Money and prestige vs. limits and necessities: Milan’s Europa League jeopardy

By Oliver Fisher -

AC Milan emerged with broken bones from the match lost last Tuesday at San Siro against Borussia Dortmund. A Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde match for Stefano Pioli’s team, who suffered yet another defeat through a second half collapse.

After Olivier Giroud missed an early penalty Marco Reus made no mistake when Dortmund were given one of their own, but Samuel Chukwueze got his first goal since signing for Milan to make it 1-1 going into the break.

Malick Thiaw’s injury forced Rade Krunic to come on at centre-back and that appeared to be a big turning point in the game as Jamie Bynoe-Gittens put the away side 2-1 up and then Karim Adeyemi scored 10 minutes later to make sure of the points.

The result means that Milan now have to win at Newcastle United in the final round of the group while Dortmund must avoid defeat against Paris Saint-Germain to go through. Fate is out of their hands, therefore, with regards to the Champions League.

However, Milan are in charge of their own destiny when it comes to staying in Europe, because a win at St. James’ Park would mean that they definitely stay in Europe. If PSG get a result, it will mean the Europa League.

As a club so used to glory on the biggest stage, the words ‘Europa League’ might send a shiver down the spine of most Rossoneri fans – especially given the state of the team at the moment – but there are pros and cons that must be discussed objectively.

The optimism

As mentioned, whether it is enough to stay in the Champions League depends on Dortmund-PSG, but getting third and playing in the Europe League play-offs certainly has some appeal from a financial and prestige perspective.

The first is a sporting reason though: continuing in Europe would allow the Diavolo to accumulate points in the UEFA ranking so as to avoid future draws from low pots, like happened this time being in Pot 3.

Secondly there is the financial aspect: even without winning it, getting relatively far in the competition offers up earnings very similar to those that getting to the round of 16 in the Champions League would offer, which is what Milan were aiming for

An analysis of Milan's funds for the transfer market: Player sales and the Europa League

As an example, Juventus exited the group stage of the Champions League in December, reaching the semi-final of the Europa League. They collected €10m from UEFA when factoring in prize money and the market pool. Then, they also got the gate receipts for home matches against FC Nantes, SC Freiburg, Sporting CP and Sevilla which was worth another €8.6m, for a total of around €18.6m.

Winning it would be worth another €12m, including participation in the European Super Cup, as well as guaranteeing a spot in the Champions League for 2024-25 as a Pot 1 team.

Would it affect league form? That is something that must be further analysed, but Juventus reached the top four mathematically last season despite playing in the Europa League from February onwards, before their points deduction bumped them down and then the European exclusion was applied.

From a prestige point of view, Milan have never won the UEFA Cup and some would say thankfully so, given it is a competition more associated with the second club in the city, though it remains as a gap in the trophy cabinet.

Remaining in Europe and potentially getting a high-profile tie against an English club for example would also ensure greater visibility on the global stage, and exposure is something that the ownership are known to be proponents of.

This one is a bit more of a stretch to try and turn into a positive, but having additional games can actually provide a stimulus for certain players and the chance to rotate more (whatever the competition) helps keep the reserve options in game rhythm to be useful when called upon, rather than playing maybe once a fortnight.

The reality

All of the above is true, but reality must take over. Milan lost the match against Dortmund not because they were not and are not capable of playing in these big games, but because this Milan has well-known, well-established structural problems.

These were made even more evident by the injury that forced Pioli at the start of the second half replace a central defender (Malick Thiaw) with a midfielder, because there are no other defenders on the bench.

It is a Milan that has an adapted right winger on the left wing because both Noah Okafor and Rafael Leao are not on the pitch or on the bench; they sit in the stands. The only player above five goals (he has eight) in the entire squad is 37 years old and if age-related ailments were to make themselves felt, Milan would disappear, as has happened.

The starting regista (Ismael Bennacer) has been out for six months, his assistant Rade Krunic was used an adapted central defender in midweek and his assistant’s assistant Yacine Adli has played 559 minutes so far this season.

