Cardinale discusses learning process at Milan, Pioli’s future and the ‘job’ of the fans

By Ben Dixon -

At today’s ‘Business of Football Summit’, AC Milan’s owner, Gerry Cardinale, discussed a range of different topics, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s role at the club and the learning he has done as the club’s owner.

Since taking over the club from Elliott Management 18 months ago, there has been a shift in a lot of things at the club, and difficult decisions have been made in several areas.

Firstly, the club’s project has shifted slightly, with the management now opting to look for younger talent to mould them into elite footballers, who ultimately can compete regularly at the highest levels. This has been clear to see with the recent investments made by the club, such as Samuel Chukwueze and Tijjani Reijnders.

However, there have been some controversial decisions made, firstly the sale of Sandro Tonali in the most recent summer mercato and the decision to part ways with Paolo Maldini in the same summer.

The difficult decisions are not set to end soon either, as would be expected in a club as big as Milan. Stefano Pioli’s position as manager is under fire, and several key players are earning interest from Europe in what is lining up to be an eventful summer.

Cardinale, alongside Ibrahimovic, spoke to the Financial Times about the above topics, and his vision for the club moving forward, among other topics. His words have been relayed by MilanNews.

It’s been 18 months since you became the owner of Milan. In the first nine months let’s say you observed and studied the club. After that, you started to make important decisions like bringing in Zlatan. You also made difficult choices, like parting with Maldini or selling Tonali. What is your vision for the club?

“It was a very long 18 months. I said to myself that if I was going to do this at a big European club I wasn’t going to do it with a shotgun blazing, so I took a year to study, look and understand more.

“In my 30-year career, I’ve had the privilege of being around the best American sports owners, in the last five years I’ve had the privilege of being around Liverpool and becoming the owner of Toulouse… It’s been a learning process.

“I knew that at AC Milan it would be more than a learning process. What we have done over the last 18 months is put the pieces in the right place to shape our ‘Investment Thesis’ [investment strategy]

“There are different projects: around Milan, around Serie A. We have to be an ‘agent of change’. What is happening in Italy, but frankly also all over Europe, can be defined as a bit of madness.

“Everyone wants a different result, everyone wants to win. The world has changed, Milan is where it is now, the team with the most Champions Leagues in the world after Real Madrid, thanks to Silvio Berlusconi. The way he managed to do it is no longer a viable path.”

“And I say this, humbly, having experienced my sports career with Steinbrenner [principal owner and managing partner of Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees from 1973 until he died in 2010] Steinbrenner was to baseball as Berlusconi was to European football.

“We can no longer win this way. We have to find smarter ways to win. And from an investment point of view, the focus is on winning consistently. The fans and the people are very involved and their rationality disappears: because we are human we all want to win.

“But nobody wants to win more than me. I am enormously aligned with the fans in Italy, but I have a job to do. And my goal is to win consistently. And the value of the whole movement will only continue to grow if the competitiveness is always there.

“We want to win Serie A and the Champions League every year, but the whole thing would lose value. The cornerstone of sport is the unpredictability of the human element. It’s a broader discourse, but what’s happening in sport nowadays is worrying.”

Why did you choose to bring Ibra to RedBird and AC Milan?

“The good thing about having watched for a year is that I had the chance to meet Zlatan. When I met him I was very curious. I wanted to take his being part of the most important sporting world in Europe and put him in our world of investment understanding.

“When someone buys a club they start putting in various consultants and managers, all the things that people like me are familiar with. But who knows European football and Milan better than Ibra? He is the greatest team man I have ever met.

“I’m not just talking about the pitch: his humility, his intelligence. We have experience working with people like him, from Dwayne Johnson to LeBron James via Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, and in Zlatan, I see the same things.

“If you can find people who can step out of their world and into mine then you create a very powerful partnership.”

Could there be big changes at Milan this summer?

“I think I know what you are asking me. Change is not a bad word. I’m relying on Zlatan for his advice and perspective. Everything around Milan needs to ‘change’, although I would use another word: ‘evolve’.

“Change is a black and white word, as if we had to throw everything away and start again. There’s no need. Evolving is a better process. We will look at the personnel, we have had a lot of injuries.

“I’m not satisfied, Zlatan is not satisfied, with not being in first place in Serie A. But we’ll get there. We are a young and new team that is currently not doing badly. But not doing bad doesn’t necessarily mean doing well, right? We have work to do.”

Does Serie A need something new?

