ralph Rangnick however failed but its possibility is still not ruled out.
In fairness, after the arrival of Pioli, A.C. Milan have seemed more cohesive. They are starting to show signs of serious potential and progress. Their fighting spirit is slowly but surely gaining momentum as was witnessed in their Serie A game last season against Juventus in July, where they conceded 2 goals at the beginning of the 2nd half but came back to score 4 past Juve and win the game. In terms of personnel A.C. have a brilliant young squad with the right amount of experience to guide them. The likes of Ismael Bennacer, Franck Kessie, Lucas Paqueta and latest addition Sandro Tonali have immense potential and need the club to properly condition them into world beaters.
The re-signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic is probably one of the best decisions the board has taken in ages. Zlatan’s experience and immense reputation puts him in a commanding position in the dressing room, which is absolutely vital for a team which has been without a proper leader in almost a decade. This has affected immediate results as well and A.C. Milan look solid as is evident from their impressive victories in the two opening games of the Serie A season.
In conclusion, A.C. Milan have finally capitalised from their hard work and it just depends on whether they can take this confidence forward into the Serie A season. They have a top 4 contending team and should be looking to get back into the UCL spots. They just need to put a bit of trust in their manager and prioritise their long term goals instead of living in past glory. For now, the Rossoneri can only cross their fingers and hope that the board doesn’t undo all the positive work that they have done in the past few months.