The Franco-Algerian had vanished in the weeks prior, then was thrown into the fray as a starter against Dortmund which is a questionable allocation of resources that we discussed in a separate analysis.

This Milan, to date, are not able to play in three competitions. The clearest example is given by the league and the fact that the Rossoneri, let’s face it, are looking up at Inter and Juventus rather than looking across or down at them.

The five and six points that separate Pioli’s team from Roma, Atalanta and Fiorentina seem much fewer than the same four and six points that divide Milan from second and first place. Why? Because on Saturday against Frosinone, Milan will have no Giroud, no Leao, no Okafor and one central defender in their entire squad.

The following Saturday is a trip to Atalanta and, aside from Giroud, Milan will probably have the same problems. This is the reason for this more cynical perception, the reason for this melancholy, in the hope that once again Pioli knows how to let the rabbit out of the hat.

To be fair, in the past two seasons Milan have often demonstrated that ‘you don’t live on realism alone’ and have achieved, under Pioli’s guidance, unattainable goals on paper such as the Scudetto and a Champions League semi-final, despite having almost the same problems of today.

Yet the limits cannot always be exceeded, because petrol runs out for everyone, even for those who go from ‘Out’ to ‘On Fire’. At present Pioli – and we really hope for a turnaround because that would mean the good of Milan – no longer seems able to overcome the most difficult obstacle: that of reality.

And so, back to the original point, talking about the Europa League feels like the right path to go down but only in the event that all of the ‘ifs’ come true. If you play in it you move forward, if you move forward you earn money, if you win it you earn more money and a spot in the Champions League without going through the league route, and in the summer you even get the European Super Cup. It’s a lot of steps to get right, for a team that can’t beat Udinese and Lecce.

The real need

Reality, however, tells us that this Milan has limits that for the first time in the Pioli era it is unable to overcome, limits that for the first time would do well to be clear, vivid and aware. This Milan must reach the top four places in the league, period. That is not an objective, but a primary necessity.

This is why the maximum €25m that can be obtained from participation in the Europa League would be useful, but at what price? Objectives versus necessity, limits versus miracles, dreams versus reality.

There is a reason Scaroni and Furlani continue to speak about the Champions League in the present and future tense but have not uttered the words ‘Europa League’ in any reason. The silence is deafening.

Tags AC Milan


  1. We need to give up on Europe this season. Europa League is a waste of time and resources. With injuries mounting we can’t stay relevant on both fronts.

    The sensible thing to do is to focus on Top4 to qualify for Europe. Add some key pieces in the summer and try again. Pioli can get us Top4 but without participating in EL.

    1. Sure he can. Like he did last year, right? If we end up in EL we gotta win, man. Nobody wants to join a club who only takes one competition seriously

      1. Did he? I would say there is an inverse relationship with our run to the CL semis and finishing 5th. Some people (like Maldini’s Heir) talk up our run to the semis as evidence that this squad has the quality to compete on all fronts. But if you look at the standings, the season we won the scudetto we finished last in our CL group, so we had no Europe to deal with. Then last season we go to the semis and only make it back to the CL thanks to Juventus. This season it looks like we’re headed out of Europe altogether and it may just be what gets us back into the CL given this injury crisis. Yes, ideally I’d like to win the EL and get a top 4 finish, but we’re on the ropes already and we have to consolidate.

      1. We have basically only played a third of the season so of course we are still in contention for the scudetto. This wekend inter will play napoli in naples so their lead might drop to 3 or 4 points if we also win our game. Juventus will play against monza away and they have caused them issues in the past. Besides of that we have played all the strong team besides of atalanta whereas the bigger teams has several matches between them left so the season is far from over.
        I would still fight on all possible fronts though,

          1. Monza is deffently not pushovers so i could see them take a point and maybe even more but its obviously also a match that juventus might win but i’ll hope for the best,

      2. To all fans in the universe, we better look into reality. This season better focus only for Local League. Facing with many injuries, transition of the management, and lacking of leadership both from coach and players don’t expect much from this my milan.