“The way European football is run everyone wants to know who is representing them, who is the president, where is the chairman? These things require a multidisciplinary approach. Zlatan allows me to be in the States and on the field in Milan at the same time.

“We hired him at RedBird specifically for everything he can do in football. But above all, he is my proxy [liason]. We talk several times a day and he has the authority to be my voice with the players, with the staff, with everyone at Milan.

“It’s very important above all because he has so much credibility to do that. If I had taken a person from New York and put him in Milan he would have much less credibility than Zlatan,” he said.

“The way Zlatan talks to the players, acting as a go-between for the ownership, is unique. I don’t want to go into the locker room to do it, I want Zlatan to do it. Both the fans and I have a “job”, they are my partners in all this. They support the emotional part, it’s great.

“My job is to create value and I can’t do that if I’m emotionally involved. It’s difficult to do, you have to be disciplined. I’m a human being too, I want to win more than anyone else.

“There is always someone like Zlatan in winning teams, someone who has the urge to win, but I wouldn’t have the same credibility as someone who has won. You need a figure like that in the locker room who instils that kind of urgency.”

What would happen if you didn’t agree on something?

“When we started talking about this the most important thing I look at in someone when I have to bring them into RedBird is whether we are aligned in terms of values, culture and goals. It was immediately clear to me that we were akin.

“To date, there has been no disagreement: I learn a lot from him, and I hope he learns the same from me. So far it has gone great, and not because we are in the ‘honeymoon’ phase where everything is going well, but because we have already seen at the beginning that we have each others’ backs on objectives.”

The full video of the interview done by the Financial Times can be found using the link below.

Tags AC Milan Gerry Cardinale


  1. “But who knows European football and Milan better than Ibra? He is the greatest team man I have ever met.”

    Oh Jerry, you don’t even realise what your saying

      1. Forget Maldini for a sec, it’s just disrespectful to all the others who are bigger legends at Milan than Ibra. I can name 5 off the top. Europe? lol 😂 and I love me some Ibra too which makes this so awkward. I feel like I felt second hand embarrassment

        1. This is not about hiring a Milan legend for the sake of hiring a Milan legend.
          Name the Milan Legends that know today’s Milan and today’s European football more than Zlatan and want to transition into football management, not Legends that have been detached from Milan and football for decades. The way football is played and operates has changed over the last 10-20 years.
          Who are the legends?
          The only ex Milan legend that Milan should try to hire to run the sporting department is Rui Costa. The rest are either detached from football, being marginal coaches, TV pundits , or in politics.
          Cardinale’s goal, as he has said, is to expand the Milan brand around the globe. Zlatan is a global superstar. Football fans, sports fans, and people that don’t watch sports know him.

          1. Go ahead name the legends that would be better for the job who are in tune with today’s Milan and today’s European football?

  2. So you can’t do it the Berlusconi way anymore?

    Man city Real Madrid Psg would beg to differ and also I think Maldini knows a thing or too regarding Ac milan as well as top flight football 🙈🙉🙊

    1. City and PSG do it through sponsorship deals with companies that are in their indirect ownership. It’s a hole in FFP rule. Chelsea exploited the contract hole, signing longterm contracts with players, dividing the costs through the period of those 7-8 years. The likes of Real and United generate a lot more income compared to their debts.

      We don’t even own our stadium.

      Agree about our Capitano.

      1. The best way forward for a club is to invest heavily in youth structures, have a very precise and vast scouting network, youth teams are the way out, then the scouting department has to be good and fast in analysis, and be fast and brave in getting them, look at what Porto, Benfica and a host of others are doing, just look at Chelsea in the space of 2 years they have spent close to a billion, but the club and team are still in dissary…

        1. Sure but then we’ll just become another feeder club which we already indicate to be. Bringing up talents to sell for profit is what boosts financial books and capital gain in them.

          The only viable option for a longterm success in own stadium and a business model of Bayern / Arsenal / Liverpool.

  3. He clearly has alot to learn, but it is a good thing he has Ibra to learn from.

    I wouldn’t say that young ibra was a team player, however older ibra is another story.

    If Zlatan has the “power” that Jerry says he has and is guiding him, then we all know Ibrakadabras winning mentality and he won’t be content with this seasons performance.

    Lets see what happen during the summer, we will see if Ibra is his “yes man” or not.

    I hope for the latter.

  4. “Firstly, the club’s project has shifted slightly, with the management now opting to look for younger talent to mould them into elite footballers”

    Nothing changes. It had already been that way before Redbird era.

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