The achievements of the 2021-22 season and capturing the Scudetto for the first time in 11 years has launched a fresh wave of enthusiasm around AC Milan.
While the celebrations of the 19th league title are continuing, there is also rightly a fair amount of attention now being paid to the 2022-23 campaign and what promises to potentially be an even more important season in the tapestry of the Rossoneri’s resurgence.
Essentially, the hope is that winning the Scudetto is a not merely an end goal but rather a starting point, one that brings fresh impetus to the plans of the ownership and further concretely proves that the right people are in the right positions of power to take the club back among Europe’s elite.
One of Milan’s big advantages heading into their title-winning campaign was continuity; being able to count upon the same management, the same directors and the same core of players to keep building towards winning a major trophy. Now that title has arrived, the question quickly became what next?
The answer so far does not seem to be a very reassuring one, because a change in ownership from Elliott Management to RedBird Capital has happened at perhaps the most inopportune moment and is threatening to complicate a lot of different matters.
Paolo Maldini and Ricky Massara are currently less than two weeks from the expiry of their contract and while they carry out negotiations over various renewals and the potential acquisition of new players, they still have not put pen to paper to secure their own future.
Not only that, but the latest reports are suggesting that there has been a slowdown in negotiations over the extension of the directors because they have discovered they have a lower transfer budget than they were expecting, which will be around €45-50m rather than the €70-80m Elliott Management have been willing to invest in various windows.
While Maldini and Massara have been setting up operations and securing agreements with players like Sven Botman and Renato Sanches over personal terms, they are now discovering that they might not be able to even afford both players, and that is without moving on to the attacking department where there is undoubtedly some strengthening needed.
The optimism and excitement of the fan base is waning each day with reports that back-up targets who are cheaper are now being evaluated. It serves to prove a lesson that momentum is much easier to destroy than it is to build, which is why some answers are needed in public.
One of Gerry Cardinale’s first comments after taking control of Milan was that he hates losing, and he revealed a desire to take the Rossoneri back to their previous heights, where the club belongs among Europe’s elite.
If his plan to achieve that is to heavily rely on youth, to spend less than Elliott were making available and to self-finance future transfer expenditure through sales, then it seems very hard to see anything like that materialising
Of course with the way that Financial Fair Play works (even though the system is changing) there is still an importance placed upon selling players who do not want to commit long-term or are outside the plans – something Milan have drawn criticism for given the players that have walked away for free – but young and talented targets cost money and competitors with more wealth will easily outbid any ‘moneyball’ approaches.
The transfer window is long and we have seen Maldini and Massara do some savvy business almost out of nowhere, however there is a looming sense of confusion and frustration clouding the skies of the Milan world at the moment.
There are certain issues that need clarifying publicly and not through unhelpful interviews like the one Paolo Scaroni did in which he admitted Rafael Leao could be replaceable based on how Pierre Kalulu stepped up when Simon Kjaer was injured.
The market currently seems to be blocked. Inter and Juventus seem to be bolstering at the moment rather than standing still and watching despite their more precarious financial situations. While the Nerazzurri try to close deals for Romelu Lukaku, Paulo Dybala, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and others, their city rivals continue to haggle over the fees for Florenzi and Messias.
In spite of everything mentioned above, panic should be avoided at present because there is over two months until the mercato closes and the renewals of Maldini and Massara could get the wheels in motion, and any reports about budget may yet be wide of the mark.
However, the takeover situation seems to have complicated a lot of different things rather than adding fuel to what was destined to be a journey towards bridging the gap with the truly elite clubs in Europe. Answers are needed, and through actions not words.