        I hope i am wrong…

      3. We are still in contention in the scudetto.
        Don’t let anyone tell any different..
        This weekend inter and juventus have games in which they could lose points .the gap will be reduced assuming we win our game ,which is a strong possibility.
        The champions league is a different matter .
        That said assuming we did manage to win against Newcastle and we finish 3rd in the group..,it’s the europa leauge .Then of course this is not all doom and gloom and the revenue would be useful.
        It’s gives us opportunities to give all squad players games also gives us good ratings .some good teams will be on show
        So yes it’s worth entering . winning it is a bonus .

    2. regardless of injuries the european tournaments will start up again mid february if i remember correctly so i really don’t see that as a very valid point as a great deal of our players will return before that and we might as well invest in some players in january.

    3. It’s already been stated that if milan don’t qualify they lose about 100m in revenue which will just make us worse next year because we’ll have to sell another big name. If we can go into europa and Actually try to win it the we will regain some money, be put into pot 1 and guarantee qualification into cl. It’s a no brainer.

  2. To all the people who wants Krunic out of the club in January which seems to be a growing group I might have to disapoint the lot of you if its actually on the coach’s request as i can that danish team FC Nordsjælland at home beat Fenerbache 6-1 tonight and i can’t really imagine that he will keep his job after such a trashing,
    As a dane i gotta say the result at least makes me chuckle as i generally would consider Fenerbache a pretty strong and fearsome team

      1. I can understand recent dismay with his performances after he returned back from injury in combination with his seemingly high renewal demands so i can understand if he is sold but as i see it he has been a good servant to the club never complaining and always ready to slot in even though he isnt a star player. I would argue though that he should be more of a backup player for us than an actual starter.

  3. Besides the money, Milan needs European football exposure no matter if that’s UCL or Europa league. After being irrelevant for a decade, Milan doesn’t have the luxury to look down on any competition. Milan isn’t Real M, Bayern or City, a club that wins trophies left and right. Milan has won only 2 trophies since 2012. More than a decade and only 2 trophies.
    Qualifying for Europa knockout stages would be a success, and it would be the universe balancing things out, because Milan didn’t earn UCL participation this season. It was a gift. Milan only earned to participate in the Europa league on the pitch based on last season in serie A.

  4. Dortmund don’t need to avoid defeat to go through, they already qualify. It will only decide whethee they are 1st or 2nd.

  5. Why don’t you publish interview with Maldini? He’s been quite open lately about what was going on and why he was sacked. If not for anything else, do it for the sake of clicks and comment section. It’ll explode I guarantee you.

  6. I’d rather focus on top 4 finish than participating in EL. Sure we will lose some potential cash, but with the current injury crisis, maybe it’s for the best for the players themselves.

    BTW, can we even beat Newcastle at the moment? They’re undergoing some kind of injury crisis of their own atm, but they’re still hungry enough to almost beat PSG home and away. That’s pretty impressive and they would of course be hoping to crush us too so that they could qualify alongside Dortmund (if PSG didn’t win).

    1. If we play cunningly against newcastle we might because newcastle will have to come forward and win themselves to progress so it should leave some open spaces for us as well. In regard of european football in the spring we will have a lot of our players back by then because it will be around mid february.

  7. Forget Europa League and just focus on gettting the second star.

    Focus on single competition is better especially when we already had tons of injuries including Thiaw who’s one of our most important centre-back. Expecting only Tomori to cary the defense line will give too much pressure for him and can put him in the injured list too.

  8. Milan need EL so that she can develop her young talents. I don’t really care about winning the EL. I just want players like Okafor, Jovic, Pobega, Adli, Musah, Kalulu, Florenzi, Pellegrino and Bartezegli to have a playing chance. Playing once in a week will actually limit their chances and to be honest, we’ve not seen much of these guys to make an assertion.

  9. Pioli should be able and ready to improve more by winning more than one trophy for us this season becos he can do this confidently.

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